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Syl-la-bles... It's More Than Just Clapping Out Word Parts

Yes, yes it's true. We all teach kids how to clap out syllables in words to count how many parts it has. It is a fundamental phonemic awareness skill that every child needs. But, what else do we teach about syllables? Recognizing syllables is just the beginning and we can't stop teaching them there.

What Else is There to Teach?

The first question to ask yourself is, "do you even know what a syllable is?" Ask your child what a syllable is. They probably can't explain it either. Syllables make up pronounced units within our words. They always have one vowel sound that may or may not be surrounded by a consonant. Understanding syllables helps young readers determine long and short vowels within words-- we call this open and closed syllables.

Open and Closed Syllables

Some of us have probably never heard of open and closed syllables. It is not something normally taught in school because many people are unfamiliar with syllable division and its rules. Recognizing open and closed syllables is fundamental for reading and spelling. It helps determine vowel placement and if the vowel should be read as a short or long sound. Take for example the word go. When reading this word we hear a long O. But, when we change the word to got, we now hear a short O sound. Why?

Open Syllables

Open syllables determine if our vowel is long. When there is a syllable that ends with a vowel, that syllable is open and the vowel goes long. It is true for all words, even those that a multisyllabic. Take for instance the word spider. If we break it up into its syllables, it would be spi-der. Our first syllable spi is an open syllable because it ends with a vowel, therefore the i goes long and says its name.

Closed Syllables

Closed syllables determine if our vowel is short. When there is a syllable that ends with a vowel followed by a consonant, that syllable is closed and the vowel goes short. This rule is also true for all words, even multisyllabic ones. Take for example the word music. If we break it up into its syllables, it would be mu-sic. Our second syllable sic is a closed syllable because it has a vowel followed by a consonant, therefore the i goes short.


How Can We Help Students?

Teaching open and closed syllables to students takes repeated modeling, exposure, and practice. It is important to utilize a multisensory approach when teaching abstract skills to students. Below are some examples of how to help students grasp the open and closed syllable concept.

Open and Closed Doors

Provide students with a visual of how an open and closed syllable looks. An open and closed door is a great example. Have students play with words using this visual. They can build an open syllable word like be, then add a consonant to the end of the word to close it. Have them read the new word and listen to the different sounds of the vowel.

Coding Words

Teaching students how to code words is another great way to teach open and closed syllables. Have students practice coding long vowel sounds with a macron ( - ) and short vowel sounds with a breve ( ˘ ). Doing this will help students read words but also determine where syllable division is happening. Have students build words using letter tiles or by writing on a white board and then have them code and read.

Make it Fun!

Students love playing games while learning. Create a board game with various open and closed syllable words that students have to read as they travel around the board. Create picture sorts and have students determine if it is open or closed. Or, go outside and play a game of hopscotch. Write different open and closed words in each box and have students roll a number to figure what box to hop to and read. There are so many creative and fun ways to teach open and closed syllables.

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