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Teach Your Child To Read: The Six Syllable Types in the English Language

Updated on August 3, 2013
The word 'egg' is a closed syllable.  A closed syllable ends with a consonant and usually has a short vowel sound.
The word 'egg' is a closed syllable. A closed syllable ends with a consonant and usually has a short vowel sound.

A Great Way to Make Reading Easier

If your child stumbles through reading words with several syllables, he or she would profit greatly from learning to identify the six syllable types in English and how to separate large words into individual syllables. This article will describe the six syllable types. Another article will explain the procedure for dividing multi-syllable words into their individual syllables.

The syllable types should be taught one at a time. Proceeding to the next syllable type should not occur until the child is quickly and easily able to recognize and pronounce the syllable(s) already covered. I hope to provide future articles that will go into more detail about how to teach each kind of syllable.

Each syllable type has exceptions, but the exceptions can also be learned to be recognized. The exceptions will be covered in future articles.

What are syllables?

Before teaching the syllable types, teach the definition of a syllable:

Syllable – A syllable is a word or part of a word that has one vowel sound.

Teach your child to be able to identify how many syllables are in a word by clapping each syllable. For example: chair – 1 clap, ta/ble- 2 claps, to/ma/to – 3 claps, tel/e/vi/sion – 4 claps. Repeat this with other words until the child can easily tell you how many syllables are in a word.

It is helpful to have the student memorize the definition of a syllable before memorizing the definitions of the six syllable types.

Vowels v. Consonants

Also, before starting to teach the syllable types, make sure your child knows what vowels and consonants are. The vowels are: ‘a’, ‘e’, ‘i’, ‘o’, ‘u’ and ‘y’ at the end or the middle of a syllable. The consonants are all the other letters and ‘y’ at the beginning of a syllable.

The Six Syllable Types

1. Closed syllable – a closed syllable ends in a consonant and usually has one short vowel*. Examples: hat, ship, think, pet, dog, cat, doll

2. Vowel-consonant-e syllable (also called silent-e syllable) – a vowel-consonant-e syllable ends with a silent ‘e’ and usually has a long vowel sound** . The final ‘e’ is only there to signal that the vowel before it says its own name. Examples: hate, shape, time, slope, cute, spite

3. Open syllable – an open syllable ends with a vowel and usually has a long vowel sound. Examples: go, a, I, try***, go, flu, he, we, ba by (both)

4. Consonant-le syllable – a consonant-le syllable is usually found at the end of a two syllable word. It always has three letters—any consonant followed by the letters ‘l’ and ‘e.’ The ‘e’ is always silent. Examples: bat tle, lit tle, raf fle, min gle, sim ple

5. R-controlled syllable – in an r-controlled syllable the vowel is always followed by the letter ‘r’ which changes the sound of the vowel. Examples: car, bat ter, fir, col or, tur mer ic

6. Vowel digraph syllable – a vowel digraph syllable has two vowels together that make one sound. Examples: re treat, green, quaint, out, true

If you have trouble finding words of each syllable type to practice with, you can get Wilson Reading System books and workbooks on Amazon (see ads on the right in this article). Books 1(one syllable words), 2 (one syllable words with consonant blends) and 3 (multi-syllable words) are for practicing closed syllables. Book 4 introduces vowel-consonant-e syllables. Book 5 presents the open syllable. Book 6 provides practice with consonant-le syllables. Book 8 covers r-controlled syllables and Book 9 provides the reader with drill on the various vowel combinations in the vowel digraph syllable.

I plan to have an article soon explaining how to divide words into syllables but in the meantime you can consult the American Heritage dictionary online or

Sound Guide

It would be helpful to make sound cards for your child with the letter on one side and the key words on the other side. For example, show your child the card with the side that has the letter 'a' and teach him or her to say " 'a' - apple - /ă/. They should say the name of the letter first, then the key word, then the sound. Do this for all the letters. Both the short and long sounds of the vowels are written on the back of one card but are taught separately.

* The short vowel sounds are: a – ax – /ă/, e – egg – /ĕ/, i – ink – /ĭ/, o – ox – /ŏ/, u – up – /ŭ/

** The long vowel sounds are: a – ba by – /ā/, e – me – /ē/, i – hi – /ī/, o – go – /ō/, u has two long sounds: u – cube – /ū/, u – flu – /floo/

*** ‘Y’ makes a vowel sound at the end or in the middle of a syllable. In one syllable words, it usually makes a long /ī/ sound at the end. In words of two or more syllables, it usually makes a long /ē/ sound at the end.


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    • BooksGalore profile image

      BooksGalore 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Glad you enjoyed it Paul. This is one component of the Orton-Gillingham method of reading instruction originally designed for teaching dyslexics. I have been trained in this method and have been tutoring/teaching it for 10 years. It is such a great method. I hope to share more components of it in the near future.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand


      This is an extremely interesting and useful hub for all primary teachers to read when teaching reading. I know it will help me and other EFL and ESL teachers. I have bookmarked this for future reference. Voted up and sharing with followers.