Teaching the Schwa: Schwa Sound Words, Printables & More

Teaching the Schwa: Schwa Sound Words, Printables & More

Are you feeling a little intimidated about teaching the schwa to your elementary students? These resources will simplify your lesson planning and help you feel more confident about this important concept! Get the list of schwa sound words, my printables, slideshows, games, and more to make this tricky concept as easy and fun as possible!

The schwa is the most common vowel sound, yet it befuddles many kids and adults. Because it is so prominent, it's really important to understand this concept, and fortunately, it really doesn't have to be complicated at all! I have a variety of evidence-based schwa resources that you can implement in your classroom right away, including step-by-step slideshows, wall posters, worksheets, and more.

Although the schwa can be difficult to teach, your students are likely already encountering it. As they try to read independently, they get stuck pronouncing words phonetically, only to find out they don't sound quite right. "Salad" becomes sal-add, which doesn't ring a bell. Conversely, you may also see their LACK of schwa knowledge in their writing, when they might write a word like 'cabin' as 'cabn'.

Since English is already full of confusing rules and exceptions, this can cause students to read and re-read the same sentence over and over again or rely on visual cues, like pictures, instead of decoding the word. This is not what we want!

However, if you can meet your students exactly where they are and teach them the concept of schwa early on, they'll have a much easier time decoding tricky words and, therefore, reading. 

PS - If you want to grab all of my schwa resources at once, sign up for a free 7 day trial of The Hive, my digital teacher platform loaded with interactive apps, videos, worksheets, games, lesson plans and more. It's a game-changer, and will help you spend less time planning and more time teaching!

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What is the schwa sound?

The schwa is any unstressed vowel in a word. It's a lazy vowel sound that doesn't match the corresponding long or short vowel sound. Instead, it usually turns into "uh" or "ih." It's similar to the short i or short u sound, but less structured.

I like to describe schwa to kids as a vowel sound that is LAZY (e.g. in family) or TRYING TO HIDE (e.g. in dragon). Sometimes we don't even hear the schwa sound, which is why we often find kids writing words like 'dragon' as 'dragn'. 

Ultimately, schwa is a lazy sound that native speakers make to say the word faster. We naturally know where those unstressed vowels will be and skip the proper phonetic pronunciation to get the word out quickly. This is efficient in conversation, but really confusing for kids learning how to read and also for non-native speakers!

  • ba/na/na (buh - nah - nuh)
  • a/gain (uh - gen)
  • wa/gon (wa- gun)

Things to Remember

  • In the International Phonetic Alphabet, the schwa is indicated with symbol ə.
  • Any vowel can make the schwa sound, which can be really confusing for students who are just starting to grasp the long and short vowel sounds. 
  • In some words, we may drop the schwa sound completely, like chocolate, family, or camera. In other words, we add a schwa between two consonant sounds (like rhythm).

    Schwa Sound Words

    There are plenty of examples of the schwa in the English language, including many common words which your students interact with every day. The following words are divided by the vowel that turns into the schwa, but note that some words have two schwas, and there are also differences between the English dialects as well.

    A Schwa Words

    • about

    • account
    • achieve
    • across
    • adjust
    • adopt
    • afraid
    • again
    • ago
    • ahead
    • alarm
    • alert
    • alone
    • along
    • alphabet
    • amazing
    • animal
    • apart
    • apartment
    • aroma
    • around 
    • asleep
    • attack
    • atlas
    • attention
    • awake
    • award
    • away
    • balloon
    • banana
    • China
    • comma
    • drama
    • extra
    • formal
    • general
    • gorilla
    • hospital
    • human
    • legal
    • metal
    • miserable
    • natural
    • panda
    • pasta
    • pizza
    • principal
    • ricotta
    • salad
    • separate
    • soda
    • sofa
    • stomach
    • sultana
    • thousand
    • tuba
    • umbrella
    • zebra

    E Schwa Words

      • accident

      • angel
      • apparent
      • behind
      • below
      • broken
      • calendar
      • carpet
      • celebrate
      • children
      • cinema
      • darken
      • dozen
      • eclipse
      • electric
      • elephant
      • eleven
      • enough
      • escape
      • even
      • flatten
      • frozen
      • golden
      • happen
      • harden
      • helmet
      • hundred
      • item
      • jacket
      • kitten
      • listen

      • locket
      • mitten
      • model
      • necessary
      • open
      • oven
      • present
      • pretzel
      • problem
      • remember
      • rocket
      • seven
      • shaken
      • sharpen
      • silent
      • siren
      • spoken
      • stolen
      • sudden
      • swollen
      • system
      • taken
      • telephone
      • thicken
      • ticket
      • waken
      • witness
      • wooden
      • written

      I Schwa Words

      • acid
      • activity
      • animal
      • April
      • basil
      • bikini
      • cabin
      • capital
      • carnival
      • cavity
      • coffin
      • council
      • cousin
      • decimal
      • denim
      • devil
      • difficult
      • edit
      • evil
      • family
      • fossil
      • gossip
      • gravity
      • habit
      • holiday
      • horrible
      • hospital
      • limit
      • magical
      • medical
      • medicine
      • musical
      • origin
      • original
      • pelican
      • pencil
      • physical
      • possible
      • president
      • promise
      • quality
      • quantity
      • rabbit
      • raisin
      • rapid
      • responsible
      • similar
      • solid
      • specific
      • spirit
      • tonsil
      • tropical
      • tulip
      • turnip
      • unicorn
      • uniform
      • victim
      • visible
      • visit
      • worship

      O Schwa Words

      • apron
      • arson
      • astronaut
      • beckon
      • bottom
      • button
      • cannon
      • carrot
      • colon
      • common
      • crimson
      • dinosaur
      • dragon
      • factory
      • freedom
      • gorilla
      • harmony
      • kingdom
      • lemon
      • lesson
      • lion
      • London
      • melon
      • oblige
      • observe
      • obstruct
      • obtuse
      • obtain
      • occasion
      • occur
      • offend
      • omit
      • oppose
      • opponent
      • parrot
      • petrol
      • pilot
      • plankton
      • poison
      • political
      • prison
      • python
      • reason
      • reckon
      • ribbon
      • season
      • second
      • symbol
      • tomorrow
      • unicorn
      • wagon
      • wisdom
      • woman

      U Schwa Words

      • album
      • bogus
      • bonus
      • cactus
      • campus
      • cherub
      • circus
      • citrus
      • dandruff
      • difficult
      • focus
      • fungus
      • minus
      • minute
      • mucus
      • onus
      • rhombus
      • status
      • success
      • suggest
      • supply
      • support
      • upon
      • Venus
      • virus
      • volunteer
      • walrus

      Y Schwa Words

      • analysis
      • syringe
      • oxygen
      • martyr
      • vinyl
      • pyjamas (depends on dialect)

      *Note about dialect differences: In Australian English, we generally pronounce r-controlled sounds at the end of words as a schwa sound. This can include -er, -ir, -or, -ar-, -our, and -ure. This is not the same as British or American English pronunciation. 

      You can download the full list of schwa sound words here.

      It also includes a list of schwa words sorted by their location in words e.g. beginning of words (like afraid), middle of words (like in dragon) or at the end of words (like in comma).

      Teaching the Schwa Sound

      First, I recommend starting with phonemic awareness. Your students need to become attuned to the sound they're looking for and practise hunting it down in different words. 

      This is best with explicit instruction. Start with the whole group, have students practice independently while you check their work, and then let them work on their own. 

      To simplify this process and minimise your prep time, I've created an in-depth schwa sound slideshow which you can use to guide your students through the learning process. It covers the schwa from A to Z, including what it is, why it's important, common spelling patterns, and over 70 words to study.

      Since this skill takes lots of practice, it's helpful to have so many schwa words lined up and ready to go!

      Syllable Types

      Once your students have a basic understanding of this concept, introduce stressed and unstressed syllables. This can be a difficult concept, so make it really interactive and fun!

      In multisyllabic words, the schwa is in the unaccented syllable. 

      In the word human, the first syllable hu is the stressed syllable, and the second syllable man is unstressed. Therefore, we use the long u sound ("yoo") in the first syllable, and the short a becomes a schwa. 

      To practise, have your students say a word out loud and notice which part comes out faster or stronger. Practise stressing different parts of the word to notice the differences. 

      For example, hu-MAN would sound funny to our ears compared to HU-man. The more that students can do this, the easier it will be to learn the schwa over time. 

      However, this only really works if your students understand what syllables are and can tell which ones are stressed or unstressed. If your schedule allows, take some time to teach syllables, particularly syllable types.

      My syllable types posters cover open syllables, closed syllables, vowel team syllables, and more. Through this practice, your students will become more comfortable with manipulating and breaking apart multisyllabic words to understand how the sounds work together. 

      You could also use The Hive's digital syllable mapping tool to consolidate a strong understanding of syllables.

      Schwa Classroom Display

      One of my favourite ways to teach this sound is to focus on where the sound appears in the multi-syllable words: beginning, middle, or end. This three-column schwa poster makes an easy visual reference that you can use to record words as they come up in class. This is such a great resource as kids start to use the schwa independently!

      Plus, it helps students notice different patterns or commonalities and develop their own schwa rules. For example, an A at the end of a word is almost always a schwa. This student-led approach can be incredibly powerful and a great way to build metacognition!

      I use the same basic concept in this Schwa Picture Sort, which uses images instead of requiring students to sound out the written words. Great for early readers!

      Schwa Printables

      To help your students consolidate their new learning, grab these printable schwa word cards and word sorts for independent work during literacy centers.

      Kids love that they’re hands-on, and I love that require students to really interact with the words and make decisions based on their learning.

      Roll & Find the Schwa Activity

      In this interactive schwa activity, students roll the dice, then read through a list of different words to see which one has a schwa. Since this activity is hands-on, it's more exciting than filling out a worksheet, yet it still requires decoding and practising the same skills.

      Teaching schwa

      Although it can feel intimidating to teach such an ambiguous concept to young kids, I promise it's not as bad as it seems! Just remember that they're already bumping into the schwa as they decode sentences on their own. If you can teach the schwa early on, they’ll have fewer frustrations that slow down their reading success. It's worth it!

      Looking for more?

      The Hive has a growing library of digital learning tools to support your phonics lessons - and so much more! Here are some of the ways that you could use some of The Hive's tools to consolidate schwa knowledge with your students!

      Word Builder

      Use our famous Word Builder tool to map words with schwa, and enable the heart words function to identify the schwa/s in the word.

      Tic Tac Toe

      This game is a firm favourite in classrooms all around the world! In partners or teams, students must decode the word and identify the schwa before they can play their turn.


      Our Spinner picker can be used in so many different ways - for decodable words, rhyming words, math questions, vocabulary and so much more. Another option is to spin words with schwa sounds and find the schwa in each word!

      Flash Cards 

      Just like the Spinner picker, our Flash Cards can be linked to all of our decodable word lists, maths expression generators and word banks or you can also add your own words. These would be a great tool for quick repetition and review of schwa words! Plus, you can use our annotation tool to divide the words into syllables and identify the schwa sound!