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November Math Centers for 1st grade and 2nd grade
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How to Teach R Controlled Vowels

Literacy, Phonics, Spelling & Word Work

Written by: Katie Palmer

Teaching sounds can be fun, especially when it comes to r-controlled vowels! These 3 sounds, spelled 5 different ways (ar, or, er, ir, ur) can be introduced and reviewed using several engaging strategies and resources. Read on for tips, tricks and jokes to make your r-controlled vowel lessons pop!

What are R Controlled Vowels?

R controlled vowels are exactly what they sound like…vowels controlled by the r! There are three r controlled vowel sounds: ar says arrrr like the pirate sound, or, and er/ir/ur says irrrrrr like someone slamming on the brakes! Let’s take a look at some sample r controlled words:

  • ar: cart, sharp, large, mark, farm
  • er: herd, germ, clerk, tiger, feather
  • ir: shirt, bird, circle, first, birthday
  • or: short, corn, story, port, orbit
  • ur: hurt, turtle, burn, purple, nurse

It can be helpful to create an r controlled vowel anchor chart to help students retain these sounds. A lot of teachers like to call these sounds “bossy r” sounds. The “bossy r” concept is that he is bossy and controls the sound but DOES still let the vowel go first.

bossy r anchor chart to teach the five r controlled vowel team spellings ar, er, ir, or, ur

So, now that we have figured out what the r controlled vowel sounds are, let’s take a look at some engaging and educational activities to enhance your lesson!

R Controlled Vowel Activities

Want to add some engaging technology into your lesson? Check out these options!

1) Videos & Songs

Jack Hartmann-Look out for Bossy R

4 Minute Phonics R Controlled Practice

Pirates say AR!

2) Books

There are even books to teach the r controlled sounds! Note: These are Amazon Affiliate links.

The Bossy r: How the R Controlled Vowels Came to Be

by Lynell Hecht

A Day at the Berns Family Farm: A Book of Phonics

by Laura Hudgens

3) Printable Resources

When you are ready for students to practice their r controlled vowels in small group or independently, Lucky Little Learners has you covered!

Phonics Day by Day

Phonics Day by Day is a GREAT morning work option! Students will complete the section that matches the day of the week, then can either turn it in daily, at the end of the week OR the class can review the section each day.

Phonics Day by Day sheet to practice r controlled vowels in different ways all week long

Bonus: teachers can use Phonics Day by Day in any order to match their phonics curriculum.

Read more about it here: No Prep Daily Phonics Review

Shop here: Phonics Day by Day


toothy task kits

Phonics Day By Day

2nd Grade Phonics Centers

With these Phonics Centers, teachers can choose between several r controlled vowel games! These centers are great for independent work as well as small group work!

shark tank 2nd grade phonics center activity in which children complete sentence puzzles containing r controlled vowel words

Read more about it here: Phonics Centers for 2nd Grade

Shop here: 2nd Grade Phonics Centers


toothy task kits

Printable & Digital Phonics Centers

Phonics Toothy

Another great independent work option is R Controlled Phonics Toothy! Students Love Toothy!! Bonus to toothy is once they learn how to play Toothy, they will know how to play it for all skills!

toothy game mat and r controlled vowel task card to practice spelling the word shirt

Read more about it (and try it FREE) here: Free Phonics Toothy Game

Shop here: 1st & 2nd Grade Phonics Toothy


Digital Phonics Toothy

toothy task kits

Printed Phonics Toothy Task Cards

Phonics Mats for 1st & 2nd Grade

Phonics Mats are an amazing resource jam packed with skill practice! Students will practice fluency, alphabetizing, phonics sounds and comprehension. Plus, there is a phonics mat for each r controlled vowel! Use these as an r controlled vowel worksheet to review or introduce the skill! Bonus: these mats are available for 1st and 2nd grade!

phonics mats include activities for practicing r controlled vowels in isolation and in text

Read more about it (and try for FREE) here: Free Phonics Worksheets

Shop here: 1st Grade Phonics Mats and 2nd Grade Phonics Mats


1st Grade Phonics Mats

toothy task kits

2nd Grade Phonics Mats

Phonics Posters

One of the best ways to cement learning is by anchoring it with anchor charts or posters for students to reference. Lucky Little Learners has created a sound wall WITH phonics posters!

r controlled vowel phonics spelling cards, pictures, and mouth formation pictures to display as a part of the classroom sound wall

Read more about it here: Let’s Talk About the Classroom Sound Wall

Shop here: Sound Wall with Mouth Pictures & Bonus Phonics Posters


sound wall and phonics posters

Sound Wall & Phonics Posters

How to Teach other 2nd Grade Phonics Concepts

Ready to teach another phonics skill? We’ve got a post for that!

Hard & Soft C/G

Silent Letters

Short Vowels

Short Vowel Digraphs

Long Vowels

Vowel Teams


Inflected Endings

Syllable Patterns/Multisyllabic Words


Happy teaching!


  1. Erik

    Should “These 5 sounds (ar, or, er, ir, ur) can be introduced and reviewed using several engaging strategies and resources.“ be revised to read, These 3 sounds, spelled 5 different ways (ar, or, er, ir, ur) can be introduced and reviewed using several engaging strategies and resources.”?

    • Jess

      Hello Erik! Great eye! Thank you for catching this! We’ve updated the language in that sentence. Together we are better!


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Welcome, I’m Angie!

Hello there! I’m Angie Olson- a teacher, curriculum developer, educational blogger and owner of Lucky Little Learners.

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