The English language is a little crazy.
I mean, just read these words: through, tough, though, thought. Same spelling pattern, four different sounds! 😱
But. As weird as our language can be, it’s also predictable and consistent in many ways. In fact, did you know that there are only 6 different types of syllables in English words?
Yup, only 6! (Or 7….but I’ll get to that later.) My point is that there REALLY AREN’T THAT MANY!
Why do the syllable types matter to us, as primary teachers? Because it’s essential that our students understand how English sound and spelling patterns work, and syllables are a big part of that.
Plus, knowing the 6 syllable types….
- Helps kids divide words into syllables to decode them or write them
- Helps kids predict the sound a vowel makes
- Makes it much easier to break up multisyllabic words
In this post (which is part of my blog series about teaching phonics), I’ll explain what the six syllable types are and when you might teach them to your students.
This post is relevant for first grade and up!
Okay, hang on. Before we get into the syllable types, let me define the word “syllable” for you:
A syllable is a unit of pronunciation that has one vowel sound.
Words can be made up of one syllable (i.e. chair) or several syllables (i.e. rhi/noc/er/os).
Syllable Type #1: Closed Syllable
What it is: A closed syllable is a syllable that ends with a consonant. The vowel has a short sound.
- hat (ends with a consonant, t, and has a short a sound)
- pigpen (this word has two closed syllables, “pig” and “pen,” both with short vowels -> pig/pen)
When to teach it: I usually teach this toward the beginning of first grade. Students should have lots of experience with CVC words. You can introduce 2-syllable words with 2 closed syllables (like “sunset” or “bathtub”) and explain what a closed syllable is. (By the way, in the “bathtub example, the division is bath/tub. Even though the first syllable technically ends with t AND h, they’re a digraph and therefore make one consonant sound, /th/.)
Syllable Type #2: Open Syllable
What it is: An open syllable has one vowel and is NOT “closed in” by a consonant. The vowel is “free to shout its name” (it’s a long vowel).
- me (no consonant at the end; the vowel is long and “says its name”)
- robot (the first syllable is “ro” and is open; the second syllable is closed -> ro/bot)
When to teach it: It works well if you teach the concept of an open syllable along with or shortly after teaching closed syllables. Again, the beginning of first grade is ideal for this – but you can also cover this concept at the end of Kindergarten if you’re introducing long vowel sounds. Words like “we” and “me” are great examples to use with Kinders, since they probably already know them by sight.
Syllable Type #3: Silent / Magic / Sneaky E / VCE
What it is: Whatever you wanna call it, the VCE (vowel-consonant-e) syllable type has a silent e at the end and a long vowel sound!
- bike (the silent e makes the i “say its name” – aka gives it a long vowel sound)
- mistake (the first syllable is “mis” and is closed; the second syllable is VCE -> mis/take)
When to teach it: This is a good concept to address during first grade, after students know their short and long vowel sounds. They should be familiar with the concepts of open and closed syllables. When you teach this syllable type, you can have students practice changing closed syllables to VCE syllables (i.e. taking “rid” and turning into “ride”).
Syllable Type #4: Vowel Team Syllable
What it is: A vowel team syllable contains two vowels that come together to make one sound. Some people divide up this syllable type into vowel digraphs and vowel diphthongs for a total of 7 syllable types.
- steam (the vowel team is the e and the a coming together to make the long e sound)
- soapbox (the first syllable is “soap” and has the vowel team “oa;” the second syllable is closed)
When to teach it: I usually teach this in first grade – after students are very comfortable with open and closed syllables, as well as silent e. I always have to review this in second grade, too.
Syllable Type #5: R-Controlled Syllable
What it is: In an r-controlled syllable, the letter “r” follows a vowel. The vowel doesn’t make a short OR long sound – rather, it’s “controlled” or “influenced” by the r and makes a different sound altogether.
- star (the a is controlled by the r)
- lobster (the first syllable is “lob,” a closed syllable, and the second syllable is “ster,” an r-controlled syllable -> lob/ster)
When to teach it: I teach this in first grade. I feel like it’s a toss-up between r-controlled syllables and vowel team syllables – either concept can be taught after kids learn open syllables, closed syllables, and silent e. I definitely review this concept in 2nd grade. And there are some more complex r-influenced spelling patterns that can be covered in later grades.
Syllable Type #6: Consonant-L-E Syllable
What it is: In a CLE syllable, a consonant + the letters “l” and “e” come at the end of the syllable.
- table (the first syllable is “ta,” an open syllable, and the second syllable is “ble,” a CLE syllable)
- example (ex/am/ple – the first two syllables are both closed, and the last syllable, “ple,” is a CLE syllable)
When to teach it: This is usually the last syllable type that I teach, and we typically address it in second grade.
If you didn’t know about the 6 syllable types until you read this post, you’re not alone!! I didn’t learn about this in my undergraduate education program, nor in my reading specialist master’s program! I learned this stuff after becoming a teacher and even after becoming a reading specialist – but boy, it sure has made teaching phonics easier!
If you’re looking for more support in teaching these concepts to your students, check out the resources below. They’re digital phonics games that are no-prep!
These activities give your students practice with identifying syllable types AND dividing words up into syllables.
The games also include audio directions that explain the syllable types and division rules!
To learn more about how to actually divide words up into syllables, check out this post.