Long O words: How to Differentiate Between OA, OE, and OW

Do your students struggle with distinguishing “long O” words like OA, OE, and OW? It can be tricky to differentiate these sounds—who knew there were so many ways for the letter ‘O’ to be spelled?! But don’t worry teachers: you’ve got this. With a few helpful tricks and tips on teaching long O in mind, your students will soon be mastering this phonics skill easily.

Introduce the Rules

Like with many other vowel teams, there are some loose rules to follow. If you hear the long o sound at the beginning or in the middle of a word, it is typically the -oa spelling. Ow is the most common long o vowel team when you hear /o/ at the end of a word. There are a few exceptions like flown and bowl where ow comes in the middle. Oe is the least common. It comes at the end of a few one-syllable words and a few compound words.

long o phonics rules oa oe ow

These posters are helpful in teaching when to use which spelling.

Sort words with oa, oe, and ow

Sorting words helps children practice their ability to recognize beginning letter sounds, practice writing skills, and build familiarity with new vocabulary. It also provides students the opportunity to see the rules in action. I love to ask “What do you notice?” after we have sorted words to see what observations students make.

long o oa oe ow word sorting activity

Practice Words with oa, oe, and ow

  • Play games with flashcards like Kaboom or memory
  • Create a tongue twister with a set of words that fit the pattern. Practice reading it with a partner.
  • Make a list of words with each spelling pattern. Try to draw a picture to represent each word.
  • Use picture cards to sort and write words with each pattern.
  • Create a word search using a list of long o vowel team words.
  • Search for long o vowel team words in books.
free vowel team phonics posters
These vowel team posters are perfect for your students to reference throughout the year.


Dictation is a powerful tool for learning phonics skills. Developing an understanding of common phonics patterns can help students better understand how to spell and read words that use those sounds. With consistent dictation practice, students can improve their phonics skills and gain confidence in their ability to decode words correctly. So, if you’re looking to master long o vowel teams and other phonics skills, incorporating daily dictation into your routine just might be the key to achieving your goals!

Download this free word list.

long o word list free

Apply the Skill to Text

Once students have had ample time to practice sorting, spelling, and writing words with the long o vowel team patterns, it’s time to apply their knowledge to text. Using a decodable story that includes words with oa, oe, and ow is the perfect way to formatively assess students’ understanding of how to decode these words.

long o words decodable passage

Independent Practice and Assessment

Now that your students are beginning to master this skill, they can continue reviewing and practicing on their own! You can incorporate more practice into their morning work, literacy centers, or independent work time.

long o assessment quiz vowel teams

Now that students have worked hard to master long o vowel teams, it’s time to check their understanding. Using a quiz or exit ticket will help you plan for further instruction.

There are so many great activities and games that you can use to teach the long o vowel teams! This can be a tough concept for students to grasp, but with some practice, they will get it in no time. Check out the links below for more resources for teaching oa, oe, and ow.

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