A syllable is a word, or part of a word, with 1 vowel sound. A simple trick to help students understand and count syllables is to put your hand under your jaw. Due to the fact that each syllable has a vowel sound, your jaw will drop for each syllable in a word.
Syllable types were first classified by Noah Webster in 1806 in an attempt to regularize English spelling in his dictionary. It is important to realize though, that not all words fall neatly into the 6 syllable types. Many words in our English vocabulary have actually come from different languages, and are not necessarily consistent with syllable types. Also, multisyllable words in English often have the “schwa” vowel sound for unstressed syllables (e.g., the first and last <a> in “banana” are “schwa”) which also isn’t consistent with syllable types. A study of morphology often goes further in helping students read and spell unknown multisyllable words.
All this being said, I have found the teaching of syllable types to be very useful for students, especially for beginning readers working on single syllable words. As students begin to learn about the patterns found in our language, they become pattern detectives and begin to seek more patterns as they read and write. I also feel that syllable types are useful for educators to understand, and can help organize and structure our early instruction.
Here are the main types of syllables that you can teach to help with decoding and spelling.
- a syllable where a single vowel is followed by 1 or more consonant(s), the vowel will make its short sound
- e.g., in, cat, flip, hush, stop, stuck, patch
- it doesn’t matter what comes before the vowel, it’s what comes after the vowel that matters
- some exceptions are the wild, old words: ‘ild’ as in ‘wild’, ‘old’ as in ‘cold’, ‘olt’ as in ‘colt’, ‘ind’ as in ‘kind’, ‘ost’ as in ‘most’
- a syllable with a single vowel at the end, the vowel will make its long sound
- e.g., go, he, my (the y acts as the vowel), or multi-syllabic words like ta-ble (‘ta’ is an open syllable)
- exceptions – to, do
Vowel – Consonant – e (Magic e)
- the vowel says its name and the ‘e’ stays silent
- e.g., cake, here, mile, home, cube
- exceptions – when the consonant is a ‘v’ (English words don’t end in ‘v’, so words like ‘give’ and ‘live’ have the ‘e’ added on for that reason – teach students to be flexible when they see ‘ve’
- other common exceptions – come/some, there/where, were
- two or more letters work together in a syllable to make 1 sound
- e.g, eat, street, boat, day, snow (‘y’ and ‘w’ act like vowels when they follow another vowel)
- ‘gh’ can work with a vowel to form a vowel team (-igh, augh, ough)
- when an ‘r’ follows one or more vowels, the ‘r’ controls the vowel sound
- e.g, ‘ar’ in far, ‘er’ in her, ‘ir’ in first and ‘ur’ in hurt, ‘ear’ in early
- ‘ar’ and ‘or’ are usually easy to distinguish, but ‘er’, ‘ir’ and ‘ur’ sound exactly the same
- the “consonant-le” becomes its own syllable
- e.g., table (‘ble’ is its own syllable), little (‘tle’ is its own syllable), gurgle (‘gle’ is its own syllable), etc.
Other – Stable Final syllables
It is also important to introduces ‘Stable Final Syllables’. These suffixes are stable (consistent spelling) and are only found at the end of words. Students need to be taught them as a unit to be heard and spelled.
- tion, cial, ture, sion
If you are new to Structured Literacy and are looking for an entry point, learning and teaching about Syllable Types can be a great place to start. Consider teaching Syllable Types as a part of your Word Study program. Don’t be afraid to created a “wonder wall” for words you are not sure about. Pattern hunting can be contagious for students and educators alike, and can cause a powerful shift in the way we view our language and the way we approach word solving when reading and writing.