Have you ever noticed that short a is pronounced whiny or nasally when it is followed by certain constants like n and m? It’s true because there are actually 8 different sounds made by the letter a and this can be explicitly taught to students. Keep reading to learn more about the whiny a phonics “rule” and how to teach this to your students!
Knowing the whiny A phonics “rule” and how to teach it can help your students with decoding and reading fluently.
Check out all of the Simply Kinder Science of Reading articles here.
This activity goes well with these Simply Kinder resources:
Phonics Rules You Need To Know
There are so many phonics “rules” or generalizations that teachers were never explicitly taught and thus cannot pass along this knowledge to students. Too often we explain that certain sounds are exceptions to rules or irregular when actually they follow a predictable phonics rule.
Whiny a after nasal consonants like m and n is one of those rules! Let’s explore!
Why does short a sound different before n and m?
When the letter A is followed by a nasal sound like n, m, or ng, the a sound distorts into that nasal sound and becomes whiny too.
Try saying bat: /b/ /a/ /t/ You will notice that your mouth opens wide and says a “pure” short a sound.
Now try saying pan: /m/ /a/ /n/ You will notice that your mouth does not open as wide and the a sounds more nasally or whiny! Your jaw does not drop down as much which causes a different sound of a! Note that the tongue position is the same. You can also feel that /a/ coming out your nose too – go head and say it again and feel your nose. Crazy right?!
The “rule” or generalization is that if a vowel is followed by a nasal constant then it is distorted to sound whiny too!
This applies to nasal consonants such as m and n which are typically taught in kindergarten but note that it is also true for ng (such as anger)
Why teach whiny A phonics rule
Students (& teachers) that understand this rule can decode words like can, jam, ham, Sam, etc more fluently because they understand that a will sound whiny after explicit instruction.
Will some students figure out this pattern without instruction? Sure! But why leave them guessing! ALL students can benefit from explicit phonics instruction to help move from segmenting and decoding to fluent and automatic reading! That is the goal so let’s give students the tools they need to get there!
Read more about building fluent readers here!
How to teach letters & sounds
Teach students from speech to print using tools like a sound wall in your classroom! Read more about using a sound wall in kindergarten here!
A sound wall is built with a constant wall as shown below segmented by the different mouth formations each constant produces.
A sound wall also includes a vowel valley which can help students practice the different sounds vowels make with specific keywords.
Students learn more language from speech first so let’s make our instruction match what they know and move to print more fluidly with instructional tools like a sound wall.
Check out the entire Phonics & Phonemes Sound Wall with Real Mouth Photos here.
Whiny A Phonics Rule
Explicitly teaching students the 44 phoneme sounds and phonics rules allows students to decode quicker and build brain connections that lead to fluent reading! While some students will need more support than others, ALL students can benefit from explicit phonics instruction.
So now you know why a sounds whiny sometimes and how to explain it to your students!