A “syllable” is a word, or part of a word, with 1 vowel sound. In kindergarten, we teach students to hear and count the syllables in words, often by clapping them (i.e., there are 3 syllables in computer – com/pu/ter). A simple trick to help students understand and count syllables is to put your hand under your jaw when saying a word. Due to the fact that each syllable has a vowel sound, your jaw will drop for each syllable in a word.

A relatively unknown fact is that there are actually different “types” of syllables. The type of syllable affects the sound the vowel(s) make(s). When students recognize a specific syllable pattern, they can predict the most likely sound for the vowel to make, and become more efficient at solving unknown words.

Syllable Types

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:

For the sake of this resource, we have selected a logical order to introduce the syllables and syllable types. We have started with Closed Syllables, as they have short vowel sounds. Many students find the short vowels sounds easier to start with, as they often come in with some knowledge of these (many will say “a is for apple” ). Once students are comfortable with Closed Syllables, they can begin to explore other syllable types, and distinguish between the types as they read. As students move through the series, new syllable types are added and incorporated with the syllable type(s) already mastered. This allows students to sequentially expand their understanding of syllable types as well as consolidating what is known.  

Before you begin

Prior to beginning these early readers, students should:

  • be able to give the sound for most consonants
  • be able to give the short sound for most vowels
  • understand that vowels are different – they have a long and a short sound
  • should have a beginning ability to blend sounds together (e.g. be given an “o” and  a “p” and say “op”)

Our stories still have a very strong sense of meaning and structure. Students should still be encouraged to think about the story and what would make sense. Reading is about gaining meaning from a text, and students need to understand this right from the beginning. It is critically important, however, that they learn how to decode unknown words effectively, and syllable knowledge can help them do this. The ultimate goal is for them to be able to solve words on the fly in unfamiliar texts – a critical skill if they are going to transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn”.