What the heck is a schwa?

Discussion in 'Elementary Education' started by Pisces_Fish, Nov 30, 2008.

  1. Pisces_Fish

    Pisces_Fish Fanatic

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    My phonics skill for this week are schwa words. The problem is, I don't know what the heck a schwa is! I googled it, but none of it makes sense to me. How can I teach it if I don't understand? Someone dumb it down for me? :help:
     
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  3. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    From wiki:1 : an unstressed mid-central vowel (as the usual sound of the first and last vowels of the English word America)
    2 : the symbol ə used for the schwa sound and less widely for a similarly articulated stressed vowel (as in cut)

    Schwa is the most common vowel sound in English, a reduced vowel in many unstressed syllables, especially if syllabic consonants are not used:

    like the 'a' in about [əˈbaʊt]
    like the 'e' in taken [ˈteɪkən]
    like the 'i' in pencil [ˈpɛnsəl]
    like the 'o' in eloquent [ˈɛləkwənt]
    like the 'u' in supply [səˈplaɪ]
    like the 'y' in sibyl [ˈsɪbəl]


    You could explain it to your kiddos as how sometimes vowels don't sound like 'themselves' and sometimes the sound they make is called 'schwa'...Some call 'schwa' the 'weak vowel' sound in words...

    Some words here:
    http://www.dwcummings.com/cbs/CBS 320 te.pdf
     
  4. BASAM

    BASAM Comrade

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    It is the "uhhh" sound in a word, example is the word about the a makes the "uhhh" sound. In medium the u makes the "uhhh" sound, at my school we refer to it as the "DUH" sound because during a training no one knew what it was, even the OCR trainer. :)
     
  5. Pisces_Fish

    Pisces_Fish Fanatic

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    Hmmm.....

    That helps it make more sense, but now I have a problem. I use Words Their Way, which basically means I make up all my own word lists (very frustrating, but it's what my school uses...)

    My partner teacher and I made up what we thought was a schwa list (more specifically, schwa + N). Anyway, some of the words we listed don't seem "schwa" to me, such as violin. I don't hear a schwa there.

    Here it is. Do you see any words in there that aren't "schwa?"

    1. Captain
    2. Fountain
    3. Bargain
    4. Curtain
    5. Stolen
    6. Listen
    7. Occasion
    8. Hidden
    9. Penguin
    10. Eleven
    11. Chosen
    12. Woman
    13. Cotton
    14. Ribbon
    15. Opinion
    16. Cousin
    17. Gallon
    18. Apron
    19. Again
    20. Violin
     
  6. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    Look up your word list in a dictionary or dictionary.com...if the pronunciation has the upside down e in it, then it has a schwa...

    I use Words Their Way...dont you have the word sorts books? Those are what I use for spelling words...The blue sort book (derivational spellers) has some schwa sorts:

    Sort 20 Vowel Alternation: Long to Short or Schwa 56

    Sort 21 Adding Suffix -ity: Vowel Alternation, Schwa to Short 57

    Sort 22 Vowel Alternations: Long, Short, and Schwa 58
     
  7. Pisces_Fish

    Pisces_Fish Fanatic

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    What a great idea about dictionary.com.

    I have the orange WTW sorts book, I think it's for derivational spellers (?) it's too high for most of my kids, so I don't use it. I get most of my words from Scholastic's Teaching Phonics and Word Study.
     
  8. Pisces_Fish

    Pisces_Fish Fanatic

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    Well, I tried Mirriam Webster's online dictionary because dictionary.com doesn't use the upside down e. It turns out that all my spelling words have a schwa, but not always at the end of the word. For the record, violin is a schwa. It's vi-upside down e-lin.

    Thank you! It all makes sense now :)
     
  9. Sarge

    Sarge Enthusiast

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    It's a vowel that can't remember the sound it's supposed to make, so it scratches its head and goes "uh?"
     
  10. cmorris

    cmorris Comrade

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    I call them lazy vowels.
     
  11. Upsadaisy

    Upsadaisy Moderator

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    Just think of words that have the duh sound. I don't think violin is a great example. Many people prounounce the second syllable as a long o.
     
  12. Pisces_Fish

    Pisces_Fish Fanatic

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    I agree that violin is not the greatest example, but I think I'll use it to discuss dialects/different ways of pronunciation.
     
  13. tracykaliski

    tracykaliski Connoisseur

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    I am an Orton Gillingham tutor and the schwa'ed sound in a word is the part of the wort WITHOUT the clear vowel sound. That's how I explain it to my kids and they always understand.

    I always teach them about schwa starting with the schwa a at the beginning of the word...

    away, about, amass, etc.

    Then I go to the schwa a sound in other parts of the word...

    llama, (I know there are more....I just can't think of them off of the top of my head).

    If you look at a word like mitten, the way it's divided into syllables is MIT.TEN The syllable with the schwa'ed sound in it is the second (TEN) because it sounds like tin, but it's spelled ten.

    Feel free to pm me if you have any questions.
     
  14. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    The orange book is 'emergent spellers' ...I have the yellow, green, red and blue books which pretty much cover my 2nd grade kiddos (I won't have any groups moving onto the blue sorts for a while)...Are all your kids doing the same lists? I assessed mine using the elementary spelling assessment in the BIG WTW book and have my kids grouped into 4 spelling levels, so 4 lists per week!
     
  15. Iteach782

    Iteach782 Comrade

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    Have I been teaching schwa completely wrong? I've always taught my students that schwa makes the /u/ sound like in about, the, of, extra, above, etc.
     
  16. cmorris

    cmorris Comrade

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    Nope, it's fine.
     
  17. MissFroggy

    MissFroggy Aficionado

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    We call it the unidentified flying schwa... and make a little alien noise with it. It can affect ANY vowel and makes the uhhhh sound.

    Constitution- constuhhhhtution
    violin - viuhhhhlin

    I have tried teaching it and never quite do it well enough. I remember learning it again in 8th grade and I got it then. I don't worry about it too much. Since it happens with every vowel, there isn't really a trick except to memorize the word. And since the kids aren't going to use those words all the time - like apron for example. (and does the schwa say short i in that word not uhh? AprIn?)

    Anyway, unless they are high frequency words I wouldn't worry about it. They will eventually get the word, hopefully, through exposure and correcting it often enough. I have learned words because spell check gets them or just through my old age.
     
  18. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Schwa in what passes for Standard American English is, if you will, the sound you make when your tongue is in neutral: just sort of lying there in your mouth and not going anywhere. Unstressed vowels in English tend to be pronounced as schwa, especially when they've lost their stress as a result of a suffix being added - that's what explains the different pronunciations in these words:

    preCEDE (no schwa, or one in some dialects, but not in the stressed syllable)
    PREcedence (full short vowel in the first syllable - one can argue, in fact, that the c has moved to the previous syllable, creating a closed syllable with a short vowel - then schwa in the second and third syllables)

    Certainly there are dialects in which the sound that's used for schwa doesn't exactly sound like schwa - MissFroggy evidently speaks one in which schwa is pronounced (in linguistics-speak "realized phonetically") as something like a very short and not very high short i.

    In standard English there are two schwas in the word constitution: one in the second syllable and another in the last syllable.

    I don't know anyone who NEVER pronounces the o in violin as schwa rather than long o - but I also don't know anyone who DOESN'T pronounce the o long in viola, because there it's stressed.

    Stress alternations can be really helpful in spelling.
     
  19. MissFroggy

    MissFroggy Aficionado

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    I think that's part of the problem with spelling lists from national curriculums. Since we pronounce words in various ways depending on region, the schwa and some other sounds will not be the same in each place.

    Another sound that comes to mind is aw. Where I live, paw and pa are pronounced the same, but in Brooklyn for example, they are pronounced very differently.

    And I say the O in viola, but not in violin, where I do pronounce it with an uhhh... Interesting stuff!!
     
  20. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    I seem to recall a curriculum that claimed that Standard American English has a triphthong (a triphthong is like a diphthong, but with three vowel sounds) in the words toe and grow. Turns out that the author hadn't looked closely enough, or learned enough phonetics, to be aware that her source was based on "Received Pronunciation" British English.
     
  21. blessedhands

    blessedhands Comrade

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    Where was I when this was being taught? I never knew the name of this concept. I learn something new everyday a tell ya.
     

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