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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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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 support@allaboutlearningpress.com 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.

T. Hanks

says:

I am using Level 2 AAS with my 2 boys and I had a terrible time with Step 4. There are 6 words taught in Step 4 that directly break the syllable division rule 3 with open syllable taught in Step 6: habit, finish, visit, seven, cabin, and extra word limit. You divided them as closed 1st syllables , but they break the single consonant rule and our pronunciation doesn’t always follow the closed syllable like ha-bit and se-ven. They have caused us a good bit of trouble. We are now on Step 24, but my boys have pointed out other words that break this rule along the way. Your blog mentions help for this type of word. I’m hopeful that comes in Level 3. But I’d still like to hear some ideas and insight on this now. ( And others can learn too! 😊)

gabi

says:

nice lesson

Tambra Phillips

says:

Interesting

Poonam

says:

Thanks for the blog. Helped clear my understanding on syllables. Would love to read more on this topic and looking for fun activities for my 5yo son. :)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad you found this helpful, Poonam! We have a short article on the Syllables you may find helpful too.

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!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Emily,
Jump ahead to lesson 12 in the All About Reading level 2 Teacher’s Manual to see how these words are taught. Students do need to be about to read words like rabbit and relax easily first (lessons 6 and 10), but once they have a handle on them, they are ready to approach words like habit and visit.

The Teacher’s Manual will show you how to teach them fully but in short: Students will need to try having the consonant going with the second syllable first but when that doesn’t form a recognizable word, they will try moving the consonant to the first syllable. So for finish, first they will try fi-nish. This makes the first syllable open and the vowel long. But fy-nish doesn’t sound like a word the child knows. So they then try moving the N to the first syllable, fin-ish. That makes both syllables closed and the vowels short and the word recognizable.

Let me know if you have additional questions, but I think you will find the Teacher’s Manual answers this completely.

Emily

says:

Thank you for your reply! I should have been clearer. We’re using the All About Spelling program and don’t have the All About Reading program. My son is very fluent in reading, probably at a fourth grade level or so, so he can read all these words without a problem, but when it comes to spelling he has a hard time. So when it comes to spelling a word like habit, how should I teach him to spell it with only one b when it sounds the same as rabbit with two b’s?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry, Emily! You did mention “Step 4 of level 2”, so I should have known you meant All About Spelling.

At this point in All About Spelling, he has not learned to spell words like rabbit that double a consonant between. At this point, if he hears one consonant sound, he should use one consonant. In this way, he will become very familiar with the spelling of words like habit, cabin, visit, finish, and others. You can let him know he’ll learn about doubling consonants later on and for now to not do it.

All About Spelling level 3 Step 8 introduces a Key Card, “To protect a short vowel, we often double the consonant.” At that point, he will start spelling words with doubled consonants like rabbit, apple, and others.

However, since he will already have mastered many words that don’t double the consonant, he will understand that this is an “often”, not an always, rule.

Sadly, there is no rule or sound to tell us when not to double the consonants in words with short vowels. The reason why we double some and not others lies in the far history of each word (see below), but that doesn’t help a student know how to spell them correctly.

When there are no rules that are easy for students to apply, All About Spelling uses other strategies. In this case, AAS has students become very familiar with the words that do not have doubled consonants by waiting to introduce the idea of doubled consonants until an entire level later.

I hope this helps some. Just focus on the single consonant words for now and help him to fully master them.

As to why this happens, this doubling of consonants is especially true in words where we add a suffix or when a native suffix is part of the word, as in “happy” or “hammer”. This generally happens on the “native English” side of our language–the words that come to us through Middle and Old English.

However, a number of words come to us from Latin, and that’s where the rest of the words (the ones that don’t fall in the “often” category) come in. In Latin words, a single vowel is usually short, as in words like metal, cabin, visible, and so on. As your son learns longer and more difficult words, you run across more Latin words, and thus see more exceptions.

This is where it gets tricky. Words with two or three syllables could be either native English or of Latin origin and will follow the doubling the consonant rule only if they have a native English suffix or if the words are not of Latin origin. Words of Latin origin will follow the Latin style. However, words of four or more syllables are almost always of Latin origin, so we rarely see doubled letters in very long words.

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.