Do your learners know when to double up a consonant when adding a suffix ‘ed’? In the article I’ll do a deep dive into “How to teach the suffix ‘ed’ doubling consonant rule.

I see many children (and adults) who struggle to know when they need to double up the consonant when spelling a word with a suffix ‘ed’ and likewise, they’re not sure if a word says ‘hopped’ or ‘hoped’.

For example when writing a sentence is it spelled;  “I hopped on one leg” or ” I hoped on on leg”. If a learner is reading this sentences, they are more likely to read the word ‘hopped’ correctly as they can pick up the meaning within the context of the sentence.

Language, assume NOTHING.

Language and understanding is actually one of the first places to to start. I recall, I once taught a student all the principles of the spelling rules of suffix ‘ed’ but was later surprised when they spelled some words wrong. One of the key aspects which I hadn’t taught was around language. The learner simply didn’t recognise the single word I had asked them to spell was a verb in the past.  It’s so easy to assume that when a learner says a sentence and uses a verb in the past tense correctly, that they understand there is a verb and suffix present in the word, or at least they understand that the word they have said is in the past tense.

One thing I always teach any person wishing to help learners to read and spell is assume NOTHING, Check knowledge.

Why do we double up consonants?

Verbs, what are they?

When teaching the suffix ‘ed’ the first place to start is check the leaner understands what a verb is. With the technical words of verbs, nouns and adjectives, I discover so many leaners can’t recall which one is which. It’s important to consolidate that vocabulary first or at least refer to a ‘verb’ as something which is more direct and explicit, such as ‘a doing word’ or ‘action’. Make it really clear that anyone who talks about this and interchanges these terms, are talking about the same thing. Use the vocabulary the learner understands.

Past tense, what is it? Give semantic links

Once you’ve worked on what a verb is, check the learner understand what the ‘past tense’ or ‘in the past means’.  This can be; yesterday, last week, a month or years ago, just a few seconds ago. You’ll be surprised how many many learners haven’t understood the meaning of ‘past tense’.  I like to draw a time line to help learners grasp this.  I also develop semantic links by talking about their hobbies and interests and put verbs they use in a past tense sentence. Use vocabulary that clearly demonstrated past tense, i.e. ‘yesterday’.  ‘Yesterday, I played football’.

Get to grips with verbs, say it first

I the start to ask a learner what verbs they know. I use pictures of people doing an action, to prompt a learner. I also ask them to demonstrate such as hopping up jumping, for those who are really struggling to recall an action, I ask about their daily routine. What did you do this morning/today?  Did you “eat your lunch, brush your teeth, comb your hair, wash your face, play with a friend, watch TV… I would then ask if they can tell me which word is the action/verb.

Following on from this, I’d start to check if they could say the verb/action in the past tense. This is done by prompting a spoken sentence “This morning I ???? my teeth”, I would then repeat this task with several sentences and verbs.

It’s also important to check they understand not all verbs simply add the ‘ed’ to the end. I then start to make silly sentences and ask if they are right.  ” I swimmed in the pool”. What should I say?

Manipulate letters and write

Once you’re happy the learner can orally convert a verb into the past tense, ask if they know what they’re adding to the end of a word. Ask them to listen to words, such as ‘play’ turning into ‘played’. What can they hear is different in the word? Try to stick with words that do say /ed/, /id/ or /d/.  Such as as, ‘nested, dented, tanned’. Not words such as ‘picked, camped’ as they say /kt/ and /pt/.  You may need to do this with a few past tense verbs as at first some learners find it a struggle to understand what you’ve asked them to do.

It’s always important to demonstrate this on paper too. Some times quite directly, by writing down the verb, then re writing next to it the word with the suffix ‘ed’ attached. Then ask the learner to look at how the two words are different and highlight the part of the word which has been added. Repeat this several times. The learner needs to clearly understand that we have a root word and a suffix added. But for the time being I don’t tend to introduce this terminology as it can be overwhelming.

I would then start to make a table of verbs (usually the ones they know how to spell) those that will convert regularly to past tense, adding ‘ed’ and those which we can use initially by just adding ‘ed’, the doubling up consonant rule can be introduced later.  These can  all be found in Series 2 of CodeBreakers. I would add this to the time line and demonstrate how the ‘ed’ is added. I would also suggest using plastic/wooden letters to physically move and show additions of the extra letter (doubled consonant)  and ‘ed’.

What sound does the vowel make?

Next, we need to make sure when working on this section that your learner knows the difference between a long vowel sound and a short vowel sound.  A vowel makes a long sound in ‘hoped’ and a short sound in ‘hopped’  Once we can identify the long or short vowel sound in a word that helps us to apply the correct rule.  It might be that a student is struggling between hearing the long or short vowel sound. You might need to repeat lots of work to help them understand, process and hear the difference.  If you’re following the CodeBreakers programme you will have learned about the 2 sounds a vowel makes in series 1.

Trapping in vowels

In series 1, we also talk about syllables being open or closed.  If you have a short vowel sound, it is important to CLOSE the vowel in. For example the word ‘hop’. The vowel is trapped in by the consonant on the end of the word (p), therefore the syllable is closed. Likewise in the word ‘nest’ the vowel is trapped in by the ‘st’ and this makes it a closed syllable. It is important to know what sound the vowel makes as this all depends on whether we double a consonant or not, as we want the vowel to stay the same sound.

The rule

Once you’ve established the above we can then start to reason why we do or don’t double consonants up. I ask the learner to write down the action ‘hop’  I then ask if they want this word to be in the past tense, what would they add to the end. Usually, ‘ed’ is added to the end by the learner. I chat about this being a reasonable thing to do as we have the word ‘hop’ and we want it to be in the past so we should just add ‘ed’.

Then I demonstrated two words;

‘hopped & hoped’

be careful not to say the words as you write them. Ask the learner which one says which word. Ask them to explore why ‘pp’ might be in the middle of one word but not another. It’s important to help the learner to discover and reason why using their existing knowledge.

Chopping up words

We can then talk about dividing words in syllables ‘hop/ped’.  I like to set out all the wooden/plastic letters of ‘hopped’. Then I get a ruler out and  practice chopping the word in two.  I ask the student to find the vowel, then the 2 ‘pp’ after the vowel in the middle of the word and chop between them.  In the first half they will see the word ‘hop’. This is the root word/action/verb. If you are using CodeBreakers, you will have practised this in series 1 using the work book on closed syllables. Here is where it becomes really useful.

However, it’s important that learner understands that the second ‘p’ is silent and we don’t pronounced the word ‘hop-ped’.

I discovered one student who liked to count letters on her fingers. We devised a way for her to sound out and check spellings on her fingers.

Always find the verb

It is also important, when listening to a word, that the learner can distinguish the root word or the verb, in this case it would be ‘hop’, to hop.  I ask the student to identify the action/doing word/root word and spell this word ‘hop’ (on paper).  I then ask them to identify the vowel and highlight it. Then, how many letters (consonants) there are after the vowel. In this case there is only one ‘hop‘.  I ask them to highlight that letter (p) in a different colour, to ensure visual reinforcement. I ask the learner to tell me what sound the vowel makes in ‘hop’. Check they get this right.  We then tell the learner that if we want it to stay a short sound then we must double up the last letter of the word to keep the vowel trapped in. Then we can add the ‘ed’ to tell us the word is in the past.

Why don’t we double up consonants?

You should also explicitly teach that some words naturally have 2 consonants after the vowel. Such as ‘nest‘ or dent‘. Again, teach your learner to look for the vowel, then count how many letters come after the vowel. when the vowel is shot, we always want to count ‘1,2’ after the vowel before adding the suffix ‘ed’. Where a word naturally has 2 letters after the vowel, we DON’T NEED TO DOUBLE UP.

You should repeat this with a few words to ensure the learner can thoroughly use the rule. Make sure that you repeat this with other words which don’t end in ‘p’, otherwise there is a danger the learner thinks ‘p’ is added to every word. I have seen this happen. We have great word lists in CodeBreakers series 2, workbooks 4, 5, 6 & 7.  What you’ll notice with the workbooks is they start off with the basic ‘ed’ where it makes the /d/, /id/ or /ed/ sound such as ‘nested, patted’, then workbooks move onto /pt/ sound in words such as ‘hopped’ and ‘camped’. It is really important that the learner understands that these are still words which are verbs in the past. That when words ending in ‘p’ meet the ‘ed’ it tends to make a /pt/ sound. Likewise with /kt/ in words such as ‘picked’ and ‘milked’.

For younger students, I tell them we want to trap the vowel.  Some students also like to say that it stops the ‘e’ within suffix ‘ed’ acting as a magic/silent ‘e’/split digraph and changing the vowel to a long sound.

What happens when the vowel sound is long?

When the vowel has long sound, first of all check the learner can hear that. There are then 2 ways of working on this.  You can discuss spelling the root word and recap the magic ‘e’/silent ‘e’/split digraph rules found in series 1 book 8.  You then need to describe the ‘e’ as being part of the ‘ed’ and in the same way as before draw an arrow showing how the ‘e’ can get to the vowel and change the vowel sound to long.

Another way is to teach that if we want the vowel to be long, we only need to count ‘1’ letter after the vowel.  You can also chop the word up too. This time, locate the single consonant in the middle of the word and chop BEFORE it. You’ll find this rule in more depth in series 1 in the workbook on open syllables. basically, when we chop a word before a single consonant ‘ho/ped’, the vowel that is exposed (not trapped in) is said to be a long sound.

There are lots of overlearning opportunities and pages of games and worksheets in CodeBreakers series 2 workbooks.

Home shop                                    School shop

We hope you’ve found this helpful, please share with friends and colleagues.

Georgina @CodeBreakers