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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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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?

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.

Amy

says:

Thank you for such clear explanations!

Desirae

says:

I absolutely love this program for teaching my children how to read. This method has helped us so much to remember if it is short or long.

Kate

says:

This was a game changer when we first discovered AAR. My son had been struggling with so many sight words but learning about open syllables helped so much!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kate,
Yes! Learning syllable types and syllable division rules makes sounding words out so much easier.

Becky

says:

This will be so helpful for home school, thank you!

Donna

says:

In the word “dissect” the first syllable (dis) is closed. Why then does it have a long vowel sound?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Donna,
Good question. Dissect is most commonly pronounced with a short i sound in the first syllable. However, some regional accents do use the long i sound instead. (You see both pronunciations at dictionary.com, with the more common one first.)

The concepts of open and closed syllables and how they affect vowel sounds are very useful and accurate for thousands of English words. However, as with all of English, there are exceptions. If your regional accent pronounces dissect with a long i, teach it as an exception or rule breaker.

Jessica

says:

Can you please help me sort these words into open and closed syllables. ??
circus rainbow sensible cycle rectangle belief most enjoyment tomorrow lost gold nineteen disaster short ninety

Please, help me.. I m very depressed about the fact whether I have delivered the wrong information.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jessica,
Open and Closed syllables are only two of six types of syllables.

The word circus is a Bossy R syllable and a Closed syllable. Rainbow is two Vowel Team syllables. Rectangle is a Closed syllable, a Closed syllable, and a Pickle syllable. (However, some regional accents will pronounce the A in rectangle long.) Belief is an Open syllable and a Vowel team syllable.

Sensible is a Closed syllable followed by the suffix ible. Suffixes can be labeled for syllable types, but it is usually simpler and less confusing for students to think of suffixes as a unit. But ible would be an Open syllable and a Pickle syllable. (The i is short in ible even though it is an Open syllable because it is an unaccented syllable and gets a schwa sound.)

Most and gold are something else. They are words that follow the Find Gold Rule. This rule states that I or O followed by two consonants may be long. This is discussed in our A Handy Guide to Long Vowel Sounds blog post. But as you can hear, lost doesn’t follow this rule as it has a short vowel. Lost is a Closed syllable. That is why the Find Gold Rule says “may” be long. I or O aren’t always long when followed by two consonants.

Enjoyment is a Closed syllable, a Vowel Team syllable, and the suffix ment (a Closed syllable). Tomorrow is an Open syllable, a Bossy R syllable, and a Vowel Team syllable. Nineteen is a Name Game syllable and a Vowel Team syllable. Disaster is a Closed syllable, a Closed syllable, and a Bossy R syllable. Lastly, ninety is a Name Game syllable with the suffix “ty” (used only for numbers, twenty, thirty, etc.). The suffix ty would be an Open syllable.

I hope this helps. English is complex, but there is logic and pattern to it. Please let me know if you need more help.

Jessica

says:

Thank you so much for your time….it helped a lot..you are great !

Courtney

says:

Thanks for your help on this.
Can you please help me with the open syllable like in window? I know diagraph ‘ow ’ makes the long o at the end of a word but why isn’t it just o on its own like in no? Also words like daily. Why is that one a vowel team and not ‘a‘on its own and in exfoliate the i is making the long e sound…. there are so many exceptions and I am trying to help a child with dyslexia understand. He has been stuck working on long vowels for the past 3 years.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Courtney,
The short answer is that there are more than 250 ways to spell the 45 or so sounds of English. The sound of long E has 9 spellings! Because of this, sounds like long O can be spelled multiple ways. Why a word is spelled the way it usually goes back to how the word developed historically and what language it oriented from before it came into English. That information doesn’t help struggling spellers, however.

All About Spelling focuses on just one spelling for a sound for a long while before adding in the next spelling. That way students have the opportunity to master each spelling before tackling the next. Then, when a few spellings of a single sound have been used and mastered, All About Spelling has a word sort lesson where the student works with all the spellings learned so far and spells and sorts words into their various spellings. This method helps reduce confusion and boosts confidence with English spelling.

I can tell you that I says long E in the word exfoliate because an I before another vowel very often says long E. Other examples include radio, audio, various, and period. There are more as well. In fact, the letter I is the most common way to spell the long E sound immediately before another vowel.

I hope this helps some, but let me know if you have further questions or need more information. A more incremental approach like All About Spelling may be helpful for the child you are helping.

Amanda

says:

Great information! Love the game download.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Glad to know you enjoyed the game, Amanda!

Paula

says:

I say pencil is a closed first syllable! Who is right?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Paula,
Both syllables in the word pencil are closed. Is that what you wanted to know?

kandy

says:

I like what you’ve presented here! I’ve taught similar concepts through the Wilson Reading program in the past. I’ll be interested to read further emails from you. Thanks!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Kandy,
I’ve signed you up for our weekly email newsletter. Let me know if you need anything else.

Fredrick Kasoma

says:

Banana seems to be Ba/na/na, but all the a sounds are short yet i would expect them to be long.
Thanks.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Fredrick,
Banana is a tricky word.

A’s at the end of a word such as banana, vanilla, and agenda almost always say the schwa sound, that is the /uh/ sound. You can read about schwas in this blog post. A also takes on this sound often when it is at the beginning of a word, such as above and accept.

Students in All About Reading are taught that when there is one consonant between two vowels to first try dividing with the consonant going with the second vowel. So, initially, an All About Reading student would divide banana as you have done, ba-na-na. Then they would sound it out bay-nay-nuh. (They have been taught that A usually says /uh/ when it is the last letter in a word by the time they are asked to read banana.) The student would recognize that bay-nay-nuh isn’t a word they recognize, so they would then divide the word with the consonants going with the first vowel ban-an-a and read it as ban-an-uh.

Note, the word banana is taught in the last level of All About Reading and the student will have had a lot of practice with all of these steps and more by the time they are asked to read banana. And because of the skill they have developed, they have success with this word and many that are even more tricky.

I hope this clears this word up. It would be nice if English were so straight forward that one short blog post could explain all the complexities a student will run into, but that simply isn’t so. All About Reading takes four levels to get students to the point that they can sound out high school level words successfully and confidently.

Lorraine

says:

Thank you! This is a great activity to share with my students and their families.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Lorraine. Thank you for sharing this with your students and families.

Melissa

says:

Thank you for sharing. I’m always looking for things to use in my classroom. I

winder

says:

you teach student ad in what school

Chelsie

says:

I’m not understanding how this can help kids decode words. Wouldn’t they have to be able to read the word first before deciding if it’s open or closed? Just having a consonant after the vowel doesn’t make it a closed syllable. For example, the words ‘baby’ and ‘paper’ both have consonants after the vowel and are “closed in” but they are actually open syllables making the long vowel sound. You have to already know what the word says in order to divide it into syllables in the correct place which only then tells you if the vowel is open or closed within the syllable itself. I can see how it would help with spelling, but not decoding of words in reading?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Chelsie,
You make a good point, but syllable types do help with reading when the student learns how to divide syllables. All About Reading teaches Syllable Division Rules to help students determine what kind of syllables they are dealing with. One rule, for example, is to locate the vowels in a word and then see how many consonants are between them. If there are two consonants, the word is divided between them. Napkin would be an example. There are two consonants between the vowels, so it is divided nap-kin. Then it is obvious both syllables are closed and will have short vowels, making reading the word easy.

If there is just one consonant between the two vowels, the word is usually divided so the consonant goes with the second syllable, such as robot. This is divided ro-bot and it’s easy to see that the first syllable is open and gets a long vowel. But note that this is a “usually” rule. Occasionally when a word is divided that way it doesn’t form a recognizable word. Cabin is an example. If divided ca-bin, it would read caybin, which isn’t a word. All About Reading teaches students that if dividing so that the consonant goes with the second vowel doesn’t form a word they recognize, then they should try dividing so that the consonant goes with the first vowel. Then it becomes cab-in, closed syllables with short vowels.

Does this help? There are six syllable types and eight syllable division rules. All About Reading covers them slowly over all four levels, so students have a chance to master each before the next is introduced.

Abraham Gumba

says:

Excellent! I am learning so much from these blog posts.

Fredrick Kasoma

says:

Thank you for this elaborative detail. I have liked it. And I will definitely follow through the other types of syllables.

Cheree

says:

I have a hard time separating syllables as it is…if there were an easy way to separate syllables, this technique of short or long vowel would be sooo helpful when I explain the vowels to my daughter. Do you have a blog post about separating syllables?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Cheree,
I think this article, Syllable Types, will be helpful. It’s just a brief overview, however. All About Spelling covers syllable division throughout levels 2 through 7. If you have any questions, I’d be happy to help.

Dayana Ribera

says:

i dont understand

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

What is it you don’t understand, Dayana? I’m happy to help explain things and give more information.

Linda

says:

Thank you, very helpful.

Sadia Jahan

says:

I really need help with this vowels please do something for me. Thank You

Masashi Ng

says:

There’s something fishy going on. There are occasional words that the single vowel makes their long sounds in a closed syllable.
Spelling Changes Examples:
pull->pule
push->poosh
bull->bule
bully->buly
full->fool
bush->boosh
bullet->bulet
put->pute
bullion->bulion
pudding->puding
cushion->cusion
wolf->woolf
whom->whome
tomb->tume
womb->wome
kind->kaind
find->faind
wind->waind
mind->maind
wild->waild
mild->maild
child->chaild
bold->bould
gold->gould
told->tould
most->moust
host->houst
post->poust
kosher->kousher
gross->grose
haste->heist
paste->peist
taste->teist
waste->weiste
range->reinj
change->cheinj
strange->streinj
danger->deinjer
chamber->cheimber
pretty->prety
effect->efect
lethal->leathal
Ethan->Eathan

Masashi Ng

says:

However, there are quite many words that the single E says its long sound in a closed syllable.
jacket
packet
ticket
pocket
rocket
socket
basket
blanket
cabinet
carpet
interpret
magnet
market
target

Masashi Ng

says:

Please open the web link and look at the phonetic symbol. For example, in “packet”, the E says the short I sound in a closed syllable, so could you please help me to explain this point? Also, the short I and long E sounds similar, so could you please help me to differentiate them?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Masashi,
We have a blog post that specifically covers 6 Tips to Help Distinguish Between Short I and Short E. Also, when a vowel is in an unaccented syllable, it can take on a schwa sound, How to Teach Schwas.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Masashi,
Not one of the words you listed has a long E sound for the majority of English speakers. Every one of them has a short E /ĕ/ sound or a schwa sound.

I’m curious if you are possibly a non-native English speaker, as that is the only experience I have had with a long E sound in these words, although most non-native English speakers still pronounce these with the short E /ĕ/ sound.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Masashi,
You offer a lot of examples here. Looking over it, I see that maybe your personal accent is affecting how you pronounce words and that is part of the confusion. I’ll address a few.

In the first 11 you listed, the words do not use the long U sound for most of the English speaking world. In some of them, the word has a short U sound (full, as one example, is typically pronounced with a short U /ŭ/ sound). Other of the words use the third sound of U, the /ŏŏ/ sound (you can hear this sound with our free Phonogram Sounds App).

The letter O has four sounds and one of them is the /oo/ sound. It can take on this sound regardless of where it falls in a word. Whom and womb both have O saying /oo/, not long O.

I and O can say their long sounds when followed by two consonants. We call this the Find Gold rule. Kind says long I and bold says long O.

You then list a few words with silent Es making the vowel before it long. Yes, there are two consonants between the vowel and the E, but it still affects the vowel in words like haste and change.

Danger and chamber are fishy words, I admit. There is no clear reason for the long A in these words. It happens, although rarely.

Pretty uses a short E sound, although many regional accents change this word to more of “purdy”. Because so many English speakers pronounce pretty as “purdy” or something similar, All About Reading and All About Spelling these this word as a rule breaker.

Lastly, with lethal and Ethan, consonant teams such as TH aren’t usually divided. When these words are divided into syllables, the TH stays together because it is making a single, unique sound and not the separate sounds of T and H. Because of this, the first syllable in each is an open syllable.

I hope this clears these words up for you!

Andrea

says:

For the word obedience for instance. Split into syllables it reads “o be di ence”. Is there a rule to explain the exception why di says it’s short sound and not say it’s long sound or “name” since it’s considered open? My daughter was asking and I didn’t know how to explain this.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Andrea,
Good question. The i in obedience actually says it’s third sound for most people (although, as with all words, regional pronunciation may vary). Dictionary.com does list the i saying “ee”, however. This is because i almost always takes on it’s third, long E, sound before another vowel. You see this in obedience as well as radio, patriot, and Indian. This happens in over 1700 words (although they tend to be words with Latin origin, so higher-level vocabulary).

However, this open syllable vowel saying something other than it’s long sound in a word can also be related to whether the syllable is accented or not. When a syllable is not the accented syllable in a word, we tend to muffle the vowel sound. Usually, it takes on a sort of /uh/ sound. This is called the schwa sound and we have a whole blog post about it. How to Teach Schwas

When reading words with many syllables, it is helpful to try reading the word with the accent on different syllables if you don’t recognize it at first. If you read obedience with a long i sound, you are reading it with the accent on that syllable. Unaccented syllables get more muffled, so if you place the accent elsewhere and muffle that i a bit, the word becomes clearer. Obedience has its accent on the second syllable, but I think it becomes clear enough to be recognized if you try the first syllable too. I think you will find the #4 strategy in the above blog post on How to Teach Schwas helpful for practicing this.

Also, sometimes a syllable looks like it should be open but it really is a closed syllable. The rule is, “One consonant between two vowels usually goes with the second vowel.” It is a “usually” rule, not an always one. So, in the word operate, it looks like it should be divided o-per-ate. However, the o is short and needs to be closed in to be short. It should be divided op-er-ate.

Does this help? It is a complex issue, especially when we get to words with three, four, and even more syllables. All About Reading 4 covers this extensively for reading, and it is a big part of All About Spelling 5 and continued into levels 6 and 7 as well.

Frederick Leckey

says:

Very helpful information

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