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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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Emily

says:

Thanks for the great program and helpful blog! We’re on step 4 of level 2 right now, and even I’m learning so much that I was never taught in school when I was young! One thing that I’m confused how to teach is VCV words that actually are made up of 2 closed syllables (such as habit, visit, seven, cabin, finish). Are these just exceptions that will be taught as such later and shouldn’t be introduced yet to avoid confusing the student? Or are these words supposed to be pronounced in such a way that the middle consonant is actually closing in the first short vowel? (I’m just not hearing that difference when I pronounce rabbit vs. habit, for example.) Thanks for any tips you can give!

Ava Lop

says:

It helped my child learn

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great to hear, Ava!

Lynn g

says:

Anxious to try this program
Full of wonderful ideas and strategies

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Lynn,
Let me know if you have any questions, or need help with placement or anything else.

Emily Cargile

says:

We haven’t quite gotten to this yet since we just started with level one, but I did want to say that this program has already been amazing for us. My daughter is loving it and learning so much!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great to hear, Emily! I’m really pleased that your daughter is enjoying learning to read. That’s so important!

Alinda

says:

We just went over this today! I just ordered level 2 this morning! I can’t wait to get it. I love how this program has helped my son so much. Thank you!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re so welcome, Alinda! It’s wonderful that the program has helped your son.

matthew

says:

love it

Janice Alberts

says:

In the two sentences:
1) A persons character tells us about what they are like on the inside.
2) It is difficult to guess the character of a person just by looking at them.
What are the closed syllables?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Interesting question, Janice.

In sentence 1, the syllables sons (from persons), act (from character), tells, us, what (but for most English speakers what is a rule breaker), on, and in (from inside) are all closed syllables.

In sentence 2, the syllables it, is, dif-fic-ult (all the syllables of difficult), guess, act (from character), of, son (from person), just, at, and them are all closed syllables.

Does this help? Let me know if you have additional questions.

Anna

says:

The words oil and shout would be considered open why?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Anna,
No, neither oil nor shout is an open syllable. Both are vowel team syllables. Open and closed syllables are just two of six syllable types.

Oil and shout are vowel team syllables because both contain a vowel team, OI and OU respectively.

Yahaira Rivera

says:

Thanks for the tips, but just one question. Does the word fish have an open or a closed syllable?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Fish is a closed syllable, Yahaira. The vowel is “closed in” by the consonants SH that follow it.

Kelsey Hemsley

says:

What a fun idea of how to teach open and closed!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Kelsey!

Jacqueline

says:

My kids love the Monster activity for learning open & closed syllables! Thank you AAS!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Jacqueline! Somehow, monsters make almost everything better. ?

Amy Cunningham

says:

Thank you for the tips

Amy Cunningham

says:

Thank for the tip

Julie R

says:

The description of syllables and the illustrated tags are so helpful for my son!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great to hear, Julie! Thank you.

Ivana Krivic

says:

Very helpful. Cannot wait to get ours and start using it. Heard all good comments about the program.

Julia M.

says:

Helpful article and thank you for the cute monster game, we enjoyed it!

Judith Martinez

says:

This explanation is so helpful! I’m looking forward to getting started on AAR 1 in a few weeks and learning more about this to help my children read.

Missy

says:

This is well explained for helping my kids and I love the illustrations! So vivid and relevant to keep my son’t attention.

Laura

says:

In a multisyllabic word how does the child know how to divide the word into syllables. If they have not seen/heard the word before how do they know how to break the syllables apart in print. I have always understood how to identify syllables that are open or closed and how to tell the child the why behind the sound the vowel makes. Thus I can help explain the open/closed syllables to them because I know how the word sounds and how to divide it into syllables orally. My struggle has always been how to teach the child to break the word into syllables in print so that they are able to decode the word on their own using open and closed syllables, etc.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great question, Laura. Our All About Reading level 2 starts work on this in detail and it continues through the final level, level 4..

We teach syllable division rules that help students know how to approach unfamiliar words. There are two that apply to open and closed syllable types. The first is:

“Locate the vowels. If there are two consonants between them, we usually divide between the consonants.” An example would be the word napkin. It is divided between the P and the K and the syllables are nap-kin. Both are closed and the student knows to read the vowels as short vowels.

The second is:

“One consonant between two vowels usually goes with the second vowel.” An example is broken. Applying the rule, it is divided bro-ken and the student sees that the first syllable is open and therefore the first vowel should be long.

However, note that this is a “usually” rule. Occasionally there are words like habit that when this rule is applied and the divided word and read, it does not form a recognizable word. Habit would become ha-bit (pronounced hay-bit). We teach students, and practice a LOT, that when dividing this way does not form a recognizable word, they are to try dividing it with the consonant going with the first vowel, so habit would be hab-it. Then they try reading the word with both vowels short and find it does make a word they have heard before.

All About Reading works on the many syllable division rules and other skills useful to allow them to sound out even high school level words by the time they finish level 4. Here are some of the words that students learn to sound out and read in level 4: acquaintance, limousine, vogue, perceptible, ferocious, and many more.

I hope this helps. Let me know if you have additional questions.

Tammy Ortiz

says:

We enjoyed seeing learning this lesson. It was the first time I had heard about closed and open. Even Moms can learn!

Sheena

says:

Very useful information! I wish I had learned this as a kid.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I agree, Sheena! I have found learning about the six syllable types so helpful even though I was an adult.

Catherine

says:

ooh this is good for my son

Brittany Caumette

says:

When do you recommend teaching this concept? Once the student starts reading muti-syllabic words or is introduced to long vowel sounds? Or right from the get-go, with CVC words and short vowels?

Whitney

says:

This has helped my dyslexic daughter so much!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great to hear, thank you, Whitney!

Jessica

says:

Such a simple but profound concept for reading and spelling!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Jessica!

Natalia

says:

Great website i love it so much it helps me a lot. Thank you so much ?????

Deborah

says:

I like your imagery and the clear explanations included throughout your program.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Deborah!

Sandra Tuplin

says:

Looks like it should be a fantastic way to learn to read.

Natalia

says:

very helpful thank you i get it now

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.

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