Teaching the Six Syllable Types

Most phonics programs cover all sorts of one syllable words, from digraphs to diphthongs, but then stop. Or else, they jump right to prefixes and suffixes, without ever explicitly addressing how to read two syllable words. Many students are able to intuitively apply their phonics knowledge to read two syllable words with ease, but this is often not the case for our struggling readers. Introducing the six syllable types (and providing plenty of practice) is a great next step for your students that have mastered one syllable words, but still need explicit phonics instruction.

Closed Syllables
Closed syllables are the first kind of syllables most students learn to read. CVC words, for example, are closed syllable. A closed syllable has a short vowel and ends (or is "closed in") with a consonant. Cat, in, sock, and hug are all words that are closed syllables. Students who can read these words can easily learn to read two syllable words made up of closed syllables, such as cactus and rabbit. Teach students to look for two consonants in the middle of a word, and split the syllables between those consonants. For example: cac/tus and rab/bit. Students can sound out each syllable individually and put them together to form the word. I love teaching closed syllables because students can feel successful reading "big words" very quickly!

Silent E Syllables
Silent e syllables are those that have a long vowel and end with a silent e-- CVCe or VCe words, essentially. Cake, ice, and rope are all words that are silent e syllables. Many compound words contain silent e syllables, such as cupcake and sunrise, as well as non-compound words, like mistake and reptile. As with closed syllable words, teach students to look for two consonants and split the word between them, as in mis/take and cup/cake. Then, the student can read the two syllables and put them together to read the word.

R-Controlled Vowel Syllables
R-controlled syllables contain one of the r-controlled vowels pairs: AR, OR, IR, UR, or ER. Car, bird, and fern are all words that are r-controlled vowel syllables. Hammer, popcorn, and thunder are two syllable words with r-controlled vowel syllables. As with the above syllable types, teach students to split the words between the consonants, as in pop/corn and thun/der. If the r-controlled vowel syllable is the first syllable, teach students to split after the r-controlled vowel, as in star/fish and nar/whal. 

Vowel Team Syllables
Vowel team syllables contain one of the main vowel teams or diphthongs, such as EE, IGH, OA, or OI. Train, leaf, and claw are words that are vowel team syllables. Pillow, scooter, and poison are two syllable words that contain vowel teams syllables. As with the other syllable types, have students look for two consonants and split between them, as in pil/low. If there are not two consonants, have them split after the first vowel team, as in scoo/ter and poi/son. 

Consonant + LE Syllables
Consonant + LE syllables are made up of a consonant followed by LE, such as tle, cle, and zle. Unlike the other syllable types, these syllables do not form words on their own, but are always part of a multisyllable word, such as puzzle or turtle. Teach students that when they see LE at the end of a word, it will be read as /ull/. The consonant preceding LE will stay with the LE when splitting the syllables, regardless of whether there are two consonants or one. For example, students will of course split puzzle as puz/zle, but maple will be split ma/ple, not map/le. 

Open Syllables
Open syllables contain a long vowel and do not end with a consonant. I teach these syllables last, as students are generally less familiar with them. The one syllable words that are open syllables are mostly sight words, such as he, she, and be. Two syllable words with open syllables include robot, spider, and donut. With open syllables, students can't follow the simple rule of dividing between the two consonants, as these words have a single consonant in the middle. With open syllables, students will split after the vowel and before the consonant, as in spi/der and do/nut. However, some students may struggle with this, as these words could be split other ways still following the rules taught above. For example, a student might split donut don/ut to form two syllables. In this case, students can use trial and error. Prompt them to think, "Is don/ut a word? It's not, so the first syllable may be a closed syllable. Is do/nut a word? Yes, it is." 

You can snag my free poster outlining these syllable types with examples here.

You can also get the six week unit that has everything you need to teach the six syllable types here.


  1. What about words ending in "ed"? Is the -ed a syllable if pronounced only as continuation of prior syllable, a "t" or "d" sound, such as "hired" "fired" "liked" "hoped"
    Compare that to those ending with "r", "biker" "hiker". Or short vowel syllables with consonant added to ed (potted, shopper), where the ed is pronounced & clearly a syllable. On the other hand, words such as "shopped" going back to that virtual silence.
    Bottom line question, are syllables identified exclusively as a matter of pronunciation or spelling/placement/word function?

  2. Great question. I teach -ed as an affix, though as you point out sometimes it is a syllable and sometimes it isn't. I teach students to recognize -ed, and then consider what the past tense of the base word actually is-- for example if they see "hoped," they will note the -ed, note that the p has not been doubled, so the based word must "hope." Most students will know that we say "hoped" and not "hope-ed" and so will read it correctly. This isn't always the case, particularly with ELLs, but they tend to improve with this as their overall language level improves. Hope this helps!


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