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The Importance of Teaching Students About Syllables

I have read a lot of research articles about the importance of teaching students the ins and outs of syllables and I could bore you with all the technical mumbo jumbo, but I won’t. I will let you know the highlights of my research (and 14 years of teaching) and do so in easy to read language. No one (well not me at least) has time for the crazy talk of research when they are looking for new teaching tips and ideas.

If you want to read some of the research for yourself, I will leave a list of some of the articles I read, at the end of this post.

What are Syllables:

Syllables are part of phonological awareness and is a strategy we teach to students after they have mastered decoding by sounding out individual letter sounds and rhyming skills. Or to put it another way — Syllables are the building blocks of words!

Teaching students syllable awareness (how to identify the number of syllables in a word and how to break a word up into syllables) is an important part of reading and writing.

Why Teach Syllables:

1) It helps students decode words quicker because they will be chunking sounds rather than sounding out individual letters.

2) It can help students read more fluently and accurately.

3) There are positive benefits to oral language because it helps with the pronunciation of words.

4) Helps students spell during writing times because they are breaking the word into smaller parts.

What is the difference between syllable blending and segmenting?

Syllable blending is when a student is given the syllables (usually orally) of a word and he or she has to blend them together to identify the word. For instance, if the teacher were to say “pen – cil” the student would blend them together and say “pencil”.

Syllable segmenting goes the other way. The student is given the word in its entirety and they are required to break it up (segment) it into its syllables. For example, the teacher says “butterfly” and the students would say “but – ter – fly”.

Ways students can identify the syllables

1) Students can put their hand under their chin. While they are saying a word, they count the number of times their chin pushes their hand down. When the hand is being pushed down, this is where the word is segmented by a syllable.

2) Students can clap the “rhythm” of a word. Each clap is a syllable. If students have a difficult time clapping while they are saying the word, they can put up a finger for each part or us a block or counter to place on the table for each part.

If you use GoNoodle with your class, check out this fun song!

It is important to remind students that each syllable segment must have a vowel in it.

When to teach syllables?

Almost all of the research I read said that teaching syllables should not be just a quick lesson or mini-unit but that we should be giving our students repeated exposure to syllables throughout their time in school. We are still teaching our students new vocabulary that they have to read and write all through elementary (and beyond) school and looking at the syllables of these words will help them just as much as it helps first graders decode and write beginning words.

This is one of the reasons that I still have my 4th graders identify the number of syllables in a word and to segment new words into their syllables. I do this as part of spelling/grammar, Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies lessons.

During Language Arts blocks students work on syllables for many of their spelling units and I also incorporate it into my literacy centers. I find that students enjoy practicing literacy skills far better when they are put into a literacy center or game.

Engage your students with these fun syllable sort literacy centers.

I currently have 14 different themed syllable sorts that I incorporate into my literacy centers. Sometimes students will work on them with a partner (especially if they feel less confident in reading the words) but they mostly work on them independently.

After I have taught them how to complete one of the centers, they quickly become familiar with the task and need very little (sometimes just a quick reminder) to no instructions on how to do the others because the task is the same for all of the themes. 

What themes are currently available?

  • school / back to school
  • Halloween
  • Thanksgiving
  • Christmas (FREE) 
  • Valentine’s Day
  • Easter
  • Earth Day
  • Winter (great for January/February)
  • Summer
  • Camping
  • Ocean
  • Space
  • Canada (great for provinces and symbols)
  • Food

You can check out any of these (and bundling options) by clicking any of the photos or right HERE

Want to try out a FREE literacy center?

I have made my Christmas syllable sort center free so that you can check out what it is like before you purchase the other themes.

You can find the Christmas literacy center here.

Want to read more about syllables? Here are some links to some of the articles I found interesting and informing:

The Effects of Syllable Awareness Skills on the Word-Reading Performances of Students Reading in a Transparent Orthography by Birkan Guldenoglu

Threads of Reading by Karen Tankersley (affiliate link)

Effects of Syllable-Based Reading Intervention in Poor-Reading Fourth Graders by Muller, Richter, Karageorgos, Krawietz & Ennemoser


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  1. My understanding is when teaching syllables you can't split a digraph, so butterfly would be bu-tter-fly

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