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Why Do We Teach Children Syllables? (Activities Included)

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Photo of Holly (Teach Starter)
Updated | 5 min read

Walking past an early years classroom, you’ll often hear a chorus of young children ‘clapping’ out words into their syllables. It’s a common skill often seen on a school’s scope and sequence for literacy. But, how does this actually help our young learners navigate the skills of reading and writing?

Spoken Syllables vs Written Syllables

Spoken syllables and written syllables are studied for different purposes. The purpose of spoken syllables are to aid very early phonological awareness. You may have taught your students to place their hand on their chin to help determine how many syllables in a word eg. when they say a word such as ‘fi-ddle’ their jaw will drop upon saying the vowel sounds – this helps them work out how many spoken syllables are in the word.

Breaking written words into syllables is a skill that comes in much further down a student’s learning journey and assists in the decoding and encoding of words. Your students need to have mastered phoneme awareness and phoneme-grapheme correspondences before syllable types will make sense to them.

Let’s look at the word fiddle again, the syllable ‘fid’ is a closed syllable because it has a short vowel and ends with a consonant. The written word would be broken up into the following syllables – ‘fid-dle’. On the other hand, if a student wanted to write the word ‘fiddle’ but didn’t know how to spell it, they would use their knowledge of syllable types to help work it out. Knowing they can hear a short vowel sound for the ‘i’ would lead the student to make the first syllable a closed syllable. Otherwise they may spell it like this – fidle (with only 1 ‘d’).

Written Syllable Types: Why Teach Them?

As students progress along their literacy journey, they will often move from reading and writing single syllable words (CVC words) to reading and writing multisyllabic words. Explicit instruction of how to break words into syllables and the different types of syllables (eg. open and closed), can help students to:

  • divide bigger words into smaller chunks when decoding
  • learn to spell (encode) words correctly
  • help identify root words, prefixes and suffixes.

What Types of Syllables Should I Teach?

Did you know there are 6 different types of syllables? I’ll proudly put my hand up to say when I was teaching in the classroom, I never knew there were ‘types’ of syllables! Here are the different types and a suggested order of instruction.

  1. Closed Syllables – A closed syllable has only one vowel and is followed by one or more consonants. The vowel has a short vowel sound, e.g. wet.
  2. Open Syllables – An open syllable ends in a vowel. The vowel has a long vowel sound. The vowel says its letter name, e.g. ba/con
  3. Vowel + Consonant + silent ‘e’ – A silent e syllable has one vowel and is followed by a consonant and a silent e. The vowel has a long vowel sound, e.g. cup/cake.
  4. R-Controlled Syllables – An r-controlled syllable has an r following a vowel. The r changes the vowel sound so that it is neither long nor short, e.g. mor/ning
  5. Vowel Team Syllables – A vowel team syllable has a team of two or more letters that work together to make one vowel sound. Sometimes the team includes consonant letters, e.g. coat, aw/ful
  6. Consonant + le Syllables – A consonant+le syllable comes at the end of a word. It has a consonant, then an l, then a silent e, e.g. ap/ple

When is ‘Y’ a Vowel?

Just to make it a little bit more confusing, even though the letter ‘y’ is technically a consonant, there are some instances in which it functions as a vowel.

The letter ‘y’ acts as a vowel when:

  • there are no other vowels in the word (rhythm, gym, cry, sky).
  • it follows the last consonant of a word because English words can’t end in the letter ‘i’ (baby, party, pretty)
  • it works as a vowel team and follows the last vowel of a word (boy, guy, may, stay)
  • when it is at the end of a syllable, most of these words have Greek origins (hygiene, oxygen, royal) or,
  • when it is in the middle of a syllable making the short /i/ sound (syllable, crystal, mystery).

Syllable Type Activities for Kids

  • Syllables on sticky notes! Write a word on a long sticky note and cut the word into its syllables. Place the syllables on a board and ask your students to re-arrange them to re-create the word.
  • Use linking cubes! They’re a great way to physically show how a larger word can be divided into smaller chunks. Physically write letters on the cubes and then practice breaking the words into smaller chunks (syllables).

  • Highlight the syllable. This is a good activity once your students understand the difference between open and closed syllables. Decide which colour will be used for each. For example, green for a closed syllable and yellow for an open syllable. With a list of words on a page, have your students highlight each type of syllable and draw a line to show where the word will be broken up.
  • Mark out syllables. In this activity, students mark out the vowels (V) and the consonants (C) with a marker. This then helps them determine the different syllable types in a given word.  They then cut or draw a line to show where the word will be broken up. Here are the different syllable division rules – VC/CV, V/CV, VC/V or V/V.
  • Syllable Game. Download this Syllable Game template and have students sort the words into how many syllables each word contains. Get your students to mark exactly where you need to chop each of the words into syllables. For an extension, get them to mark what types of syllables too.
  • Chop and Sort. Provide a small group of students with some written words on stock paper. Students cut the word cards into the different syllables and then sort the syllables by type.
  • Bring Down the Vowel. Write a word on the whiteboard, have students count the number of vowels and write each vowel on a sticky note. Then they need to fill in the consonants on each of the sticky notes.

We are currently working on a collection of Syllable Type activities and resources – stay tuned!


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