Teaching Two Syllable Words

I love teaching two syllable words! It's always exciting when I get to that point in the year where they are ready to take that next step with reading and spelling. At the same time, it can also be a challenge for our struggling readers. I want to start this post by talking about some common errors I see when my students are starting to read and spell two-syllable words. 

How to split 2-syllable words with Open & Closed Syllables
These next slides are to get you started. There are 6 syllable types that help decode words in the English language. Today, I'm going to get you started with the first two syllable types: open and closed syllables.

Click HERE to download these free posters as a visual reminder:
Clip art by Rebekah Brock

Syllable Division Rules
I first teach syllable division with only closed and open syllables.  Once they seem comfortable, then I can teach other syllable types (silent e, vowel teams, diphthongs, and bossy r) and then practice syllable division with those. Consonant -le is both a syllable type (the only syllable type where you don't hear the vowel) and it has its own syllable division rule.  I teach that once with the open and closed syllables because they catch on it and it explains so many words! Below are the syllable division rules and some step by step directions.  The first thing to know about syllable division is that it's all about the vowels! Why? Because every syllable needs a vowel. Knowing this, we can determine how many syllables a word has just by counting the vowels. However, silent e doesn't count because it doesn't make a sound (except with consonant -le pattern) and with vowel teams and diphthongs, we count  them as one because they work together to make one sound. 

 Here are the syllable division rules:

When there are two consonants between vowels, we usually just split between those consonants.

VC/CV Exceptions
Of course there are exceptions...
We must keep R and L blends, digraphs, and glued sounds (ing, ink, old, ost, olt, ind, etc.) together.

When there is one consonant between the vowels, there are two possibilities:

Most commonly, you would split before the vowel, leaving the first syllable open (and that makes that first vowel long).


But sometimes, we split after that consonant, which closes that first consonant and makes that first vowel short. 

Now we're getting crazy with three consonants between vowels. Words are getting bigger my friends. Usually here, we split after the first consonant. 

But don't forget! We keep digraphs and blends together remember? 

And don't forget about glued sounds...

Yep, one more exception! If it's a compound word, we split between the compound word.

This next one is rare for the ages I teach, but there are a few words like this that we see! 4 consonants between vowels!  What?!

Consonant -le

This next one says Rule 6, but I actually started teaching it sooner recently. I started teaching it before VCCCV. I like teaching this earlier because there are SO many words with this syllable type and once they learn this syllable division rule, it becomes so much easier to read them. All they really need to do is look out for consonant -le at the end of a base word. The split before that consonant. 

Finally, we get to the type that I think is the trickiest. When two vowels are next to each other but are not a team, we split between them. I find these are always hard for my students to decode. 

Teaching Ideas for the WHOLE Class
Here are some ideas for how to teach this to your whole class. (The activities after this will show mainly how to teach and reinforce small group or one-on-one.)

First model several times, then start calling up kids to the board to help. To keep the rest of the class involved, use hand and body motions. As your helper is splitting the word, ask the class, "Do you think the first syllable should be open and closed?" Have them use these motions SILENTLY to answer. After it has been split, ask what vowel sounds the first syllable is. Have them silently use motions (short vowel is just a swoop of the finger showing the short vowel symbol which sort of looks like a U.)

This next activity is always a fun one. To get the rest of the  class involved, they could be writing the word and splitting it using their own white board or in a notebook.

Mix and match two-syllables to make words. To make this a whole class activity, place magnetic dots on the back of your index cards. Place the 1st syllable on one side of your magnetic whiteboard and the 2nd syllable on the other side. Sound out all syllables. Have students come up and match two syllables. After they read them as a word, determine if it makes a real word. (This activity would also be good for those who are having a hard time blending the two syllables together.)

I hope these tips help and get you started with teaching two-syllable words. :)

Teaching Ideas for Small Groups and RTI

I've created a pack of activities specifically designed to give students tons of practice reading and spelling 2 syllable words with open and closed syllables. 

(This pack focuses on open and closed syllables- not all 7 syllable types.) This is geared toward struggling readers, but it would benefit all students. Sometimes students don't have problems reading multi-syllable words, but they do have issues spelling them. It will provide your students with a  great foundation to reading multi-syllable words. :)

To begin, use these letter tiles to introduce the concept of open and closed syllables. There is also a visual for each, explaining what happens to a vowel with open and closed syllables. You do not have to buy this pack to use this in small groups! Simply print letters on colored paper and laminate. 

Step 1: Build Syllables to introduce open and closed syllables: In this photo, you can see an open syllable (on the left) and a closed syllable (on the right.) These do not need to be words. They are syllables. Quo is not a word, but it is the first syllable in quotation quota. After building this, teach students that the o says it's name because it is not closed in by a consonant. This makes it an open syllable. In the example on the right, the vowel is closed in by the consonant t so it cannot say its name. Instead it says its short sound.  Do several examples where you build the syllable for your group and the determine if it is open or closed. Discuss why each is open or closed and what sound the vowel says. Then, you can say a syllable and have your students build it on their individual "boards." 

There are a few more activities to help kids distinguish between an open and closed syllable.  

To make this on your own:
  • Write syllables on a white board and have students decide if they are open or closed. Underline the vowel in each syllable. Look to see if there is a consonant after it. That will tell you if it is open or closed. Finally, determine the sound the vowel will make.
  • Write syllables on note cards. Have students sort cards based on open or closed.
  • Make a syllable house. 

The next two activities give kids practice reading open syllables, then closing them with a consonant, changing the vowel from long to short.


Step 2: Build Words to Practice splitting up words by syllable
On the next page, you can build two-syllable words. Teach students how to break up the word into its two syllables. In this word, we want the a to be a short vowel, so it must be closed by that s. After reading the word and teaching students how to break it up (two consonants between vowels are split apart) then put the tiles back and have the student write the 1st syllable and the 2nd syllable.  See the syllable splitting rules above to learn more. 

Now it's time to practice reading two-syllable words! These activities give plenty of practice chunking each syllable. This is always the hard part. Kids often want to blend beginning and ending sounds, leaving out a few of the middle sounds. picnic=pinic, dentist=denst, etc. Many of our students need to trained to break the word up. 


To do the activity below, you must teach the rules for splitting open and closed syllables. First, find your vowels. Count the consonants between the vowels. If there are two consonants, you split between the consonant. Exceptions: Keep digraphs together and blends with l or r stay together (example: reflex= re-flex. The f and l stay together instead of being separated so the e is open and says its name.)

Reading and spelling should go hand and hand. Your students should be practicing that spelling component just as much. As I mentioned above, teach them to clap or tap out the syllables first. Focus on each syllable separately. Say the word more than once! After writing the first syllable, train your students to say the whole word again, clap it out again, then say the 2nd syllable and stretch it out to hear all the individual phonemes.  

Finally, when you feel like your students are ready, provide them with some practice in the context of a sentence and a short story. 

Click here to get this pack of activities!