The challenging word that the student is skipping may be contextually important. Therefore, a student cannot look at the meaning of the sentence to help figure out the word they are struggling to decode.
Decoding is an essential component of the comprehension equation. For a student to be a fluent reader, decoding must also be automatic and fluid. Syllable division utilizes direct, systematic instruction for breaking phonetic multisyllabic words into small manageable chunks by identifying the syllable pattern.
Syllable division strategies taught in isolation will provide direct instruction to enable students to transfer those word attack skills when reading text independently. A student can then sound out the word based on the syllable types and patterns. Once a student can decode the word, the brain registers if that word holds meaning.
Not only are these skills beneficial for children who have difficulty reading multisyllabic words, but they are also an essential reading strategy for students with dyslexia.
A syllable is a unit of linguistic structure consisting of a syllabic element, usually a vowel, and any segments associated with it. There are four-syllable division patterns and seven-syllable types. Syllable patterns are taught in the order of how commonly they occur within multisyllabic words. Syllable division strategies are one of the elements contained within Structured Literacy.
Syllable Division: Rules and Patterns
The first syllable pattern and the most common of the four patterns is the first syllable pattern, VC/CV, or vowel-consonant/consonant-vowel. A two-syllable word such as cac/tus follows the VC/CV pattern. Other instructional resources may also identify this pattern as VCCCV or VCCCCV.
The second and third instruction pattern is the VCV pattern or vowel/consonant/vowel. The two divisions that fall within VCV are V/CV and VC/V. The teaching of these two patterns can coincide. Students will need to have some depth of oral vocabulary to identify where to split the VCV pattern words.
The V/CV pattern is the more common of the two patterns and will contain an open syllable as the first syllable. A word such as lo/tus is an example of a V/CV pattern.
When taught together, students can practice with both the V/CV pattern as well as the VC/V pattern. The VC/V pattern will contain a closed syllable as its first syllable, as in the word rad/ish.
Coffee stirrers are a great tool to help students try it both ways before determining the division. If the student doesn’t recognize the word with either division, it is the opportune time to enrich the student’s vocabulary.
V/V is the fourth pattern of syllable instruction and is the abbreviation for vowel/vowel. It is the least common pattern and occurs when two vowel combinations are divided. For example: words such as me/te/or or vi/o/lin contain vowel / vowel syllable patterns.
The Seven Syllable Types
The seven-syllable types are:
- Magic E
- Vowel Teams
- Bossy R
We can include two additional types in our instructions: the Schwa and Suffixes.
Closed and Open Syllables
The first two-syllable types that are often taught in conjunction with each other are closed and open syllables. A closed syllable contains a single short vowel. We can teach students to recognize that the vowel is a short vowel if a consonant follows it. The consonant is closing in the vowel sound. For example, in the word hap/pen. Both syllables are closed syllables which indicate that they contain short vowel sounds.
The next syllable type that we teach is an open syllable. An open syllable is when the single vowel stands alone and occurs at the end of a syllable. An open syllable produces the long vowel sound of a single vowel. For example, the first syllable in the word lo/tus is an open syllable. The vowel ends the syllable. Here is a wonderful multi-sensory video on teaching this concept done by the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education.
Magic E Syllables
Magic E is the third of the seven-syllable types. One syllable words such as like or take contain the Magic E pattern. The “e” at the end of the syllable jumps over a single consonant sound and tells the first vowel to say its name. The vowel name is also the same as the long vowel sound. In “like,” the “e” jumps over the k and tells the “i” to say its name.
Vowel Team Syllables
Vowel teams are when you have a vowel pair that produces the long vowel sound associated with the first vowel in the pair. While the syllable may appear closed because of the consonant, the vowel team indicates to a student that a syllable will contain a long vowel sound. In the word team/mate the first syllable is identified as a Vowel Team, and the second syllable is identified as a Magic E.
Bossy R Syllables
A Bossy R syllable contains an r-controlled vowel pairing. Words that contain the r-controlled vowel patterns of er, ir, ur will often take on the /er/ sound. The /ar/ and /or/ are also categorized under the Bossy R syllable type.
A diphthong syllable contains a vowel combination that contains a vowel glide sequence. English diphthongs show changes in sound due to tongue movement away from the initial vowel articulation towards a glide position. With some diphthongs, the change is easier to hear than in others. A word such as down/town contains the /ow/ diphthong pattern.
Consonant-le is another syllable type and it always appears at the end of a word. The consonant-le pattern differs from Magic E. While both syllable types contain a silent-e at the end the consonant-le syllable pattern includes two individual consonant sounds before the silent-e. There are three types of consonant-le words: Closed syllables with a consonant-le ending such as grum/ble; open syllable words with a consonant-le such as ta/ble; and closed syllable words where the consonant-le in the middle is doubled, or a twin, such as fid/dle.
Additional Syllable Types
As students progress through the syllable types and patterns found in our English language, they will encounter some additional syllable types. One of those is the schwa. The schwa is the most commonly spoken vowel sound in our language. The upside-down e symbol represents it.
The schwa phoneme is referred to as a reduced vowel. It occurs in multisyllabic words and only in unaccented syllables. The schwa phoneme will typically make a short u or short i sound. Encoding words that contain a schwa can be more challenging than decoding.
The Effectiveness of Syllable Division
Using a systematic, structured approach is advantageous for younger students to learn the syllable types in conjunction with phonics instruction. For example, suppose that the students are doing the encoding (spelling) of one syllable Magic E words. In that case, layering in the decoding of multisyllabic words with that same pattern will enhance our students reading decoding skills within the text. The student can spell with one syllable as we teach them to read that same syllable pattern with multisyllabic words. This makes for an easier transition into encoding two-syllable words with that Magic E pattern.
As we transition students into more independent practice with syllable division strategies, we can introduce centers, games, and other interactive activities.
Syllable division strategies can unlock the world of reading for older students who struggle to decode words. Older students may have a robust oral vocabulary, and once they can decode the word, they can put that word into the context of their reading.
As we continue to explore language structure with our students, we can instruct students in chunking morphemes within words. We can move from syllable division to identifying prefixes, suffixes, and bases contained with words. This will allow students to transition from decoding syllables to decoding and learn morphemes within words. This instruction will enhance students’ vocabulary and comprehension.
About the Author
Shari Schukraft is a Level 4 Master Instructor with the Institute for Multi-Sensory Education. She has been providing teacher instruction in the Orton-Gillingham methodology with IMSE for 13 1/2 years.
She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education/English and a Master’s in Education with a Reading Specialty both from Indiana University. She has taught High School English and 5th Grade as well as tutored students of all age levels.
International Dyslexia Association (2018). Effective Reading Instruction for Students with Dyslexia. https://dyslexiaida.org/effective-reading-instruction/
O’Grady, Dobrovolsky, Aronoff (1997). Contemporary Linguistics. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.