The Big Five: Teaching Syllable Types


The Big Five_ Teaching Syllable Types-2


Question: What is a syllable? 

Answer: A syllable is a word, or a part of a word, with one vowel sound. 


I thought it important to start this blog with the definition of a syllable that I use with my students. I even include a few actions with the definition to help them remember it. When teaching phonological awareness, I move students from counting the number of words in a sentence or phrase to counting the number of syllables in a word. I ask them to feel how many times their jaw drops when they say a word. We have to open our mouths to produce a vowel sound, so the number of times our jaw drops when saying a word will indicate the number of syllables in that word. Ask them to place their hand under their chin to feel this. Some students prefer to tap out or clap the number of syllables. When students are comfortable with this, they can move to the phoneme level, and tap or count the number of phonemes in a word or syllable. 


Why teach the different syllable types or patterns? 


When presented with words to read, it is helpful that students have strategies that will enable them figure out what sound the vowel is making in that word. This enables them to blend the correct phonemes that are associated with the letters in the word they are reading. Learning the different syllable types or patterns is a systematic way of helping them do this.  


We want our students to analyze words and spot common spelling patterns, so they can instantly recognize them in other words. Learning the different syllable types and their characteristics will further enable them to do this. This helps develop their decoding skills and ultimately their word recognition skills, enabling them to build a bank of instantly recognized words. My previous blog on Developing Orthographic Mapping included some phoneme mapping activities provided by Lynn Givens, based on various syllable types including the vowel-consonant-e, or Magic-e.


When students are faced with reading multi-syllable words, it is extremely helpful that they are familiar with the different syllable types or patterns. They will then have strategies to divide such a word into its syllables, and from there to blend the syllables so they can pronounce the whole word. Being able to spot the common spelling patterns or syllable types will aid them in the division. Instead of guessing, they will be able to attack long words and read them accurately and fluently. I will be discussing syllabication in my next blog. When encoding (spelling) a word, listening for the vowel sound in a particular syllable can help a student select a syllable pattern and “map” the phonemes in that syllable onto the letters they write.  


What are the different syllable types?


These are the six syllable types, and the order in which I teach them, with a very brief explanation of each one. For a more in-depth explanation of each one and ideas about how to teach them, I encourage you to check out the Orton-Gillingham’s Online Academy’s Level 1 Basic Language Course. Currently this course is being bundled with the Connect to Comprehension course for a saving of $150 until March 4th 2019.

1. Closed-short vowel. Example: cat.

2. Open-long vowel. Example: me.

3. Vowel-Consonant-e, silent e creating a long vowel. Example: cake.

4. Vowel teams. Two vowels creating one sound, ee, oy, ay, etc. Example: boat.

5. R-Controlled vowels, ar, or, er, etc. Example: car.

6. Consonant-le,  ble, gle etc. Example: handle.


Some Orton-Gillingham based programs teach these in a different order and some include a seventh syllable type which is entitled Diphthong. This involves separating the vowel teams into vowel digraphs (two letters that spell one sound, or in this case two vowels such as ee and ay that spell one vowel sound) and diphthongs. A diphthong is one vowel sound formed by the combination of two vowel sounds. A diphthong starts as one vowel sound and moves toward another. Examples include the vowel sounds in boy, coin, couch, and cow. I prefer to keep things simple, as many of my students are dealing with working memory challenges and processing issues, so I bring these together under vowel teams and include the fact that some vowel teams include consonants such as igh in night or ow in cow. I prefer not to overly complicate this syllable type. 


When are students ready to learn syllable patterns?


Students need to be proficient with the sounds of individual letter and some letter combinations. As they advance through the syllable types they need to have developed more proficient phonemic awareness skills, which go beyond those of blending and segmenting. I teach the closed syllable after a student knows all of his or her individual letter sounds. I teach the open syllable only when the student is familiar with the digraphs sh, th, ch, ck, ph, and wh, and the long vowel sounds. They are then ready for the vowel-consonant-e syllable type. 


When introducing the vowel team syllable type it is important to teach the various groups of letters that represent the vowel phonemes that will be encountered when covering this syllable type. The r-controlled syllable type may be taught before the vowel teams in some programs, but I introduce them after the vowel teams, along with the groups of letters that represent the sounds covered by the r-controlled syllable.


Lastly the consonant-le syllable is introduced and the student is taught that the vowel in this syllable is silent. 


My next blog will be dealing with phonics and syllabication, and again I will try to simplify this process. 


Sources for Additional Reading and Watching

1. The Difference Between Diphthongs and Digraphs.

2. State University of New York (OSWEGO) Knowledge Series for Teachers of Reading and Spelling by Maria S. Murray, Ph.D. Syllable Patterns and Syllable Division




Lorna Wooldridge is a dyslexia specialist tutor with over twenty-five years of experience and qualifications in the field of learning differences, from both the UK and USA. Lorna has a unique perspective on this condition as she has dyslexia, and her passion is to serve this community in any way she can.

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