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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.

how to teach syllables pinterest graphic

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Summer

says:

It doesn’t say vowel combination so I dont get it
Doesn’t say open and closed

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m not sure what you are asking, Summer.

Jade

says:

Is loser a closed syllable?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jade,
The word loser has two syllables, and neither is closed. lo-ser

The first is open, although the O is saying its less common /oo/ sound instead of its long sound. The second syllable is an R-Controlled syllable or a Bossy R syllable. Open and closed are just two of the six syllable types in English.

Jade

says:

This was helpful!

isabella starova

says:

i need a code that will be easy on IXL.

Jasmine

says:

It is so amazing 😉

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Jasmine!

Jasmine

says:

Um I loved it

Diana

says:

Why does “famine” have a short “i” sound with a silent e?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Good question, Diana. It is because the word ending -ine is usually not accented, and the vowels in an unaccented syllable often take on a short /uh/ or /ih/ sound. This is called a schwa sound, and we explain it in our How to Teach Schwas blog post.

The word ending -ine almost always say that short i sound when it is not the accented syllable in a word (examine, imagine, engine, medicine, etc.). When -ine is in an accented syllable, it says the long i sound that we expect (line, combine, outshine, lupine, etc.). And interestingly, words that come to English from French that end in -ine have a long e sound (magazine, chlorine, machine, cuisine, etc.).

I hope this helps!

Yanli Chen

says:

Thanks ever so much.

name, bake, cake, mate… are these closed or open syllables

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Good question, Yanli.

Name, bake, cake, and mate are neither open nor closed syllables. There are a total of 6 syllable types, and open and closed are just two of them. These words you listed are all Name Game syllables, also known as vowel-consonant-E syllables (VCE syllables). This download shows all six syllable types.

Qais Alkhamis

says:

First thankful for this material.
but there is a big problem so the question when will be i can pronoun the vowels as long letter or short in the works if open syllable.

Example :
banana – it is open syllable so why the letter A is short
tomato – it is open syllable why the letter o is long

really I’m confuse about it please explain to me

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Good questions, Qais. The concepts of open and closed syllables, as well as the other four syllable types, are extremely useful for helping students read and spell English words. However, there are things that come into play with pronunciation, such as the schwa sound. Our How to Teach Schwas blog post has more information about these. What you are hearing with the first and last syllable of banana and with the first syllable of tomato is the schwa sound of unaccented syllables.

The concept of open and closed syllables can help with sounding out words but may not help with the subtly differences in pronunciation, especially across accents. Banana would be bay-nan-ay (long A, short A, long A), but of course that doesn’t sound exactly like the way most people pronounce the word. As explained in the Schwa blog post, after sounding out bay-nan-ay, students would then need to “say it like word”, banana.

Tandi Cortez

says:

Great tips! I’m homeschooling my little one this year and need all the help I can get.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this is helpful for you, Tandy! Let me know if you have questions or need further help.

Miski Hersinor

says:

It help me a lot

MaryEllen Edwards

says:

WOOHOO! What a cute engaging game for open and closed syllables. Thank you so very much for sharing! MYy student loved it!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, MaryEllen! I’m very pleased to hear your student enjoyed it so much.

Patience

says:

Hi ,how to scoop ,mark the syllable type and vowel sounds of the word chose.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Patience,
Chose is the Silent E (also known as the vowel-consonant-E) syllable type. You can read more about Silent Es here, Silent E: Teaching Kids the Whole Truth. The silent E makes the O say its long sound.

Does that clear it up for you? Please let me know if you have further questions.

Geoff

says:

Do all words have closed and open syllables? For example, if you read the sentence “I went to the hospital to see the tiny baby.”, would you identify closed syllables as went, hos, pit, al and open syllables as I, to, see, ti, ny, ba, and by? Or would you only identify the open syllables ti, ny, ba, and by? Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Good question, Geoff.

No, not all words have open and closed syllables. There are six syllable types, and open and closed syllables are the most common ones, but they aren’t the only ones.

In the sentence, “I went to the hospital to see the tiny baby,” most of the syllables are open and closed. I, ti, ny, ba, and by are all open syllables. “The” is a rule-breaker most of the time when it says “thuh” (but is an open syllable when it says “thee”). And “to” uses the third sound of O. Went, hos, pit, and al are all closed syllables.

See is a vowel team syllable because it uses the vowel team EE.

The six syllable types are open, closed, Silent E (vowel-consonant-E), vowel team, Pickle syllable (consonant-L-E), and Bossy R (R-controlled syllable).

lisa

says:

can you explain a little better

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

What portion are you having trouble with, Lisa? I’m happy to explain further.

Marnie Waterford

says:

Year 3 in Gunnedah love learning about open and closed syllables and we find this website very helpful, thank you!

S Fair

says:

Great review for me, retired teacher helping her 2nd grade granddaughter with her school work.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this was helpful for you!

Julz

says:

We are currently teaching level 2. In lesson 12 we came across the word blanket and, upon dividing, realized that the word should divide as such: blā-nket, given that the “a” makes a long vowel sound. The answer key shows: blank-et. Wouldn’t that make the short vowel sound? Considering baby makes the same sound and divides as bā-by?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Julz,
How do you say the word blank?

In many accents, an A before the NK phonogram shifts a bit toward the long sound. And in some accents, it shifts to a clear long A sound. For most people, the first syllable of blanket is pronounced the same way as the word blank. That means for some both have short As, and for others, it means both have long As.

Blanket cannot be divided as bla-nket because there is no way to pronounce “nket”. You could make the argument of dividing it blan-ket, but that removes the NK phonogram sound (the nasal /nk/) that is clear in most English pronunciations of the word. When I try to say blan-ket (with a clear /n/ and /k/), I think I sound odd. However, one of the syllable division rules we teach in All About Spelling is that most of the time we do not break up phonograms. Occasionally it has to be done, such as some consonant-L-E or Pickle Syllables (i.e. pickle becomes pic-kle), but otherwise we avoid it. Blanket is properly divided blank-et.

Does this help clear up the issue? Open syllables aren’t the only way a vowel can be long.

Lynn Corsino

says:

Helpful resource!

Friedrich Bauer

says:

Hi Robin,

Isn’t the schwa generally part of an open syllable, except when it’s followed by two or more consonants as in words like chancellor (chan-cel-lor)?

Also, wouldn’t the above make the division of a word into syllables dependent on your particular regional accent within the U.S.?

For instance, the authoritative dictionary Merriam-Webster says that the first syllable in the word ‘division’ should be pronounced with the schwa as in duh-vizh-uhn, but according to dictionary.com, the word ‘division’ should be pronounced dih-vizh-uhn. So, if what I said above is correct, and the schwa sound generally causes a syllable to be treated as open, except when it’s followed by two or more consonants, wouldn’t one region in the U.S. want to divide the word ‘division’ duh-vizh-uhn and another region want to divide it dihv-izh-uhn depending on whether their particular regional accent pronounces it with a schwa?

Lastly, what about words like accountability? Dictionary.com has it as uh-koun-tuh-bil-i-tee, but if that’s correct then how come when it’s broken up into syllables it should be ac·​count-a-bil-​i-ty, instead of ac·​count-a-bil-​it-y? Shouldn’t the second i be put together with the second t to form the syllable ‘it’, instead of being divided into the syllables i-ty? After all, the second i in the word accountability has a short vowel sound according to dictionary.com, so why is it ac·​count-a-bil-​i-ty, instead of ac·​count-a-bil-​it-y?

There’s a bunch of words like this that have short vowel sounds, where instead of the consonant going to the left, it goes to the right, as in words like dif-​fi-​cult, instead of dif-fic-ult.

Could you explain?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Friedrich,
Interesting thoughts. However, the schwa sound can be found in any type of unaccented syllable, not only open syllables (above) but also closed syllables even when followed by only one conconsant (problem). It can also be found in other syllable types as well, such as a vowel team syllable (limousine). Maybe our How to Teach Schwas blog post will help you.

As for syllable division, there are two ways to divide syllables. One is according to morphology, or word meaning, and the other is according to pronunciation. Sometimes the divisions are the same, and sometimes the divisions are not.

If you think of the word “mended,” you can hear this fairly clearly. According to morphology, we would divide this into a base word and a suffix: mend-ed. But according to pronunciation, we would divide it men-ded. With many words, it’s difficult to come to a full stop after a consonant blend. Try to say mend-ed fast. In the natural rhythm of our speech, it’s much easier to divide the word in the middle of a consonant blend and say men-ded.

It is similar for accountability. In normal speech, we naturally prefer to start syllables with a consonant sound rather than end them with one. So when there is just one consonant sound between two vowels, we very often move the consonant to the second vowel. Ac-count-a-bil-i-TY instead of ac-count-a-bil-IT-y But when dividing for spelling purposes, we see that -ity is a suffix and the morphology of suffixes has us add it all to the end. In this case, accountable becomes accountability with the silent E dropped because -ity is a vowel suffix and we drop the silent E before adding vowel suffixes (except with rare exceptions). So, for spelling the word, we would focus the student on locating the base word, account. Then add the first suffix, accountable. Then the second suffix, accountability.

This blog post is just a brief overview of open and closed sylable types. All About Reading and especially All About Spelling cover these in much more detail. Students are taught that if there is one consonant between two vowels that the consonant usually goes with the second vowel. But if that doesn’t form a recognizable word, then they should try dividing the word so that the consonant goes with the first vowel. So robot is divided ro-bot. This makes the first syllabe open with a long O and robot is recognizable. However, cabin becomes ca-bin, or CAY-bin, which isn’t a word. So students will then move the division to cab-in and find that with a short A it is recognizable.

But again, this is just a short summary. There are many six syllable types and multiple syllabe division rules to apply. All About Reading and All About Spelling both need multiple levels to full teach, review, and practice these concepts with students.

I hope this clears up the issues at least somewhat for you.

Macy Bixler

says:

I messed up what I meant to say is, is the first syllable in assert open or closed?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I understood, Macy.

The first syllable of assert is closed. There are two consonants between the vowels, so you divide the word between the consonants: as-sert. The first syllable has the S following the A, so it is closed.

By the way, the second syllable of assert is neither open nor closed. It is a “Bossy R” or “R-Controlled” syllable because of the ER phonogram.

Macy Bixler

says:

Is the word assert is the first syllable open or closed?

Kristina

says:

Is split and trunk a open or closed syllable

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kristina,
Both split and trunk are closed syllables. You see that the vowel in both is followed by at least one consonant. This “closes in” vowel.

Joe

says:

Is wide an open syllable

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Good question, Joe.

No, wide is not an open syllable. Wide is a vowel-consonant-E syllable, also called a Name Game syllable. There are 6 syllable types; open and closed are just the 2 most common.

Stacy Ricciotti

says:

Would fall be considered a closed syllable or schwa?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Good question, Stacy.

Technically, fall is a closed syllable. However, the A does not say it’s short sound in the word fall (and many other words) because it is followed by an L. When A is followed by an L or when it is after a W, it will say it’s third sound, sometimes called its broad sound, the /ah/ sound. Examples include fall, always, water, and want. (You can hear all three sounds of A with our free Phonogram Sounds app.) The third sound of A is taught in level 2 of All About Reading and All About Spelling.

Somaia

says:

Thanks very easy explaining then I understand.

Bothaina Natour

says:

This blog entry is very helpful and makes it easier to teach open and closed syllables. thank you.

Ayra

says:

Well that’s unfortunate

Courtney

says:

Even I have learned a lot by teaching my kids with your program! Open and closed vowels was a new (or I just completely forgot it!) concept to me.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Courtney,
They were new to me too when I first started teaching my children! I think the concept just isn’t taught, even though it is very helpful.

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