Have you ever wondered why parents and teachers ask children to clap for each syllable they hear in words, often without really understanding the point of all that enthusiastic clapping? So, why do we teach children to hear syllables in words?
Children do benefit from learning the concept of syllables, such as hearing them in words, understanding the syllable-spelling connection, and knowing that every syllable has a vowel. There are six common types of syllables found in English orthography. Teaching how these syllable patterns work in reading and spelling can be a powerful skill building activity for students, especially those who struggle to read, write, and spell.
Once a child understands the concept of syllables, and can hear them in words, they are ready to begin learning the common syllable-spelling patterns. They can also learn how knowing these patterns will help them learn to read and spell.
I teach the six syllable types to explain things my older students wonder about. For example, why are certain vowels used, when should you double consonants, and how does one know the correct way to pronounce sounds in words? Reading and spelling no longer feel so random and mysterious once children learn how words work.
Breaking words down into syllables simplifies reading and spelling, especially for more fluent readers and spellers. Think about how you spell long, unknown words. You probably break the word down into manageable chunks as you spell it. Systematically teaching students how to hear syllables, then teaching the six syllable types, helps students read and spell challenging, multisyllabic words they previously would have misread or skipped.
The six syllable types should be taught to students only after they have learned the basic concept of what a syllable is. Here are the six syllable types:
- Closed Syllables
Vowels in closed syllables are usually short. These are typically the first words taught and learned, so this is a good place to start syllable type instruction. Closed syllables have a short vowel, followed by at least one consonant: much, vet, shell, insect, publish, sunset
- Open Syllables
Open syllables end in a vowel that is usually long. Some examples of open syllables are: shy, go, me, silo, zero. Words can have more than one type of syllable, such as these words with both an open and closed syllable: rerun or robot.
- Vowel-consonant-silent e Syllables
Vowels in these syllables are long and the final e is silent. Some examples are: lime, those, snake. Examples of words with an open and vowel-consonant-silent e syllable are: define, migrate, and beside.
- Vowel Pair Syllables
Also known as Vowel Teams, these vowel sounds are spelled with digraphs such as: plain, coat, cowboy.
- R-Controlled Syllables
These syllables have a vowel followed by an r. The r affects the sound the vowel makes, and both sounds are heard within the same syllable. Examples with or, ir, er, ar, ur are: star, bird, her, turtle.
- Consonant-le Syllables
These syllables are also known as final stable syllables. Students will usually discover that when they see a consonant followed by le at the end of a word, the three letters form a syllable. Some examples are: bubble, maple, kettle, and fiddle.
Children who can build and read basic words with known letters and sounds are ready for syllable instruction, such as learning about short vowels and closed syllables. More fluent readers can begin learning spelling rules and the six syllable types. Effective instruction integrates syllable type instruction with reading books and writing a variety of texts, providing real-life, meaningful practice.