So how can we define syllables so that students can understand? The following definition has worked well with my students:
- a syllable is a word, or part of a word, with 1 vowel sound
Step one of understanding syllables is definitely still hearing the parts in words. This should be practiced daily with students, just as you practice the alphabet sounds or counting on the number line. A fun activity at the start of the year is practicing counting the syllables in the names of your students. They love hearing their name said, and can learn to clap the syllables (or parts) in each other’s names.
Once students understand what a syllable is, you are ready to begin introducing the types of syllables and how students can use syllable types to learn to read and write.
The type of syllable affects the sound the vowel makes (long or short). Here are the main types that you can teach to help with decoding and spelling:
- Closed Syllable: a single vowel, followed by 1 or more consonants, will make its short sound (e.g., cat, flip, block, patch)
- Open Syllable: a single vowel at the end of a syllable will make its long sound (e.g., go, he, my, ta-ble)
- Vowel-consonant-e: the vowel says its name and the e stays silent (e.g., cake, mine, kite, home)
- Vowel teams: two vowels work together to make 1 vowel sound – note – “y” and “w” act as vowels when they follow another vowel (e.g., eat, street, boat, snow, play)
- Consonant – l – e: found at the end of multi-syllabic words – the consonant-le becomes its own syllable (e.g., ta-ble, lit-tle, pud-dle, peo-ple)
- R-controlled syllable: the r controls the vowel sound (e.g., car, her, hurt, first)