Click play below to hear your guide to teaching syllabication:
Let’s start off with a big question: how many of your students struggle to read big words? If students lack the foundational skills of syllables, they’re more than likely going to struggle with multisyllabic words. And the majority of these foundational skills were taught in lower elementary, but we know it may not be mastered by the time they get to upper elementary.
Therefore, by intentionally teaching syllabication, it provides students with the confidence to become proficient readers and writers. In today’s episode, I’m sharing my guide to teaching syllabication in upper elementary with a focus on why and how it should be taught.
As upper elementary teachers, teaching the basic syllable skills might not be a familiar concept. Keeping that in mind, I help break down the two things students need to know in order to practice syllabication and provide examples for further explanation. Furthermore, the structure of teaching syllabication is shared to help guide you through the process.
Whether you’ve taught multisyllabic words this year or not, now is the perfect time to get started or keep providing ongoing practice. Teaching syllabication to our students gives them the tools and knowledge to confidently read big words, which ultimately leads to reading accuracy, fluency and comprehension.
Loved this content? Tune into next week’s episode for simple strategies that help students break down multisyllabic words!
In this episode on teaching syllabication, I share:
- A clear definition of syllable and the 6 different types
- The two things need to know in order to practice syllabication
- Reasons why it’s important to teach multisyllabic words
- Two ideas to keep in mind when teaching syllabication
- Activities to incorporate in your school day to practice this concept
- Syllable Types: Lesson Plans, Posters, & Student Activities
- Check out the Stellar Teacher Reading Membership
- If you’re enjoying this podcast, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts!
Related episodes and blog posts:
- Episode 94, 4 Word Study Concepts Every Upper Elementary Teacher Should Teach
- Episode 93, 3 Steps to Having Effective Word Study Instruction This School Year
- 7 Syllable Types to Teacher in Upper Elementary
- Word Study Activities to Support Four Key Word Study Concepts
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More About Stellar Teacher Podcast:
Welcome to the Stellar Teacher Podcast! We believe teaching literacy is a skill. It takes a lot of time, practice, and effort to be good at it. This podcast will show you how to level up your literacy instruction and make a massive impact with your students, all while having a little fun!
Your host, Sara Marye, is a literacy specialist passionate about helping elementary teachers around the world pass on their love of reading to their students. She has over a decade of experience working as a classroom teacher and school administrator. Sara has made it her mission to create high quality no-fluff resources and lesson ideas that are both meaningful and engaging for young readers.
Each week, Sara and her guests will share their knowledge, tips, and tricks so that you can feel confident in your ability to transform your students into life-long readers.
Hey there, friend,.Happy Monday. Welcome back to another episode of the podcast. I am so glad that you are here.
And I’m going to jump right in and start off this podcast with a pretty big question. And that is how many of your students struggle to read big words? Like those super long multisyllabic words, we’re talking about words that have four to five syllables, maybe they have multiple prefixes and suffixes, they might have a root or base that has multiple syllables.
And when everything is combined together, it just is a very big word. And that word might overwhelm your students. So I’m curious if you think about your class right now, how many of your students struggle to read big words? And then I’m also curious how many of your students see a big word, and then they just give up?
I feel like I would have students that, you know, whether it’s at a small group table, or if I was doing a reading conference with them, I would listen to them read, and they would get to that word, and they would just look at it, and their eyes would get really big. And they would, they wouldn’t even attempt it, they would just say I don’t even know that word is too big. I can’t, I can’t read it.
And I definitely had students that struggled to read big words, and I had students that would give up, you know, they didn’t have the confidence, or maybe even the stamina to work through those long words.
And I think oftentimes in upper elementary, when a student struggles to decode, you know, that means to actually read the big words, we tell them, Okay, slow down, when you’re reading, you know, break apart the word, reread it again.
But the problem is, is that those prompts to slow down, break apart, the word, reread it again, those prompts aren’t actually going to help the student learn how to read the word correctly.
And that’s really because if a student doesn’t understand the sounds that various spelling patterns make, or if they are unaware of how to separate a large word out into their specific syllables, it doesn’t matter if we tell them to slow down, or if we tell them to break apart the word or to reread it again.
You know, it’s kind of like, if a student already knew how to break down the word, they would be doing it on their own. So if a student lacks the foundation of what a syllable is, and how syllables work, then they are more than likely going to struggle with reading multisyllabic words. And we know that really starting in third grade and beyond, students are going to experience more and more multisyllabic words.
Texts become increasingly complex, especially nonfiction texts, which we definitely want to be reading more of. But with these, you know, complex nonfiction texts become exposure to vocabulary words, and just other terms that are going to be big, and they might overwhelm our students.
But here’s the good news. And this is where we’re headed with the podcast, and that is to focus on teaching syllabication. So when we focus on teaching syllabication to our students, we are really giving them the tools and the knowledge that is going to give them confidence when it comes to reading and spelling multisyllabic words.
So you’re not going to have to prompt them to slow down or break apart the word, you might give them different prompts that help them really identify the syllables, but ultimately, your students are going to have the tools to be able to break apart the multisyllabic words. So there, you know, they will know how to attack the words and they’re going to know how to break them apart.
And they’re going to feel like they can read any word because they understand the syllable types and they understand how syllables work together to create multisyllabic words. So intentionally teaching your students syllabication and the syllable types is going to help your students become stronger, more confident readers and writers. And I know that it’s something that each of you want for all of your students.
So we are going to jump in today and we’re going to be talking all about syllabication especially teaching syllabication in upper elementary. Now, in full disclosure, this podcast might actually have been a little bit better as a YouTube video or as a webinar, because I could then visually show you some examples of the different syllable types and the syllable division rules.
That while I’m going to do my best to explain, and I’m actually going to spend the bulk of this podcast episode kind of talking about the why we need to teach syllabication and less about the specific rules and examples. But I realized that showing you a visual would be a little bit easier for this specific topic.
But with that being said, if you are a visual learner, and as I’m explaining, you know, the different syllable types, or the division rules or anything else, if you’re like, I just don’t quite understand what she means. Be sure you’re following me on Instagram, because depending on when you’re listening to this episode, at some point this week that this episode is going live, we’re going to be sharing a carousel that visually shows you each of the different syllable types that I think will also help you understand just why it’s so important to teach syllabication.
But then you can also check out my syllable types lesson plans. It does include lesson plans for teachers, along with anchor charts that are visually really helpful for students, but also really helpful for teachers. Because I think syllabication is one of those concepts that upper elementary teachers don’t know a lot about, because it is usually taught in lower elementary.
But it also includes in student activities to help you teach students all about syllabication. So if as you’re listening to this episode, you’re like, oh, I want to learn more and I’m really curious on how I can teach this to my students, go check out that set of lesson plans. And you can find that at stellarteacher.com/syllables. And I will link to that in the show notes as well.
So before we get too far into this episode, I always want to make sure we’re kind of on the same page with everything. So maybe you’re wondering, okay, what is syllabication? And syllabication is maybe just a fancy word to explain the act, or the process, or the method of dividing words down into syllables. And syllabication is a super helpful tool to help students to be able to break apart these multisyllabic words that they see.
But in order for students to be able to practice syllabication, and really to break apart words into syllables, they need to know two things. So they need to know the different syllable types. There are six of them, in case you didn’t know. And they also need to know syllable division principles. And so I’m gonna spend a little bit of time kind of digging into some of those things.
So first of all, in case you need a little bit of a refresher, because this is certainly something that I was not very familiar with when I was in the classroom. Like I said, usually syllables is something that we teach students in lower elementary, so a lot of times that upper elementary it is not on our radar. It is going to be after this podcast episode, I promise you.
But just to make sure that we understand, a syllable is a single unit of pronunciation that has one vowel sound, so not one vowel, because sometimes two vowels put together for example, two vowels a-i can make the long a sound. So a syllable has to have one vowel sound. It can have more than one vowel in it, though.
So one vowel sound is very important for the definition of syllables. A syllable can contain consonants, but the vowel sound is really what is going to determine the syllables and words can really be 1,2,3 or more syllables. So there’s not really a limit necessarily.
And there are actually six types of syllables. Maybe you didn’t know that there were that many different types of syllables. And we definitely want to make sure that our students know and are familiar with each of the syllable types. And I’m just going to quickly go through and explain and define each type of syllable to give you a little bit of foundation for the different syllable types.
So we have closed syllables, and a closed syllable is a syllable that is going to end in a consonant. And a closed syllable is usually going to have the short vowel sound. So for example, the word sunset has two closed syllables. They both say the short vowel sound.
We have open syllables and an open syllable is when the syllable ends in a vowel. And the vowel in the syllable then is going to usually say the long vowel sounds. So for example, the word she ends in a vowel. And so we’ve got the long e sound. The word broken, that first syllable, bro, ends in an O, and so that’s going to have the long vowel sound. So an open syllable ends in a vowel and it’s going to have the long vowel sound.
Then we have magic e syllables. And a magic e syllable is when a syllable has the pattern vowel consonant E, and this is when the e is silent. So like the word reptile, that last syllable title is a vowel consonant e syllable, and so it has the long I sound.
Next, we have vowel team syllables, and this is when you have a syllable that has two vowels right next to each other, and those two vowels are going to work together to make one sound. They can also be called vowel digraphs, or diphthongs. For example, the word rain. So AI says the long a sound but it actually is made up with two vowels. So raincoat actually has two syllables, and both of them are vowel team syllables.
Then we have our controlled syllables and this is when a syllable has a vowel that is next to the letter R. And that R is really going to control the sound of the vowel. So the word farmer has two syllables far and mer. And both of them have an R controlled syllable.
One is our controlled with the letter A far and then one is our controlled with the letter E mer. But both of those are our controlled syllables.
Then the final syllable type is the consonant L-E, or in upper elementary I also like to include A-L plus E-L, it’s basically the letter combinations that can make the el sound at the end of the word. So for example, in the word turtle, the final syllable is the le and that is made with T. So consonant plus L, E at the ending.
So these are the different syllable types. And just knowing that these combinations of letters are combined to make syllables can be really helpful for students. And we’re gonna talk a little bit more again about why syllabication is so important, but it’s important for students to know the syllable types.
It’s also important, especially since vowels play such an important role in syllables that students understand that there are really three different vowel sounds that a vowel can make within a syllable. And that’s the short vowel sound, the long vowel sound, and then we have the schwa sound.
Which is for example, like in the word about how even though it begins with a letter A, it’s not the short a, it’s not the long a, it’s kind of that a sound about. So these are sort of like the basics of what a syllable is that we want our students to know.
In that set of lesson plans that I have, I go into more in depth in all of these. But this is information that if you are not teaching these concepts to your students, you definitely want to start.
But in addition to the syllables, you want to make sure that your students also understand syllable division rules. And once your students no syllable types, we want to make sure that we teach them some syllable division principles, or generalizations that are going to really help them figure out where to break apart the word.
Because, you know, if they see a word that is seven or eight letters long, they need to be able to figure out and identify, Okay, where is a break in the syllables? And I’m not gonna really go in depth and explain these rules, since that’s not necessarily the main goal of this podcast.
But we do want our students to understand you know, that when they’re reading multisyllabic words, really, the first thing that they can do is look at their word parts, so see if it’s a compound word, or if the word has prefixes or suffixes. But if that does not help them figure out the multisyllabic words, then they can start to look for vowel patterns. And then this is where it’s really going to help them to have an understanding of syllabication.
So for example, if they have a word, that in the middle of the word they see a vowel, consonant consonant vowel word, then they know that you know the division rule is, is that if there are two consonant sounds between two separated vowels, divide between them. And maybe you’re thinking, Oh, my gosh, all of this stuff is way over my head.
I promise you this is the part of the podcast where it’s like if you see it, you will understand it. So you either go check out my Instagram posts this week, or go check out the set of syllable lesson plans. But you know, when you explain these lessons to your students, and you could even do a Google search for syllable division rules, and you would see some examples.
But when you teach syllable types and syllable division rules to students, you are giving them the tools to be able to break apart multi syllabic words. And you know, that’s obviously one of the main reasons but there are really multiple reasons why we need to be teaching the syllable types in upper elementary.
And one of the first things that you need to consider is that your students might have some learning gaps. If you look at most phonics scopes and sequences, syllabication and syllable types is really something that most students should be learning in first and second grade, which I think is part of the reason why syllabication might be a new concept to upper elementary teachers.
But just because it’s on the scope and sequence for first and second grade doesn’t mean that our students have mastered it. So it is quite possible that even if your students have had some exposure to it that they have not fully mastered the idea of being able to break apart a word into syllables or they might not have a strong enough understanding of the syllable types.
And what we really need, I think, to just lean into in upper elementary is reminding ourselves that we need to make sure that our students have the tools to be successful, which means we might need to backtrack a little bit. You know, even though our fifth grade standards and our fourth grade standards say something completely different, if our students don’t have the foundation in something that was taught to them in first and second grade, they are going to continue to struggle until we fill in the gaps.
And so if your students have learning gaps, you might want to consider teaching syllabication. Now, another reason why it’s important to teach syllabication is students might struggle to apply what they do know about syllabication to multisyllabic words.
So if you’re at a school where a syllable instruction was really strong in lower elementary, it is possible that even if your students do have a strong foundation, and an understanding with syllable types and syllable division rules, that they still might struggle to apply those rules to longer multisyllabic words. I have seen students that were considered to be and I’m using this word with quotes, you know, they were considered to be on level, or a strong reader and first and second grade.
But then all of a sudden, in third grade, they start to struggle. And it is because the texts that they are encountering in third grade become much more complex, because there are more multisyllabic words. And so the tools that they had, were enough to get them through the single syllable words in first and second grade. But their toolbox is not strong enough to get them you know, to transfer to these bigger these bigger words.
And so even though your students have some foundation in syllabication, you really need to fill in the gaps and help them apply what they know about syllabication to multisyllabic words. So you still need to focus on syllabication. But the really the focus is going to be on helping students break apart and identify syllables in the multisyllabic words.
Another reason why we really need to teach syllabication in upper elementary is because word recognition is essential to comprehension. I know comprehension is always such a big focus in upper elementary and it is so important and our end goal always is for students to understand what they are reading.
But we have to remember that word recognition is essential to becoming a skilled reader, you know, it is one part of Scarborough’s reading rope. And if you have a student who cannot read words fluently, and accurately, they are going to struggle with comprehension, they are never going to have a chance to understand what they are reading if they can’t accurately read it.
And if you have a student that every time they see a big word, a big multisyllabic word, they have to break it apart letter by letter by letter and say the individual sound of every letter, they’re gonna get discouraged pretty quickly. But when you focus on syllabication, they are much more automatic at identifying word chunks and can easily apply and put those word chunks together to form the bigger multisyllabic words. And that is going to help improve their fluency.
But I think another reason and kind of the final one I’m going to share is that syllabication actually really compliments other words study concepts that we already teach in upper elementary, like prefixes, suffixes and roots. We know that in most upper elementary classrooms, you are going to be spending time explicitly teaching your students about these concepts, you know, prefixes, suffixes, and roots.
And, you know, really, we want our students to be confident and fluid in their reading. And the fewer word parts that they have to deal with, the more successful they will be when reading multisyllabic words, meaning if they can look at a word and automatically see some word parts and put them together quickly, rather than, like I said, breaking them apart letter by letter, they’re going to be much more fluent in the reading.
And so when you are teaching your students about prefixes, and you’re introducing prefixes and suffixes, you can also at the same time, teach them about syllables and syllable types. And you know, syllable division rules, and all of this is just going to strengthen their ability to confidently read multisyllabic words. So, so many reasons why we should be teaching syllabication in upper elementary.
Now, maybe you’re thinking, all right, you’ve sold me, I understand that this is important. But this is a new concept to me, and I’m not quite sure how I should teach syllabication to your students. So, great question. I’m gonna go ahead and answer that in the second part here of this podcast.
First of all, when it comes to the how, and you guys hear me say this all the time, and I truly, truly believe this, there is always more than one way to be a successful teacher. And there is more than one way for you to successfully teach your students all about syllable types and the syllable division rules.
You could do this whole group, you could do this small group, you could do this in both whole group and small group settings. You know, there’s an endless number of resources and tools that you could use to teach your students. But when you are thinking about teaching syllables, there’s really two things that you need to keep in mind.
And first, you want to make sure that you are providing explicit and systematic instruction. And second, that you are providing ongoing opportunities to practice and review what you have taught them. And I’m going to break down both of those.
So regardless of you know, whether you’re teaching whole group, small group, and really regardless of what materials you are using, you want to make sure that your instruction around syllables and really any other sort of phonics principle is explicit and systematic.
And explicit simply means that the teacher is going to introduce, explain and model the new skills to your students. So you want to make sure that your students really understand the concept that you are teaching.
And then systematic means that you are simply teaching something in a logical order that builds upon the students prior learning. And the order in which I introduced the syllables at the start of this episode is the order in which you want to teach them. You would not start by introducing vowel team syllables to your students, before you introduced open and closed syllables.
Because vowel teams is a much more advanced and complex concept than it is to simply introduce you know, short vowel and long vowel sounds. So you just want to make sure that you teach them in an order that is logical and builds off of students prior learning.
So if you’re wondering, great, I can do that. But how do I explicitly teach syllables to my students? So this is really how you would sort of structure your lessons or your unit on syllables. And the first thing is, is you’re going to introduce syllables one at a time, and you would introduce it by explaining the definition. So you’re going to focus on one syllable type at a time.
You’re going to explain the definition of that syllable type. And you want to start teaching by giving your students an example of a known word, a word that they already know, because if they’re familiar with it, you can really explain it and break it down, and it’s gonna be a lot more comfortable to them. So start with a known word.
And then give students multiple examples of words that are models for that example. So maybe you would start with a single syllable word, but then you would also show them a two syllable and a three syllable and maybe even a four syllable example. So they can see what a closed syllable looks like, as a single syllable word, a two syllable word, a three syllable word, and so on.
And you’re going to use words that are clear examples. You know, oftentimes, we think, Oh, like this is going to be tricky, this is good, it’s going to really challenge my students. And we definitely want to challenge students with words that are tricky, but not when we’re first introducing and teaching it to them.
So when you are first introducing something to your students, you want them to build confidence, you want them to understand it. So you want to start with words that are going to be easy for them to identify the syllable types, and have a strong understanding of that.
And here’s the other thing. You also want to teach exceptions. And this is something that I do include in my lesson plans for syllable types. But the reality of it is, is there’s going to be an exception to every single rule. So if you tell your students you know, closed syllables, when they end in a consonant, it makes the short vowel sound, that is going to be true for the majority of closed syllables. But guess what, there are going to be some exceptions to every rule.
And an exception is, you know, some syllables that end in a blend. So if a word ends in LD at the end, it ends in a consonant, like the word cold, and is a single syllable word, it ends in a consonant, but the O actually says the long vowel sound. So that is an exception to the rule.
So you want to give your students the exceptions to the rule. So that way, they can be prepared to, you know, apply the rules that they do have and understand that there does need to be some flexibility. So that’s kind of like how you would explicitly introduce and teach the syllable types.
You would do that for each individual syllable. So you would teach one syllable at a time. And depending on your students, you might do one syllable type of day, you might do one syllable type a week, so much of it depends on what your students already know, and how quickly they pick up on these concepts.
But once you explicitly teach syllables to your students, you want to make sure that you are including ongoing opportunities to practice and review because the reality of it is is after one single lesson, your students are not going to have mastered this concept. And they’re going to need practice and they’re going to need continued exposure and support.
So once students have learned the different syllable types, you just want to make sure that they get opportunities to become automatic and fluent with reading big words and getting practice using their understanding of syllable types and syllabication to read those big words.
And you can do that in a variety of ways. You can give your students word sorts where they’re having to categorize words based off of the number of syllables or the types of syllables. You can have students go on a syllable hunt, where in their independent reading, or if you have a paragraph that they’re reading, they have to look for closed syllables or open syllables or whatever you’re teaching them.
You could give them practice with a short paragraph that is focused on each syllable type or sentences. So if you can find resources that are online to the specific syllable types, you can find activities that are specific for open syllables or closed syllables.
But then you can even just practice divining any word that they are reading into the syllable. If you do like a word of the day, or if you are explicitly pre teaching vocabulary words before a small group or whole group lesson, also take that vocabulary word and spend just a few minutes breaking it down into the syllables and categorizing the types of syllables, because that’s just going to help solidify and reinforce your students understanding of syllables, just with another opportunity.
So all of these activities that I listed, you could make part of your literacy workstations, they could be part of your small group warmup or your small group lessons, you could assign them for independent reading, they can be part of your whole group read aloud, you can incorporate them into your daily warmup. So as you can see, there really is more than one way for you to teach and practice syllables.
The important thing is, is that this does not become okay, I did my lesson on syllables, and we’re never going to revisit it again. It needs to be ongoing in order for your students to truly master and understand syllabication.
The final thing that I want to say kind of as we wrap up this episode is when you’re teaching syllabication, you want to be flexible. So the rules around syllabication and the syllable types, kind of like I mentioned how there’s exceptions to every rule, you want to make sure that students understand that these tools are not rigid, and that they are here to help them.
And you know, especially as the words get longer, and you start to incorporate more roots and prefixes and suffixes and you know, especially things from another origin. So if you’re looking at Greek or Latin roots, students might miss label or miss categorize a syllable or the syllables might not follow the rules 100%. But if students are still able to read the word correctly, they really have reached the end goal successfully.
The goal of teaching syllabication is not for our students to become syllable or linguistic experts, but really for them to have a strong enough foundation that they can use what they know about syllables to confidently read big words. So yes, we want to teach syllables. And yes, we want to practice syllables with our students. And yes, we want to give corrective feedback to our students.
But the end goal always needs to be focused on helping students achieve accuracy, and fluency at the word and sentence level. And I think this means that we need to care less about having our students memorize and recite syllabication generalizations and we need to focus more on having them apply them to their reading and writing.
So I hope this episode has really either reminded you of how powerful you know having an understanding of syllabication can be to students when it comes to reading big words. And if you have not taught syllables yet this year, it is not too late, you still have time to introduce the syllable types and help your students start to practice using their understanding of syllables to read big words.
And I’ve mentioned the syllable types lessons and resources are activities that I have in my TPT store, you can find them at stellarteacher.com/syllables. And I had a teacher that left me a piece of feedback on this resource.
And she said, “I have been putting off using this resource because I thought it would take a lot of time. But I wish I had started sooner. I have done it whole group a couple of times. And I’m planning to use it now in small groups, and my kids are really enjoying the lessons.”
So if you have known about the syllable types this year, and you have not taught it yet, or if this is all new to you, and you’re thinking, Oh, this sounds like something maybe I’ll look into next year, take a lesson from this teacher, this was left by Heather and I’m so glad that Heather just decided to jump in and get started with syllables when she did.
So don’t put it off any longer because teaching syllabication to your students really is a powerful tool that gives them a lot of confidence when it comes to reading big words. And I know at the end of the day, you want your students to be successful readers and you want them to feel confident. And syllabication is one tool that can help them get there.
So hopefully you are a little bit more excited or prepared to teach syllabication to your students. And if you are wanting more strategies or support to help your students read big multisyllabic words, be sure to tune in again next week because I am going to be sharing a super simple strategy that you can share with your students.
It’s like five steps that is going to help them learn how to break apart and read big words. So hopefully you’ll tune back in next week, and until then have a stellar week.