81

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.

< Previous Post  Next Post >

Leave a Comment

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

Farman

says:

In the example given above for an open syllable, the word used is “fly”. In which “y” is pointed out as vowel whereas y is not a vowel at all. Kindly explain.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Farman,
Y is more often a vowel than it is consonant.

Y has four sounds. The first is its consonant sound, but the other three are all vowel sounds. You can listen to all four of Y’s sounds (and all the other phonogram sounds as well) here. Y is always a vowel (or part of a vowel team) in the middle or at the end of a syllable. It is only a consonant at the beginning of a syllable, and usually only at the beginning of a word.

I hope this clears the issue up for you, but please let me know if you have more questions.

Jessica

says:

Are all syllables without consonant coming after the vowel are open syllables?are there any exception?
Which means, even nothing comes after the vowel we still say its short sound.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m not sure what you are asking, Jessica, but I’ll give it a shot.

When there is one consonant between two vowels, we usually divide the word so that the consonant goes with the second vowel leaving the first vowel open and long. However, there are words where that isn’t correct (this syllable division rule is “usually” for this reason). An example is cabin. If we divide it with the consonant with the second vowel, it would be pronounced cay-bin, which is not a word. In words like this, we have to move the consonant to the first syllable to close it to be read as cab-in.

A tricky thing, however, is unaccented syllables. Vowels in unaccented syllables are often muffled and don’t get their full sound. Often the sound is so muffled it takes on an /uh/ sort of sound, which is called the schwa sound. We have a blog post on How to Teach Schwas that explains this in detail. An example would be banana. That final A cannot be closed so it should be the long A sound. But it is in an unaccented syllable, and instead takes on the schwa /uh/ sound.

Does this answer your question? Please let me know if you would like more information.

maci

says:

I am ten and I use it all the time

ash

says:

vowel team syllables is away or play or somthing like that

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Ash,
Yes, away and play both have vowel team syllables. Did you have a question about them?

Ehsan

says:

and in the following , why we can not syllabify word ” vigor ” ” vi – gor ” or syllabify word vital ” vit – al ” ???

Ehsan

says:

excuse me , how do we can recognize the long vowel and short vowel sound in a word when it syllabifies ??
for example , we here have the words : ” na – ture ” and ” nat – u – ral ” , but i can’t recognize how the first word has ” ei ” sound in its first syllable but second word has ” a ” sound in its first syllable and both have the same roots . or other example : we have ” vi – tal ” , the its first part separated with long vowel sound while the word ” vig – or ” its first syllable divided with short vowel sound . how we can determine , is there some rules for these tricky words ???

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Ehsan,
There is no rule to say that a vowel will be short or long in these situations. Most commonly, when there is one consonant between vowels, the word is divided between the first vowel and the consonant, making the first vowel long. However, as you point out this isn’t always true. With some languages, once you know the phonics rules of that language you can read the language aloud with a high level of accuracy even if you do not understand the words. This is not so for English.

With a word like vigor, students will divide in the most common way, with the consonant going with the second vowel. Then they will read the word, vi-gor, with the long I sound. They will then decide that vi-gor doesn’t sound like a word they know, so they will try the less common way, vig-or, which the short I sound. Hopefully they will recognize the word then and be able to move on with reading. However, if they don’t recognize it, they will need help from someone that does know the word, a dictionary, a web search, or some other method. There really is no way of knowing which is correct if you don’t already recognize the word.

Vigor cannot be divided vi-gor because vigor has a short I sound and therefore needs the consonant to follow the I to “close” it. Vital cannot be divided vit-al because vital has a long I sound and needs to be “open” without the consonant following it. The sound of the vowel determines the way the words are divided into syllables, not the other way around.

I hope this helps clear up the issue somewhat. I do wish there was some hard and fast rule I could point you to, but there is not. Please let me know if you have further questions.

Velvizhi V

says:

Great Idea!!!

Jennifer Ramirez

says:

I want the newsletter

Eddie Y

says:

Can you please explain why the word “only” has a long O sound?

Thank you

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Eddie,
The reason for only having a long O goes back far in history. You can read a brief summary of the history here.

From the standpoint of teaching how to read the word, All About Reading introduces it as a “Leap Word” in level 3. We teach that the O in only doesn’t say the sound we would expect an O to say in a closed syllable. Our Sight Words: What You Need to Know blog post discusses “leap Words” and how we teach them. Interestingly, this is one word that is easier to spell than to read for most students.

I hope this helps.

Ap.Henry T. Kpayeh

says:

Well done, mastering these two syllables, can help the children to do well in their learning process.

Aliah

says:

I am sorry. Correction lemon as lem.on not le.mon.

Other words why we read ho.tel and not hot.el?

Aliah

says:

Why in the word lemon we read as le.mon and in model we read mod.el. Do you have idea how to choose whether the first syllable is v.cv or vc.v other than looking in dictionary? Is there any rule?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Aliah,
Most words with one consonant between two vowels will have the consonant go with the second vowel and the first vowel will be long because the first syllable is an open syllable. However, some words do the opposite. All About Reading teaches children to try dividing syllables between the first vowel and the consonant first but if that doesn’t form a recognizable word, then to try the other way.

This works when the student already speaks English well and recognizes that le-mon is not a word and lem-on is. Sadly, there is no way other than a dictionary to tell which is right when you aren’t already fluent in English and can recognize the words. But, as I said, v-cv occurs more frequently and is the way to try first.

I hope this helps some. I’m sorry there isn’t a clear rule to help you with this.

Ron

says:

Say:

We’re here TO help.

You’re welcome!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Ron. We’ll get that fixed!

Sandy Grant

says:

Knowing how to divide syllables and the difference between open and closed syllables has been SO helpful! I wish I had learned this years ago.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sandy,
Yes! Knowing the different types of syllables and how to divide them is amazingly helpful for both reading and spelling.

Cathy cummins

says:

Well presented info with great examples

Karen Rueger

says:

Cool idea! I’ll have to try it!

Marie

says:

Thanks for the download to help teach tjis concept.

Alyssa Hull

says:

This is a concept I was never taught and I’m so glad to get to teach it to me kids. It makes such a difference!

Christina

says:

How have I never learned this?! It makes so much sense!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I agree, Christina! I didn’t learn about syllable types until I was teaching All About Spelling to my children, but they do make so much sense and take a lot of guesswork out of spelling.

Jennifer

says:

This is great! I wish I had learned this as a kid.

Michelle

says:

love the way you have presented the lesson. Working with children who do not have much plus most parents are not fluent in English your site really helps me – Thank you and God Bless you

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are so welcome, Michelle. Thank you for the work you do to help children.

Jean Armstrong

says:

I just found your blog. Looks like alot of great info to try out on my girls. Thanks.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Jean. If you ever have any questions, just ask! That’s what I’m here for. 😊

Angela Elliott

says:

I actually learned a couple things reading this :) So excited to try the program with my daughter!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Angela,
I know what you mean. I have learned so much since first beginning All About Spelling and All About Reading over 9 years ago.

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

Amanda

says:

I don’t think I ever knew about open and closed syllables until I started using all about reading and all about Spelling with my kiddos.

Krista

says:

This is very helpful, open and closed syllables are so confusing for my students!

Courtney

says:

This is so helpful! We have worked on this before, but it’s a nice reminder 1) about why it’s beneficial to learn this way and 2) how the open and closed syllables help us figure out spellings. My daughter and I were just working on spelling words as we were swinging today and I couldn’t remember the rule to explain how to spell one of the words. This would have been it! We will be going back over (BOTH of us) and making sure we know how to make sense of this again. Thanks for such a great program!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are so welcome, Courtney! You may find this article that details all 6 Syllable Types.

Machalah Phelps

says:

This is so great! Very useful information to help teachers reiterate this knowledge to their students. Or like in my case presents to their children :) I enjoy learning the “why” behind our reading and spelling.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Machalah,
I enjoy learning the “whys” behind things as well! It makes the subject not only more fun to learn but easier to remember as well.

Kate

says:

I love learning these things! I grew up copying words over and over for spelling practice and I still can’t spell anything. I’m having fun teaching my son because I’m learning so much too!

Emily Wallace

says:

Excellent information! Can’t wait to apply it with my children.

Dera Ronquillo

says:

I really like this activity. It’s cute and will engage the students. I can get the students to create more cards and draw their own monsters and open or closed syllables. I can’t wait to use it.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I love the idea of having students draw their own monsters and come up with their own open and closed syllables, Dera. What a great way to extend this activity!

Christine

says:

Helpful tips!

April

says:

😊👍🏻

Amy Glickman

says:

Is there a way to use the app to divide words into syllables and place them under the correct syllable tag

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Yes, there is, Amy! Check out our Advanced Features video that details some of the more advanced things the app can do (dividing words into syllables starts at about 34 seconds into the video).

If you previously purchased the app and are having trouble with this, check that you have the most updated version. Find the app in your app store and see if there is an “update” button there. If there is, press the button to download the most updated version. If instead it just tells you the app is “installed”, then you already have the most recent update.

Let us know if you have any difficulties with this or anything else regarding the app.

Janell Garwood

says:

So helpful! Thanks!

Esther

says:

Thank you for these insights!

Robyn M

says:

I love the use of pictures and graphics to help teach kids about grammar, my daughter is a very visual learner and this will be awesome resource to help her.

Celina Lyles

says:

This is perfect as I am teaching my son this right now!

Amy Glickman

says:

Does the app teach other syllable types besides open and closed syllables ?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Our Letter Tiles app doesn’t teach, Amy. It is a tool to replace physical letter tiles used in our All About Reading and All About Spelling programs. Our programs teach six syllable types: open, closed, name game (vowel-consonant-silent E), vowel team, pickle (vowel-consonant-LE), and bossy R (R controled syllable). The Letter Tiles app has labels for all six types for labeling syllables for reading and spelling.

Does this help? Please let me know if you have further questions.

Joyce Majerus

says:

Party Monsters Go Shopping is such a fun way to practice/assess understanding of open/closed syllables. This is the first blog post that I have read and I love everything about it. Clear, concise, engaging, and so informative. Can’t wait to read more of your posts!

Heather Kisner

says:

I’ve heard great reviews of All About Reading! Can’t wait to give this curriculum a try!

Jennifer Keene

says:

Would love to win level 4!

Tamara Moyers

says:

Looking forward to using this system next school year!

Kate George

says:

Thanks!

Hanlie

says:

Can I buy the letter tiles from you? Are they magnetic?

Thanks
Hanlie

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Hanlie,
Yes, here is the link to purchase our Letter Tiles. They are not magnetic in themselves, but we do also sell adhesive magnets so you can make them magnetic.

Please let me know if you need anything else.

Elizabeth Cochran

says:

This is excellent information! Thank you!

Kara

says:

This is very helpful

Stephanie

says:

I’ll be honest this is new to me. Not something I remember learning in school. Of course it’s been a few years to. But a great thing to know.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Stephanie,
This was brand new to me too when my first student started All About Spelling so many years ago. Yet it makes so much sense and is so helpful for reading and spelling! It is a very great thing to know.

Barb Howe

says:

Distinguishing between open and closed syllables is a fundamental skill in decoding new words. Thank you for this blog that reinforces my knowledge of the two syllable types. Additionally, Robin’s helpful “closed in” hint in the comments gives me an excellent kinesthetic method of teaching the difference between the two.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad that was helpful, Barb! Sometimes when I child has trouble understanding explanations, doing something active makes all the difference.

Lindsay Dalton

says:

Thank you so much for teaching about this. It really helps me understand it better.

Jenny Wright

says:

I wish I had understood these rules before beginning to teach my child to read and spell.

Katy

says:

One of my children (who’s just starting level 3) gets hung up on labeling syllables when it’s a word like “insect”. She thinks the first syllable is “open” because the vowel is “open” at the beginning of the syllable. It’s obvious to me that it’s closed on the end, so it’s a struggle to explain it every time she has to label the syllables of a word like this.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Katy,
This does trick up some kids. Explain that a syllable is “closed” only when it is closed after the vowel (as I am sure you have done, but review, review, review). Then maybe this object lesson may help. Go to an interior door and walk through together and shut the door after you. Talk about how you had to go through the door and have it close after you in order to be “closed in”. If the door was open or closed before you went in didn’t matter. You had to go through and have the door shut after you to be “closed in”.

After discussing it, spend a moment or two reviewing open and closed syllables with the tiles at the beginning of every reading lesson. Build words like at and go. Which is open? Which is closed? Why? And have her explain why! Build words like insect then have her divide and label the syllable and explain why she labeled it as she did. Mix up words like insect with words like robot and humid. Do two or three words every day until she no longer makes this mistake.

I hope this helps. Let me know how it goes over the next couple weeks or if you need further help.

Luz

says:

Thank you for the information, I love it !

Kaitlin

says:

So grateful for these explanations. Thank you!

Mary

says:

This is very helpful! Thank you for the download!

Judith Martinez

says:

I did not know this rule!! It makes so much sense! I think my youngest two kids are going to gain full mastery a lot easier and faster than my older ones did.

Tootsie Jablonski

says:

Very helpful information! Thanks for making teaching fun and easy!

Leave a Comment