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Closed Syllables

When teaching reading or spelling, the closed syllable is the first syllable type you should teach a beginning or remedial student. It is the most common syllable type and the easiest for students to learn.

What is a closed syllable? It follows the pattern of “a vowel followed by a consonant.” Take a look at the words ham, met, and kit. Each of these has “a vowel followed by a consonant.”

The vowel in a closed syllable is usually short. Knowing this fact helps beginning readers decode words and word parts which are closed syllables. The short vowel sounds are:

/a/ as in mat
/e/ as in hen
/i/ as in fin
/o/ as in hot
/u/ as in cup

It is best to teach one vowel sound at a time, and work with that one until the student can reliably read and spell one-syllable words containing that vowel before moving on to the next vowel sound. Here are some closed syllable words containing short a:


When your student is comfortable with these words, it is time to teach words containing short i. (Save short e for last, as it is slightly more difficult for some students.) Teach simple words such as:


Next, teach simple words containing short o, short u, and short e.

My favorite (and my students’ favorite) way of teaching these words is with the use of letter tiles. The letter tiles are 1” square and each contains a letter or letter combination (such as sh, th, or ch). We build words together, and the student learns to sound out the words by pronouncing the sound represented by each letter tile. This is a very effective method for introducing children to reading and spelling.

After the student can easily read and spell two- and three-letter words using the letter tiles and in print, move on to slightly more complex closed syllable words. These contain initial and final blends, as in the words swim, stop, pond, kept, and camp. Then introduce the letter combinations sh, th, and ch, and work on words containing these phonograms.

Many multisyllable words are composed of closed syllables. Some examples include contrast, disgust, happen, hotdog, instruct, itself, limit, problem, publish, pumpkin, subject, trumpet, upset, until, and velvet. Teaching a student to read one syllable at a time enables them to read words such as these quite easily. The word publish is easier for a beginning student to read when it is broken into two syllables.

Closed syllables are the easiest and most basic building blocks that your student needs to master in learning to read. After your student is comfortable with closed syllables, he will have a good foundation on which to build.

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