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Mastering Open and Closed Syllables

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Written by
Voyager Sopris Learning
Updated on November 9, 2023
Quick Takeaway
Understanding syllable types, especially open and closed syllables, is vital to mastering English pronunciation, spelling, and reading comprehension. A syllable, defined by rhythmic and phonetic properties, can be organized around a single vowel sound. Closed syllables end with a consonant, producing short vowel sounds, while open syllables present with long vowel sounds due to the lack of a consonant at the end. Effective teaching methods include visual aids, interactive phonological activities, and explicit instruction. Decoding multisyllabic words and understanding suffix rules can be complex, but with structured guidance, students can proficiently navigate English’s intricacies.

Understanding syllable types is crucial for mastering the English language because they play a fundamental role in pronunciation, spelling, and even reading comprehension. Syllables are the building blocks of words, and a solid grasp of syllable types enhances a student's ability to communicate effectively and navigate the complexities of English. By gaining proficiency in this foundational aspect of language, readers and learners can strengthen their overall literacy skills. Voyager Sopris Learning® has embedded a sound library in Voyager Passport® and LANGUAGE! Live® reading interventions to assist learners in mastering open and closed syllables. 

The Basics: Understanding Syllables

Syllables are characterized by their rhythmic and phonetic properties and are made up of one or more vowel sounds (or a vowel sound combined with consonant sounds) organized around a single vowel sound known as the nucleus. Consonant sounds may appear before (onset) and after (coda) the vowel sound within a syllable.

Understanding syllable types and patterns is crucial for effective reading and writing because they impact how we break down words into amenable units for language processing. Open syllables and closed syllables are two main syllable types essential for both pronunciation and spelling. Understanding these primary syllable types helps learners predict how vowels are pronounced within words and provides them with insight into the patterns of vowel sounds based on syllable structure. This knowledge is then useful for improving reading fluency, decoding unfamiliar words, and correctly spelling words. 

What Are Closed Syllables?

Closed syllables are syllables that end with a consonant sound, either with a single consonant or a consonant blend (two or more consonants grouped together). In short, a key feature of a closed syllable is the presence of a short vowel followed by a consonant. For example, in the word “cat,” the syllable “cat” is closed because it ends with the consonant sound /t/. Other examples of closed-syllable words include “hat,” “dish,” or “rabbit.” 

Within closed syllables, examples that children learn in early elementary education revolve around one-syllable words and two-syllable words. For example, the “at” in “hat” is a one-syllable closed syllable because it ends with the consonant sound /t/, resulting in the short vowel sound /æ/. Likewise, the “it” in “sit” is a closed syllable because it ends with the consonant sound /t/, making the vowel sound /ɪ/ short. An example of a two-syllable closed word is rabbit. In “rabbit,” the first syllable, “rab,” is closed because it ends with the consonant /b/, making the vowel /æ/ short. The second syllable, “bit” is also a closed syllable for the same reason.

What Are Open Syllables?

Open syllables are a fundamental concept in phonics and word analysis. Open syllables begin or end with a long vowel sound and have a consonant sound on only one end of the vowel rather than both ends. The lack of a consonant to close off the sound allows the pronunciation of the vowel sounds to be prolonged. 

For example, the words “me” and “go” are open-syllable words. In the word “me,” the open syllable contains a single vowel that creates a long /ē/ sound. The word “go” also features an open syllable with a single vowel sound at the end, resulting in a long vowel sound. 

Understanding open syllables and their role as word parts is key to recognizing how syllables can combine to form different syllable types, including closed syllables, multisyllabic words, and more. For example, the open-syllable word “me” can be combined with other syllables to form longer, closed-syllable words such as “meet” or “mean.” Likewise, the open-syllable word “go” can be combined with other syllables to create words like “got” or “goal.” Teaching students how to identify open and closed syllables will enable students to both break down and pronounce words with more accuracy. 

How to Identify Open and Closed Syllables

Syllable patterns refer to recurring structures or arrangements of sounds within a syllable. These patterns are essential for understanding the organization and pronunciation of words. Syllable division rules are guidelines that help determine how words are divided into syllables. There are some general rules and conventions for dividing words into syllables, but exceptions can be frequent due to the complexities of the English language. 

CVC words (consonant-vowel-consonant) and VC/V words (vowel-consonant/vowel) are both examples of common word patterns taught during early literacy instruction. For example, “cat,” “dog,” and “pen” all follow the CVC pattern, beginning and ending with consonants that surround a vowel sound. “At,” “up,” and “it” are all examples of VC/V words that only have a consonant sound at one end of the word. This pattern involves open syllables. Students will also experience “team” or “blend” patterns. For example, a team of two vowels working together will represent a single vowel sound in words like “bean” or “boat.” Likewise, a blend of two consonants may appear together without a vowel in between in words like “track” or “ship.” In cases like the word “ship,” the /sh/ combination creates a consonant digraph, which is a pair of consonants that combine to represent a single sound. Some common consonant digraphs include /ch/, /sh/, and /th/.

In addition to common syllable patterns, there are several common syllable division rules that should be used when teaching students how to identify open and closed syllables. 

  • Vowel-Consonant (VC) Rule: Divide words between a single vowel followed by a consonant. For example, "ra-dio" and "ti-ger."
  • Consonant-Vowel-Consonant (CVC) Rule: Divide words between the first and second consonants when two consonants come between two vowels. For example, "hap-pen" and "yel-low."
  • Consonant-Digraph Rule: Divide words between two consonants in a consonant digraph (two consonants that represent one sound). For example, "thin-ker" and "school."
  • Vowel-Diphthong Rule: Divide words between the two parts of a diphthong (a combination of two vowel sounds that glide together). For example, "pain-ter" and "coin-age."
  • Silent-E Rule: Keep the silent "e" at the end of a word with the preceding vowel, and divide before the "e." You’ll find that the silent “e” make the preceding vowel say its name. For example, “nos-e” and “kit-e.”
  • Consonant-Le Rule: When a word ends with a consonant followed by "le," divide before the consonant. For example, "tab-le."
  • Vowel-R Rule: Divide before a vowel that is followed by an "r" sound (e.g., "sha-rp" and "bi-rd").
  • Compound Words Rule: When dividing compound words, divide between the two words that make up the compound. For example, "tooth-brush" and "book-case."
  • Prefixes and Suffixes Rule: Divide between the root word and any prefixes or suffixes. For example, "un-happy" (“un” is the prefix and “happy” is the root word) and “reading” (“read” is the root word and “ing” is the suffix).

How to Teach Open and Closed Syllables

There are several common teaching methods used during phonics instruction that help students learn the basics of open and closed syllables and enhance their phonological awareness. One effective approach is using visual aids such as flashcards, anchor charts, or sound walls to illustrate the different syllable types and their associated vowel sounds. These visual tools engage students and provide a clear reference point for recognizing open and closed syllables in words.

In addition to visual aids, interactive phonological awareness activities like word games, word sorting, and reading exercises with both open- and closed-syllable words can make learning more engaging and help reinforce the concepts. Combining visual and kinesthetic strategies with explicit instruction and guided practice to explain the rules and patterns governing open and closed syllables will help ensure students develop a strong foundation for reading and decoding longer multisyllabic words.

Decoding multisyllabic words can be a complex task. Once students have a better understanding of the common patterns and rules, they can begin to break down longer words into more manageable syllables. It is essential to practice identifying these patterns, recognizing common vowel teams, understanding r-controlled vowels, and becoming familiar with silent "e" scenarios. Additionally, breaking down longer words into individual syllables and focusing on each syllable's pronunciation can facilitate better word recognition. Frequent reading and practice can improve proficiency in decoding multisyllabic words and enhance overall reading and language skills.

One common lesson when dealing with multisyllabic words is teaching suffix rules. Suffix rules and patterns affect both open and closed syllables: 

  • In open syllables (syllables that end with a vowel or vowel sound), adding a suffix often does not affect the pronunciation of the vowel in the base word. For example, in the word "create," the first syllable (“cre-”) is open, ending with the vowel sound "e" When you add the suffix "-ion" to form "creation," the pronunciation of the vowel sound "e" in the base word remains the same. The word "creation" illustrates how adding a suffix to an open syllable, like the one in "create," does not alter the pronunciation of the vowel sound.

  • In closed syllables (syllables that end with a consonant or consonant sound), the vowel sound is usually short, and adding a suffix typically does not change the pronunciation of the vowel sound in the base word. Let's consider the word "plan." The last syllable in "plan" is closed, ending with the consonant sound "n." When you add the suffix "-ed" to form "planned," the vowel sound in the base word remains a short "a," and it does not change due to the closed syllable structure.

As mentioned before, there are exceptions to many rules and patterns due to the complexities of the English language. For example, the schwa sound in suffixes changes the sound pattern. The schwa sound (/ə/) is a common, unstressed vowel sound that can occur in both open and closed syllables, typically when a vowel appears before an unstressed syllable in a word. This often happens in suffixes, such as in the suffix "-ed" in words like "needed." The schwa sound is often heard in the syllables of suffixes and can affect the overall pronunciation of the word.

All of these rules, patterns, and exceptions can be overwhelming to students and teachers. However, with the right strategies and support, teachers can feel confident in their ability to empower students, and students can feel confident in their skills and abilities. Master open and closed syllables effortlessly with the sound library—your go-to resource embedded in Voyager Passport® and LANGUAGE! Live® reading interventions.

Understanding Open and Closed Syllables

Understanding open and closed syllables is a foundational element to mastering English language reading and writing skills, not only for students but also for teachers. Voyager Sopris Learning offers resources to help teachers empower their students with strong reading and writing skills. Learn more about Voyager Passport® and LANGUAGE! Live®, a comprehensive reading intervention solutions that provides struggling readers with explicit instruction, corrective feedback, and more time on task to master critical reading skills.

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