While doing school work one day, my daughter asked me, “What are syllables?”
Thankfully I was prepared with an answer. But knowing about syllables is important for other reasons:
When your child comes across an unknown word, how do they break it apart?
Or when your child asks you to spell “appreciation,” is there a way you can teach your child to spell it on their own?
When your child and you understand syllables, your child will be a better reader and speller.
But you don’t need to be a reading specialist to teach your child with this simple guide about syllables.
What are syllables in words?
Syllables are a unit of sound that makeup words. They must have one vowel sound and usually have consonant sounds, too.
They help children learn to divide words when they read. This will help them pronounce the words correctly.
In order to read to understand, or to comprehend, your child first needs to be able to sound out the words. Understanding syllables helps your child decode, or sound out, larger words.
Thus, simply when you teach your child to read, make sure you teach them about syllables.
How to explain syllables to children
At some point, your child will ask you, “What are syllables?”
You can explain syllables to children by saying that they are groups of sounds in words.
In order to teach your child, your child needs to:
• Understand consonants
• Understand vowels
• Hear the vowel sound in a spoken word
What is an example of a syllable?
Here are some examples of syllables in words:
- An example of a syllable is “cat.”
- Rabbit has two. They are rab and bit.
- Ladybug has three. They are la-dy-bug
- Caterpillar has four. They are cat-er-pil-lar
How do you find syllables?
If your child can already read or say the word, there are a few easy strategies.
Here’s how your child can find the syllables:
- Clap with the beat of the word
- Talk like a robot
- Put hand under chin
Clap the Word
Your child can clap as they hear the beats in words. So in the word “wonderful,” you child claps once for /won/ /der/ /ful/.
However, many of my students become confused with counting the individual sounds so these other strategies might work better for your child:
Talk Like a Robot
If your child uses a monotone voice like a robot, that can be really helpful to hear the syllables.
In cartoons, robots don’t have the same fluency in speech as humans. They tend to divide words into syllables as they speak.
So try it now: say “butterfly” like you are a robot.
(Thanks to @reading_science for this tip!)
Put Your Hand Under Your Chin
This is the most effective way in my experience. Your child can actually feel their chin move down with each syllable.
This is how to find the syllables with the hand under chin method:
- Tell your child to put their hand under their chin.
- Tell your child to say “telephone.”
- Ask your child to count how many times their chin moved.
What are the 6 syllable types?
But what about when your child can’t read or pronounce a new word?
This is really common especially by 2nd grade (or when children are 7-8 years old). Children need strategies to decode an unknown multisyllabic word.
The first thing your child needs to do is learn the six syllable types.
- Bossy R
- Vowel Team
You can grab a free printable list of syllables here.
A closed syllable has a short vowel sound in the middle. The vowel is closed by consonants.
Here is a list of examples of closed syllables:
Closed syllables make up 50% of the syllables in English. By teaching your child this one simple rule, you’re increasing their chance at reading success significantly.
An open syllable has a vowel that is left open. There is no consonant closing it. The open sound is a long vowel sound.
This is a list of examples of open syllables in words:
Bossy R Syllables
A bossy r syllable has a r-controlled vowel. The vowel sound is not short or long. It is influenced by the r sound and makes only one sound.
The most common bossy-r sounds are:
- /ar/ like car,
- /er/ like bird, and
- /or/ like corn.
This is a list of examples of bossy r syllables:
Vowel Team Syllables
Vowel team syllables have two vowels together. The vowels work together to make on joined sound.
Vowel teams are also called vowel digraphs and vowel diphthongs.
This is a list of example for vowel team syllables:
Simply a consonant-syllable has a consonant followed by le. Since each syllable needs a vowel, there is a silent e.
Here is a list of examples of consonant-le syllables:
If you listen closely, you can hear the vowel sound schwa (or /uh/) in the consonant-le. Bubble sounds like /bub/ /bul/.
A silent-e syllable has a vowel-consonant-e.
A list of examples of the silent-e syllable are:
Decoding Unknown Words
Naturally, you want to teach your child to read so they have confidence.
When your child gets to a multisyllabic word in a book that they don’t know, you can show your child how to decode:
Step 1: Write the word on paper or a dry erase board.
Getting it out of the book and onto another surface allows your child to work with the word.
Step 2: Underline the vowels.
Each syllable must have a vowel, so underline those. This will be your biggest clue on how to divide the word.
Step 3: Consider the six syllable types and divide the word.
Look for the consonants next to vowels for clues on where to divide. Often there will be two consonants together and that will be a clue to divide between them.
Step 4: Draw wavy lines to divide.
Your child needs to draw tall wavy lines so as not to get confused with the letter l.
Step 5: Read the word.
Congratulations! You’ve helped your child practice decoding multisyllabic words.
Spelling Unknown Words
You can help your child spell words in a similar way. When writing a multisyllabic word, it helps to break it into each individual syllable.
Step 1: Your child wants to spell fantastic.
Step 2: You say, “Let’s count the syllables in fantastic.”
Step 3: Your child counts that there are three.
Step 4: You say, “Let’s spell the first syllable ‘fan’.”
Step 5: Your child writes the letters.
Step 6: You say, “Let’s spell the second part. It was /tas/ in fantastic.”
Step 7: Your child writes the letters.
Step 8: You say, “Do you remember the last part? (wait) Yes it was /tic/.”
Step 9: Your child writes the letters.
Congratulations! You’ve helped your child learn to spell multisyllabic words by breaking them apart.
By hearing and identify syllables in words, it opens up so many strategies for attacking words to read and spell.
Make sure you download the free printable syllable list to help your child with their reading and writing.