Celebrate National Schwa Day on April 7th!

We are eagerly counting down the days until language enthusiasts and educators alike come together to recognize the schwa by celebrating National Schwa Day on April 7th! But some of you may be wondering, what is the schwa, and why does it deserve its own day?

What is the Schwa?

Did you know that the schwa is the most common sound in the English language and can replace any vowel in a word with more than one syllable?! The schwa sound resembles a more relaxed version of /ŭ/ or /ĭ/ in place of any vowel with a word that has more than one syllable and is represented in written form by an upside-down, lowercase e, like this ə. We often see it on our Sound Wall right smack-dab in the middle of the Vowel Valley. The schwa is sometimes referred to as a “lazy” sound, but to us, the fact that it can replace any vowel sound in a multisyllabic word seems more like a superpower…almost like the wild card of syllables!


(caption): Examples of words with a schwa sound. 

Why Celebrate National Schwa Day?

National Schwa Day is an opportunity to recognize and appreciate this unique aspect of English pronunciation. It's a day to have fun with language and explore the schwa's role in our everyday speech. After all, who wouldn't want to celebrate something that adds a touch of relaxation to our linguistic adventures?

History of National Schwa Day

National Schwa Day is inspired by Yvette Manns, a language and literacy specialist, and the author of "The Not-So-Lazy Schwa." Her book is thoughtfully designed to make learning about the schwa more engaging for young learners. Through a lovable character, the book illustrates the schwa's initially perceived laziness due to its unstressed nature, but it ultimately finds its place when combined with other letter sounds to form multisyllabic words. Additionally, the story touches on themes of belonging and being different from others, making it a valuable addition to any classroom library.

Why April 7th?

April 7th was chosen for National Schwa Day because the word "April" has a schwa in place of the "i," and the word "seven" has a schwa in place of the second "e." This year (2024), National Schwa Day falls on a Sunday, so we recommend celebrating on April 11th instead, since "eleven" also uses a schwa in place of the "e." However, feel free to celebrate on the following Monday or the week prior, whatever works best with your schedule.

How to Celebrate National Schwa Day

To enhance your celebration and support teachers we’ve created a free National Schwa Day Celebration Kit, filled with exciting and engaging activities for both the classroom and home complete with access to a read-aloud video featuring Yvette Manns herself reading "The Not-So-Lazy Schwa," coloring pages, classroom handouts, games, and more! Visit www.NationalSchwaDay.org for more fun ways to celebrate and to download your free kit. 

Share Your National Schwa Day Celebration With Us!

We hope you’ll join us in celebrating National Schwa Day! Let's come together in our love for language and the joy of learning as we cheer for the schwa and its linguistic marvels. We're excited to see your creative activities, so please share them with us on social media by tagging @PhonicsReadAlouds and using #NationalSchwaDay.

If you're interested in getting your own copy of "The Not-So-Lazy Schwa," visit our website and sign up for the Phonics Read-Alouds newsletter to receive 10% off your first purchase!

Tips for Teaching Students Schwa So It Sticks

Schwa. Not just a random group of letters, or a word our students love to say. We often see it on our Sound Wall right, smack-dab in the middle of Vowel Valley. But why does schwa matter?

Teachers implementing a curriculum based on the Science of Reading or using a Structured Literacy approach in their classroom have more than likely heard of a schwa. If you haven’t, no worries! We are here to learn and grow together.

What Is a Schwa?

A schwa is actually the most common sound in the English language. It’s the sound that we produce when we say words that have an unstressed syllable, to make the words sound more natural and relaxed.

The schwa sound resembles a more relaxed version of /ŭ/ or /ĭ/ in place of any vowel with a word that has more than one syllable.

For example: banana has two schwa sounds that take the place of the sound of short a. Say it out loud: buh-na-nuh. Did you hear it? Don’t worry if you didn’t, we’ve
got some more practice for you!

Where Do We Find Schwa?

A schwa appears in an unemphasized syllable of a word, which is said faster and quieter than the emphasized (louder and slower) syllable.

The schwa sound can take the place of any vowel sounds and is in many common words such as:
America, pencil, bottom, salad, carrot, dragon, vinyl and more!

Where Did Schwa Come From and Where Is It Found in Words?

The word “schwa” can be traced back to 1895, with German and Hebrew roots, and is defined as a “neutral vowel” or “emptiness”. It is represented by an upside-down e when it’s written in the International Phonetic Alphabet and you can find it in dictionaries in the pronunciation notes.

Why Does Schwa Matter?

When we are teaching schwa to students, we may reinforce short and long vowels, but schwa is just as important. For example, when our students can correctly
identify schwa, it’ll lead to:
● Improved pronunciation
● Greater reading comprehension
● More fluent reading
● Better spelling
● More natural-sounding speech
● Enhanced word-level understanding

When Should Students Start Learning About Schwa?

We’d recommend introducing schwa after students have received explicit and systematic instruction in sound-symbol correspondence. Schwa is best understood
by students when they have been introduced to multisyllabic words.

We want to make sure that students have a solid understanding of vowel sounds before explaining how schwa can take the place of any vowel. We’ve found that
students actually enjoy learning about schwa (and saying the word “schwa” is pretty fun too!).

(Looking for more ideas on how to teach schwa to your learners? Head over to the "Classroom Activities" page, and grab some free downloads now!)

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