Current eBook Series: Short Vowel Shorts

When Two Vowels Go Walking, The First One (Almost Always, Usually, Half the Time, Sometimes, Rarely) Does The Talking

By Tate Johnston on January 30, 2014 in Teaching Reading

You may be familiar with and possibly may have even taught the reading/spelling rule: When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking.

But what percentage of the time does this widely known reading/spelling rule actually hold true?

Pick one:

20% – Rarely
40% – Sometimes
50% – Half the Time
70% – Usually
90% – Almost Always

The answer … after this non-random list of words that contain vowel pairs:







(None of these follow the “rule” which would have the first vowel say the vowel’s letter name.)

The answer: 40%!!!

We’re familiar with and maybe have been teaching children a “rule” that holds true less than half the time.


(Or should I say: “Y”- ks!)

That’s not even “flip a coin” odds!

I think if a “rule” is true less than 50% of the time, it’s not a rule anymore; it’s actually the exception.

What about other rules?

Dr. McGuiness goes on to argue “memorizing rules is not only inefficient, it doesn’t work. Even when children can memorize rules, research has shown that they never apply them when they read or spell [emphasis mine].”



That’s usually false on true/false tests.

But it’s convincing enough that I am going to reexamine any “rules” that I come across while teaching my son to read.

And I’m definitely going to try to forget or at least modify this very sticky, memorable and mostly inaccurate “rule” because …

When two vowels go walking, the first one is like most guys in relationships, it does the talking less than half the time.


Do you know or teach rules that you would say hold up “almost always?”

What’s your experience teaching reading/spelling rules? Do you find that there are rules kids find useful while reading and spelling?

Share with us as we take this journey of discovery together!


Source for stat & quote:

McGuiness, Dr. Diane, Why Our Children Can’t Read And What We Can Do About It: A Scientific Revolution In Reading, 1997, Simon & Schuster, New York, New York, pp. 95 & 250.

About the Author

Tate JohnstonView all posts by Tate Johnston


Add comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *