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How to Teach Open and Closed Syllables

Closed and open syllables are the first two syllable types students should learn. Out of the six syllable types, these two are the easiest for students to master.

What Is a Closed Syllable?

In its simplest form, a closed syllable is a vowel followed by a consonant. Examples include cap, sit, and up.

closed syllable example

It’s called a closed syllable because the vowel is “closed in” by a consonant. In closed syllables, the vowel usually says its short sound.

More than one consonant can be used to close in a syllable, as in dish and stretch. And many multisyllable words contain closed syllables, as in insect, rabbit, and napkin.

What Is an Open Syllable?

An open syllable has a vowel at the end of the syllable. Nothing comes after the vowel, as in no, my, and we.

open syllable example

It’s called an open syllable because the vowel is “open”—that is, nothing comes after it except open space. In open syllables, the vowel says its long sound.

There aren’t many one-syllable words that contain open syllables, but there are many multisyllable words that do. For example, look at the first syllables in these words:
ba by
e ven
pa per
mu sic

Why Is Knowing the Syllable Types So Beneficial?

Knowledge of syllable types is an important decoding tool for both reading and spelling.

Let’s say a student is reading a story and she comes across the word craft. She doesn’t instantly recognize the word because she has never read it before. Although the word is unfamiliar, she isn’t flustered because she has a method for determining whether the letter A says its long or short sound. She sees that the A is followed by a consonant, which means that it is in a closed syllable, so the vowel most likely says its short sound. She is able to decode the word craft independently and continues reading the story.

Syllable type knowledge helps with spelling, too. In the scenario below, the child wants to spell the word kitten. But she hasn’t reached the stage of automaticity yet, so she can’t remember whether there is one T or two in the middle of the word.

girl wonders how to spell kitten

A child who doesn’t have a visual picture of the word and doesn’t know about syllable types might just write the word as kiten. After all, we pronounce it “ki(t) ten,” without enunciating the first T.

But our student can draw upon her knowledge of open and closed syllable types and easily come up with the correct spelling.

girl figures out how to spell kitten

Our student realizes that if she leaves the first vowel open, it will say its long sound, resulting in /kī-těn/. (There are some exceptions such as city where the vowel is left open yet still says its short sound, but these words are the exception rather than the rule. And in the All About Spelling program, we give kids tools to help them spell these exceptions.)

Teaching Open and Closed Syllables

In the All About Reading and All About Spelling programs, we use the letter tiles app (or the physical letter tiles) to demonstrate the differences between open and closed syllables (and all syllable types!). Syllable tags are placed above words, making this a concrete activity. An open door represents an open syllable, and a closed door represents a closed syllable.

open and closed syllables examples

In the All About Reading program, fun characters known as Party Monsters pitch in to give kids even more practice with open and closed syllables. Give it a try with this free download!

open and closed syllables activity download

Knowing just these two types of syllables will enable your student to accurately spell hundreds of words!

For even more great samples, feel free to visit our Reading and Spelling Lesson Samples page. You’ll find hundreds of pages of downloadable PDFs that are packed with information.

Do you have questions about open and closed syllable types? Ask in the comments below or get in touch! We’re here to help.

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Bonnie

says:

Such a great explanation! Thx

Robin

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Bonnie!

Andrew Greene

says:

There are two words in a list I am working on with students (sign and climb) that appear to be closed syllables, but have long vowel sounds. I looked up closed syllable exceptions and found that there are five agreed upon exceptions (–ild, –ind, –old, –olt, and –ost). A fun sentence to demonstrate these exceptions is: The cold host was kind to the wild colt.
I understand that –ild, –ind, –old, –olt, and –ost are closed syllable exceptions, but what about –ign in “sign” or –imb in “climb”? Wouldn’t these also be closed syllable exceptions? Or is there something about the silent letters that makes these a different type of exception or rule-breaker?

Robin

says: Customer Service

Andrew,
All About Reading and All About Spelling teach the “Find Gold” rule. This rule says that I and O followed by two consonants may say their long sounds. This is what is happening in sign and climb.

I think you will find our A Handy Guide to Long Vowel Sounds blog post helpful. It includes an activity for the Find Gold rule.

Meagan Marazzo

says:

We just finished our first book Level 2 All About Spelling. Understanding open and closed syllables has greatly improved my sons spelling and reading! I am excited to start Level 3!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great to hear, Meagan! Understanding the various types of syllables is so helpful for so many students. Keep up the fantastic work!

Thelma

says:

Pls I need more explanation on syllables and stress

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thelma,
We have a blog post on How to Teach Schwas that you may find helpful. It discusses stressed and unstressed syllables.

If that is not what you need, I am happy to help, but I would need more information on what it is you having difficulty understanding.

Sharon Feissel

says:

Hello. I understand what open syllables are and that vowels should have the long sound in stressed syllables and the schwa in unstressed syllables. However, it seems to me that there are a lot of words where the vowel in the open syllable has its short sound. Is there any place to look up info on that particular situation? I also think that even unstressed syllables often keep the long vowel sound. I would like to help my daughter as she helps my grandson with learning. I find the open syllable really challenging to get a handle on. Any clarification would be deeply appreciated–or info on some trustworthy online explanation that I could look up myself.
Thanks, Sharon Feissel

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I am happy to help, but I am unsure what it is you need exactly, Sharon. Could you provide me an example of a vowel in an open and stressed syllable that does not say the long sound?

When you get to complex words with three or more syllables, vowel sounds can definitely be trickier. A significant focus of our All About Reading Level 4 program is on practicing the skills necessary for students to be able to sound out such words without help. Level 4 is the final level of the reading program, and at the end of Level 4, students have the phonics and word attack skills necessary to sound out high school level words, though younger students may not know the meaning of all higher-level words yet. (Word attack skills include things like dividing words into syllables, making analogies to other words, sounding out the word with the accent on different word parts, recognizing affixes, etc.)

Yes, unstressed syllables can have long vowel sounds, although they will be more muffled or hurried compared to the same sound in stressed syllables.

I would love to help you further, but I would need more examples of the kind of words you are having trouble with. One-syllable words with open syllables are very straightforward (go, by, me, cry). Two-syllable words with open syllables also tend to not be problematic (robot, humid, baby). Things get more complex with words with three or more syllables, but still, syllable division rules do help greatly to know how to read the word (destruction, emission, January, octopus).

Natasha

says:

We are starting this program at level 2 based on the placement test. However, we have never talked about open and closed syllables. What is the best way to teach this so we can successfully move forward?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Natasha,
Open and closed syllables are just introduced at the end of All About Reading Level 1, and it is also reviewed pretty well in the first lesson of Level 2. You could use the Party Monsters Go Shopping activity in this blog post to have a fun introduction to the concept, and then practice it again when you start Level 2. It’ll be fine.

Mariah Cooke says:

says:

hi i’m new to this website can you please give me open and closed syllables?

Grace Churcùhill

says:

Hi great. Just knowing this for the first time.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Mariah,
Do you have specific questions? This blog post above has detailed help on the concepts of open and closed syllables, including examples of each.

Mariah Cooke

says:

I need help with open and closed syllables.

Tammy

says:

Very helpful! Thank you.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Tammy. I’m glad this was helpful.

Teach

says:

How would you suggest to start teaching children the reading of words that are miltisyllabic and combine closed and open syllables? How can it be easier for them to recognize if the word parts are open or closed sound? Other than just telling them to try what sounds right, because some kids may not have the vocabulary to know if a word sounds right or wrong by just trying all the different sounds.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Knowing the rules for how to divide words into syllables and then how to know which of the 6 syllable types each syllable is gives children concrete skills for reading multi-syllable words with confidence. The majority of the time, dividing the word into syllables and knowing the syllable type will lead to the correct pronunciation. It is less clear occasionally, but that is why having a broad vocabulary is so important for success in reading and comprehension.

Casey

says:

I’ve been doing some of my own reading on this and I’m learning so much. Is there any way to know that a word like “meandering” has an an open syllable “me” as opposed to the “ea” being a team and pronouncing it “mean”dering? Or is that just something that needs to be learned through vocab exposure?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Casey,
This is a great, detailed question!

Yes, some words like meander will require a student to have the word in at least their listening vocabulary before they will be able to read it correctly.

When the letters EA are together like that, they form the vowel team the vast majority of the time, and students should try the vowel team’s sounds first when reading an unfamiliar word. However, when a student tries all three of EA’s sounds (/ē/-/ĕ/-/ā/), none of them will form a word that is recognizable (“meender”, “mender”, “maynder” don’t make sense). Then a student would try separating the vowels and come up with an open syllable, a closed syllable, and the R-controlled syllable to get the correct pronunciation of mee-and-er. (Note, this process is more advanced and not covered until Level 4 of our All About Reading program. Students are taught this more trial and error approach to unfamiliar words in that level.)

But, obviously, this only works if the student has a full enough vocabulary to recognize having heard the word meander before. This is one of the reasons why reading aloud to children regularly is so important! Hearing lots and lots of books read aloud over the years is an amazing way to build a full and rich vocabulary.

Gab

says:

This should have more complex and it is the worst

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry this didn’t meet your expectations, Gab. Do you have questions or concerns about what is not covered in this blog post?

Jerry D Cline

says:

I think this is a great start for my granddaughter at the age of four that pronounces several words and use them in the right context so this is a great app that I can use with her really I think better parent should explode the learning of young kids especially when they are I can use certain words in the correct text he or she can be the next scientist school teacher law enforcement doctor lawyer military Admiral on the USS Destroyer there is no limit explode that young mine and allow he or she a great future

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for sharing, Jerry!

Rene

says:

Hi, I am trying to download the Party Monsters go shopping, but I am not having any luck. Am I doing something wrong?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry you are having trouble with this, Rene!

Please try again, as it is working fine for me now. If you are still unable to download it and you are using a phone or tablet, make sure that your device has the program needed for downloading PDF files. You can search your specific device and “how to download PDF files” to find out what you will need.

If you have problems while downloading PDFs on your computer, follow these steps:

– Click on the download link for the PDF. If a dialog box opens prompting you to either open or save the file, save the file to your computer at a location you will remember (such as your desktop). If the dialog box does not open, the default location is your Downloads folder.

– If you have not previously installed Adobe Reader, install the latest version. Note: if you have a previous version of Adobe Reader, uninstall it before installing the latest version.

– Open Adobe Reader. After opening, go to File > Open…. Navigate to where you saved the PDF.

If you still aren’t able to download the PDF file from our website, please email me at [email protected] and I can email the file to you.

Hopefully, you can get it working!

Sue

says:

This is really interesting. I am in Sydney Australia and am waiting for my AAS to arrive, but I’ve also been a bit concerned about various pronunciation differences. Could you please send me the same document, as I’d like to be prepared for when I start using it with my tutoring students. Also, as we are in lockdown here and likely to be for a few more months, do you have any tips for utilising the materials remotely?
Many thanks.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I have emailed the document and some tips to you, Sue.

Jafar

says:

How can’t vowel sounds

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m not sure what you are asking, Jafar. However, you may find our A Handy Guide to Short Vowel Sounds and A Handy Guide to Long Vowel Sounds blog posts helpful.

Sekou Beysolow

says:

Wow! This IS new to me! You’ve helped to improve my knowledge of phonics. Many thanks.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Sekou. Glad we were able to help you learn something new.

Karen

says:

I’m loving your blogs – I’m an English English teacher and some of your “rules” don’t work for us in the south of England. The syllables open or closed for example …. craft – closed but we pronounce ‘a’ as long!! Any ideas to help?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Interesting, Karen!

As I know it (said as an American that has only dabbled in the variations English pronunciations in the last few years), typically in south English, the vowel sound in craft is not truly the long sound but is more of the /ah/ sound of A. So craft, bath, grass, and other words will have the broader /ah/ sound, but not really the same long sound as found in apron or wait. Is that what is happening for you and your students?

If so, we have help for that!

First, change the A phonogram card and sound card to reflect 5 sounds of A instead of 3:
o short a (bat)
o long a (baby)
o ah (bath)
o aw (water)
o (swan)

Then, there is a rule for when the /ah/ sound of A is used in a closed syllable and not. This is a proposed script for teaching it, “We use much the same /ah/ sound for words such as glass, after, bath, start, car and cart. Sometimes we use an R in the spelling, and sometimes not. There is a rule that tells us when to use the R: If the sound of /ah/ is followed by an S, F, or TH, you do not need to use an R in the spelling.” (In some accents, there are a few exceptions to this rule, but not many: banana, tomato, and scarf are examples.)

If I am mistaken and you are using a true long A in the word craft, please let me know. I have also emailed you a document that details some other pronunciation and spelling differences you may find helpful.

Funmilola Oke

says:

A fantastic post.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Funmilola.

Deborah

says:

Thanks!

Emma

says:

Thanks for a great simple post 👍🏻

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Emma.

Donald Errol Knight

says:

Most useful!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Donald!

P.Fardi

says:

Very interesting way of teaching it. Thanks

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Fardi!

Donna

says:

Really good activity. Explanations were clear

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thanks, Donna.

archana agarwal

says:

How can we teach where to make difference in vowel like in problem
It can be both (pro)- (blem)
Open -close
(prob)-(lem)
Close-Close

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Good question, Archana.

All About Reading and All About Spelling teach eight syllable division rules and practice them extensively. With the word problem, the 2nd rule applies, “Locate the vowels. If there are two consonants between them, we usually divide between the consonants.”

Yuventino Belo

says:

Please give your example words about closed syllables🙏

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Yuventino,
Here are some one-syllable words that are closed syllables:
met, sit, mop, ask, split, belt, ink

Here are some two-syllable words that have two closed syllables:
rabbit, basket, button, problem, habit, visit

Here are some two-syllable words that have an open syllable followed by a closed syllable:
robot, sinus, focus, unit, haven, cement

I hope this helps some, but let me know if you have additional questions.

Nour

says:

hello, which word has a closed syllable and an open syllable baby or France or father?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Nour,
Well, baby has two open syllables ba-by. France is a different syllable type, a vowel-consonant-silent E syllable (also called a Name Game syllable). And father is a closed syllable and an R-controlled syllable (also called a Bossy-R syllable) fath-er.

So, none of these words have a closed syllable and an open syllable.

Happy and hello examples of words with a closed syllable and then an open syllable (hap-py and hel-lo). Robot and silent are examples of words with an open syllable and then a closed syllable (ro-bot and si-lent).

I hope this helps.

sherin

says:

Hi
Is fear pronounced fe-ar f(long E)- ar ? if yes will that make it a 2 syllable word?

or fear with 2 vowels go walking rule where e will be long E and a will be silent?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sherin,
Fear is a one-syllable word that uses the vowel team EA. We discuss the so-called When Two Vowels Go Walking rule in this blog post. It is not a reliable rule and we don’t recommend teaching it.

Aisha Muhammad Hamisu

says:

This is really vital to pupils that want to improve themselves in spelling. Thank you very much.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Aisha. Thank you!

T. Hanks

says:

I feel so dumb. I didn’t read the other comments. Emily totally hit on what I’m experiencing and you answered her beautifully! Thank you!! Thank you for the explanation of the “rule with Latin exceptions”. Because my boys have done both AAS and Sing Spell Read Write, as well as I’ve had my own way of remembering/teaching short vs. long vowel sounds, it made this part confusing to “cold spell”, which is my goal. But I’ll try to focus on repetition and “we aren’t using doubles yet” for these less hard and fast rules. Thank you!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad my reply to Emily was so helpful for you!

However, being able to “cold spell” anything is not a realistic goal for many English words. English has approximately 250 ways to spell about 45 sounds, and quite often there is no rule or clue for when to use one way or another. Take E, EE, EA, and E-consonant-E, for example. The only help for these is that E-consonant-E is a pretty rare pattern. Otherwise, the words have to be learned visually, as there is no rule to tell us to spell “tree” with EE and not a single E or EA, or even EY.

All About Spelling focuses on 4 Spelling Strategies. Phonograms and rules will cover a large portion of words, but it takes visual and morphemic strategies as well to be truly successful with spelling.