The first syllable type that I like to introduce is Closed Syllables. Before you introduce Closed Syllables, it is important that your students understand what a syllable is, what vowels are, and have knowledge of short and long vowel sounds. I usually prepare a “Short Vowel” chart with them first, giving a keyword for each short vowel sound.
Reading unknown words is tricky. Often the most tricky part is the vowels, because we know that vowels make more than 1 sound. Explain to students that there are some patterns that you can learn that can help you tell if a vowel is likely to have a long or a short sound.
Closed Syllables are syllables with only one vowel. After the vowel, there is one or more consonant. It doesn’t matter what comes before the vowel, only what comes after it. Think of it as the consonants being the guards that follow the king around to protect it. Create a Closed Syllable anchor chart that describes the vowel location in the syllable:
On the chart, write an example of a Closed Syllable word, for example, “cat”. Ask students the following 3 questions:
- How many vowels are there? (one)
- What comes after the vowel? (the consonant ‘t’)
- Does the vowel make its short sound? (yes)
Do several more examples with different words. Ask the same questions to help students see the pattern. Once it seems like they have a good idea of the concept, give them 30 seconds to look around the room or go on a room walk. See if they can find Closed Syllables around the room. For ease of understanding at the beginning, ask them to only look for 1 syllable words. Although you can find multi-syllable words where all syllables are closed (e.g., mistrust, catfish, standing, unintended), this can be confusing until students have fully grasped the concept.
When students return to the carpet, take suggestions and record them on the board. For each given word, ask the 3 questions. If it is in fact a Closed Syllable, write it on the chart. If it is not, put it on a sticky note around the outside of the chart. Don’t be afraid to say things like “Hmmm, that one doesn’t seem to work.” It is a good idea to start a “wonder wall” for words that don’t seem to fit or make students wonder.
For teacher information, here are the key patterns that don’t work. Don’t tell the students this yet – it is important that they discover these as they explore the concept.
- When the vowel is followed by an “r”, it is not a Closed Syllable. These syllables are R-controlled (e.g., ar, er, ir, ur, or), not closed
- When the vowel is followed by a ‘w’ or a ‘y’, it is not a closed syllable. Both ‘w’ and ‘y’ act as vowels when they follow another vowel. These syllables are “vowel teams”.
- Wild, old words are words that don’t fit the pattern. In the past, they were pronounced differently. When the pronunciation changed, the spelling didn’t. These are the word families -ind (kind), -ild (child), -olt (bolt), -ost (most), and -old (gold). They can truly be considered “irregular” words.
At the beginning of a concept, don’t worry about defining why a word doesn’t work, just sort which words fit the pattern and which words don’t. As students explore the pattern, they will begin to make their own hypothesis about words that don’t fit. As a final task for this lesson, challenge the students to create a sticky note pile up. Their task until the next lesson is to try to find as many Closed Syllables as they can. If they find a Closed Syllable word, write it on a sticky note and put it on the anchor chart. If they find a word that should be a Closed Syllable but isn’t, write it in red and put the sticky on the anchor chart. For older students, you can drop the tantalizing hint that there are 3 consonants that don’t work with this pattern – see if they can find them!
Here is an example of the sorts of sticky note pile ups that you may see:
The next day, ask students if they see any words that do not fit the Closed Syllable pattern. Remind them that in a Closed Syllable, the vowel will make its short sound. Let’s say a student notices “play”, and says that it isn’t a Closed Syllable. Ask the student why they think it is not a Closed Syllable. Hopefully the student will be able to point out that it is the long vowel sound for ‘a’ that can be heard in the word “play”. At this point, I usually acknowledge that the student is correct, and “wonder” why that might be. In most instances, students realize that ‘y’ sometimes acts like a vowel, so it is actually 2 vowels in the word, not 1. I then “wonder” if this is the case for all instances where the pattern is vowel-y. Students will quickly realized that “they”, “boy”, and “toy” also don’t work, consolidating the hypothesis that the pattern vowel-y is not a Closed Syllable. I then note the exception on the anchor chart, and move on to other word types. I repeat this activity, asking students to find other words that don’t work. R-controlled vowels (ar, er, ir, ur, and or) are usually quickly detected by students. The vowel teams ‘ow’, ‘ew’, ‘aw’ are often more difficult for students to see. You may have to intentionally ask students what they think of the word such as “snow” to get them thinking about the vowel-w vowel team.
Once this activity is completed, you’ll have a gauge of the level of understanding of your students. If the students grasp the Closed Syllable concept, move on to consolidation activities such as sorting, bingo, etc. (see next post). If more practice is needed, repeat the sticky note activity.