Syllable Division Rules

Hi everyone! I've written before about syllable division, but I've mainly focused on the first three rules with open and closed syllables. I made some new visuals to go with the step by step posters, so I figured it was a good time for another post. 

What is syllable division? 
Syllable division rules show us how to break up a multi-syllable word into its syllable parts. There are six main syllable division rules to guide us.

How is it done?
  • It all starts with the vowels. Find the vowels in the word. It helps to underline or highlight them.
  • Find the patten of the consonants and vowels (VCV, VCCV, VCCCV, VCCCCV, C+le, VV).
  • Use the syllable division rule (shown below) to divide the word into its syllable parts. 
Why Should we Teach Syllable Division?
Learning the rules of syllable division provides our students with an effective strategy for chunking up those bigger words into more manageable parts. I see it as another "tool" for their "tool belt" that leads to more accuracy while reading. Understanding syllable division also helps students to determine what the vowel sound will be. As I learn more, I see this works best when incorporated with morphology (think prefixes, suffixes, and roots). When I first learned syllable division, I only learned syllable division without the consideration of morphemes (which are the smallest units of meaning in our language). I now teach my students to look for familiar prefixes, suffixes, and even roots (for older kids) first. If there aren't any, then begin syllable division. To get to that point though, we need to teach them those syllable division rules and give them enough practice with them so that it becomes more automatic. All the while, I'm teaching new prefixes and suffixes to them so those can also become more familiar.  I think the two actually go together well. But I digress! Back to syllable division! The first thing to know is that every syllable must have a written vowel. The very definition of a syllable is an uninterrupted unit of speech with one vowel sound.

Here are the rules on one page:

Here is a picture from my classroom:

The following slides show the main syllable division rules.  I am only going into two-syllable words for now. 

The first thing to know is that it's all about vowels! 
  • Every syllable needs a vowel, so we can determine (usually) how many syllables there are based on the number of vowels.  
    • Vowel teams and diphthongs count as one syllable even if there are two vowels because they work together to make one sound. 
    • Same with silent e. The e doesn't make a sound so it doesn't get it's own syllable. 
      • The exception of course is the syllable type consonant -le. This syllable is found in words like little, bubble, table. You cannot hear the e, but it does get its own syllable. It buddies with the l before it and the consonant before the l. More about that later, though!

Rule #1: Two consonants between the vowels: VCCV Pattern
The first syllable division rule is called VC/VC, which stands for vowel-consonant-consonant-vowel. Train your students to find the vowels in the word. They are our starting point. In words with the VCCV pattern, there are two consonants between the two vowels. Usually, we split between those consonants.   

See the step by step directions with blue and yellow letters below. (Before teaching this, you should teach your students about open and closed syllables.  For the word basket,  split between the s and k.  The first syllable is bas and the second syllable is ket. Each syllable has a vowel.  

Of course there are always exceptions. One exception is when there are R or L blends, like in the word secret. We keep R and L blends together, so instead of splitting between those consonants, we keep them together and move them to the second syllable. We also keep digraphs and units together.  Never split those!

Rule #2 & 3: One consonant between the vowels: VCV Pattern There are two options here! 

More commonly, you would split the before that consonant. This leaves your first syllable open, so the vowel would be long. In the word silent, the letter l is the middle consonant. We move that to be with the 2nd syllable: si-lent.

Sometimes though, we do the opposite. Sometimes, we split after the consonant. In this case, we close that first syllable, leaving that vowel short. In the word robin, the middle consonant b moves with the 1st syllable making rob-in. 

Rule #4: Three consonants between the vowels.

In this case, usually we split after the first consonant. See below that there are the usual exceptions. We never split digraphs and blends. Also, a word this big can often be a compound word. Instead, you would split between the two words. 

Rule #5: Four consonants between the vowels. 

This is super similar to the last one. Split after the first consonant, unless it is a compound word. There are not as many of these words, and honestly when you're getting into words this book, I tend to shift my focus to morphology.

Rule #6: Consonant -le:

 On paper, I've always had this as #6, but I actually found myself teaching this one after #3 because it came up and it includes SO many rules. A great and common example is the word little.  Following this rule, we see the -le at the end and count one back to make lit-tle. Consonant +le in this word is t+le. This is the syllable type where there is no vowel sound. You only hear the consonant and the /l/. 

Rule #7: V/V is when there are two vowels next to each other, but they are not vowel teams or diphthongs. They do not share a sound. I think this is the hardest for my students to decode usually.

That first vowel is always long and that second one usually sounds like a schwa.

I've already mentioned this a few times as an exception to the other rules, but it's really a rule all on its own. If the word is a compound words, don't worry about the other rules, just split between those two words.

I almost put this one first because it's so important, but I didn't want to confuse. Instead It is super helpful for students to get in the habit of always looking for prefixes and suffixes. This starts in kindergarten with the suffix -s! I teach my students to always "chunk out" the prefixes and suffixes and to focus on the base word first. This requires direct instruction with all the different prefixes and suffixes. In first grade, they commonly will see -s, -es, -ing, -ed, -er, -est, re and un. 2nd graders regularly see -ly, -ment, -ful, -less, -able, pre-, dis-, mis-, and so many more! In some cases, suffixes like -ed don't necessarily make a new syllable (jumped, camped, etc), while in others (rented, busted) it does make another syllable. But that's even more reason to teach them about prefixes and suffixes! Our students will cover the -ed in jumped, then see only one vowel and one syllable. After reading jump, they will then uncover -ed and decide how to pronounce it "jumpt, jump-ed, or jumpd". You can learn more about this HERE.  

3 Syllable Words: When dividing a word with more than two syllables, first check for affixes (prefixes and suffixes). Then start at the left with the first two vowels, divide those syllables, then move to the right. 

If you're interested in just these syllable division posters and some practice pages with all syllable types, you can find them HERE.  The practice  pages come in two formats: tabbed notebook (shown below) and also regular full-page worksheets. 

Here is a sneak peak of a few of the practice pages.

And because I'm so indecisive and have created and recreated so many posters over the years, I included all sets of visuals shown in this post. You can just choose your favorite and print!

However, if you already own my Syllable Division with Open and Closed Syllables, I also added these posters to that pack! You can find that HERE

(If you're wondering what the difference is, this pack above has a lot more practice pages, but just focuses on open and closed syllables because it is part of my systematic units and has detailed lesson plans. The new, smaller pack above that has just the posters and 40 practice pages for all syllable division rules. It includes open and closed syllables then has another section with all the other syllable types. It is not part of the systematic units and does not have the detailed lesson plans.)

Here are a couple of syllable activities that I've done:

For these two, I put the first syllable in one color and the 2nd on another color. Students read the syllables and matched them to make real words. 

This next activity was a review activity after learning all syllable types. I wrote words on note cards. I gave each student one at a time. They read the card to the group and then together we determined which pattern it followed. (Students would copy the word on their white board first and do the syllable division individually.) We sorted them into the correct column. The next day I used colored transparencies to chunk a certain syllable. For each word, I would ask for the first or second syllable.  Students would say the syllable and then we would highlight that part.  

What are Syllable Types?
This post is all about the syllable division rules. But you also will want to know the syllable types. As I mentioned above, I have a pack that focuses on syllable division with only open and closed syllables, which are two of the 7 syllable typesWant to read about the other syllable types? Click HERE to read more about syllable types.

Syllable Types

Hi friends! It's been a while, but I'm excited to say that I have several posts coming soon. I have most of them half done. LOL! I know, I know, focus Sarah! Get one done and then the next. ha! I have had a lot of questions recently about syllable types and syllable division rules. (That post coming next.) 

What are Syllable Types?
There are 7 written syllable types used in English spelling (six if you combine vowel teams and diphthongs). To read and spell, students need to know these syllable types. Knowing these syllable types makes decoding and encoding easier and more efficient. There are only 5 vowels (6 if you count y), but they make several sounds! Knowing the syllable types helps to narrow down what sound to make. 

If you are teaching your student to read multi-syllable words, instruct them to apply syllable division rules first.  Then they can decode each syllable based on what type of syllable it is is. (Post about syllable division rules here)

I posted these first two posters below in another post about Structured Literacy, but I think it's helpful to see it all in one place. 

This visual shows you an example of a two syllable word, how it would be divided, and the types of syllables in each. 

The following posters explain in a little more detail. You can find these Syllable Type Posters HERE.

Closed Syllables:
I teach the closed syllable type first. Most teachers do even if they don't know they are called closed syllables. This includes CVC words, and digraphs and blends with short vowels (cat, with, shop, block, slip, etc.). 

If you would like a very detailed unit about one-syllable closed syllables, click HERE. If you would like a unit about two-syllable with closed and open syllables, click HERE.

Open Syllables:
Next, I teach open syllables. There are not many one-syllable words that open (me, be, she, so) but there are tons of multi-syllable words with open syllables. Open syllables includes words that end in y as well (by, try, baby). This is when I introduce y as a vowel. 

You can find a detailed unit on  open syllables HERE.  Like I mentioned above, I also have a unit that focuses on two-syllable words with open and closed syllables. You can find that HERE.

Silent e:
Next I teach the silent e. I need to do another blog post soon on the many jobs of the silent e. This magic e that makes the first say its name is just one of those jobs. There is SO much more to the silent e though! That post is next on my list. I plan on making a more detailed unit on silent e too, but for now I have these resources for the magic e.  So far, I only have one-syllable resources, but soon will have some two-syllable silent e syllable division practice.  

Consonant -le
Consonant + le is one of my favorites to teach because it explains so much! In fact, this is one of the other jobs of the silent e that I was talking about. The e is silent but it does not really do anything. Instead it's purpose is to be a "marker". Every syllable must have a vowel. This e is there to do just that. It makes this type of a syllable a syllable. Unlike the other syllable types, it is never a word by itself. It is always at the end of a word and it's in the unaccented syllable. (What's that? click here to read more.) It's also the only syllable type where you can't hear the vowel sound.  Consonant +le can be -cle, dle, tle, ple, fle, gle, kle, ble, and zle. 

Bossy R (R-Controlled Vowels)
Bossy r is a tricky one! It's tricky because it only changes the vowel sound when that vowel is before the r. Here are some bossy r resources for one-syllable words. 

Vowel Teams:
Vowel teams and diphthongs are often put together, but I like to teach them separately. I'm not a linguist so I may be wrong about this, but here's how I separate the two. With vowel teams, the first vowel usually says it's name (exception is ea in bread). I actually like to teach ow (as in flow) with the vowel teams, even though technically w is not a vowel. But it follows this same rule of the first vowel saying it's name. (I teach the other ow as in cow with diphthongs.) I don't have a detailed pack for vowel teams yet, but I do have some resources for one-syllable words with vowels teams. You can find those HERE. 

Diphthongs are the trickiest of all in my opinion, because they just have to be memorized. There are several high frequency words that include these so  using those words as a reminder can be helpful. I don't have any finished and published diphthong resources yet but I promise they are coming! 

I hope this helps! Make sure you read my post about syllable division and Structured Literacy, too!