Are you confused about how to divide words into syllables? Or maybe you’re not sure exactly how to teach your students the syllable division rules. It can be tricky, but with a few simple rules, you’ll be able to do it like a pro. In this blog post, we will discuss the most common ways to divide words into syllables, as well as provide some tips for making the process easier. So if you’re ready to learn more about breaking words into syllables, keep reading!
Why Syllable Division Is Helpful
By knowing how to split words into syllables, students can chunk up bigger words into more manageable pieces. This helps them read longer and more difficult words, as well as unfamiliar words.
Dividing words into syllables also helps you figure out what the vowel sound will be. When students come across unfamiliar words, breaking them up into syllables can help them predict what the vowel sound will be based on the patterns they see in the words.
There are several rules, or better yet patterns since there are always some exceptions, that can help with syllable division. Remember that there are 6 syllable types, but some words are only 1 syllable. Refer to my guide on the 6 syllable types for more on each.
The main thing to keep in mind when dividing words into syllables is that every syllable must have a vowel sound! We hear a vowel sound in every syllable, and sometimes it takes more than one vowel to make a vowel sound.
Here are the different rules to break words into syllables:
Rule 1: VC/CV – Split 2 consonants that are between vowels.
Whenever 2 consonants come together in a word, divide between them: VC/CV
The exceptions to this are to keep consonant digraphs (i.e. ch, ph, ck) and consonant blends (i.e. bl, st, fr) together.
Rule 2: C+le – The ending -le usually takes the consonant before it to make one syllable.
When a word ends with a consonant and -le, divide it before the consonant so that the last syllable is C+le.
Rule 3: V/CV & VC/V – Split before or after a consonant that comes between 2 vowels.
When only one consonant comes between vowels, divide after the first vowel: V/CV. This makes the first syllable an open syllable, and it will have a long sound.
Pronounce the word with an open syllable. If this doesn’t make a word that sounds familiar, then divide after the consonant: VC/V. This makes the first syllable closed, so the vowel will say its short sound.
Because this one is not as predictable I teach it after VCCV and C+le. I typically start with V/CV only, then I teach VC/V. After this, I mix them up and teach students to be flexible, showing them how to try it as V/Cv first, then VC/V after.
Rule 4: V/V – Split 2 vowels next to each other that do not work as a team.
If a vowel combination is in reverse, divide between the vowels: V/V. In this case, each vowel will have a sound.
It’s so important for students to know common vowel teams so they don’t split those up! If students are still learning basic vowel teams, wait to teach this syllable division pattern. Words like “beach” and “boat” have vowel teams that do not get split. These vowel teams work together to represent one vowel sound.
Rule 5: VC/CCV & VCC/CV – Split before or after the second consonant when 3 consonants come together.
When three consonants come together, divide after the first consonant: VC/CCV. If this doesn’t make a word that sounds familiar, divide after the second constant: VCC/CV.
These words often contain blends and digraphs, which if you recall, do not get broken up. When you see 3 or more consonants together, look for blends and digraphs to help determine where to split the word.
Rule 6: Divide after a prefix and before a suffix.
When you see a prefix, divide the word right after it. When you see a suffix, divide right before it. There are a few exceptions to suffixes creating their own syllable, but this will be apparent after the student has split up the word and tried to pronounce it.
The exception to this rule is the suffix -ed. Sometimes this does not create an extra vowel sound, such as in the words jumped and sailed. Regardless, once the suffix is identified and the word is pronounced, you’ll know if it’s a syllable or not.
Strategies To Teach Syllabication Rules
Teach students to use vowels to identify syllables
Since one vowel sound = one syllable, the first thing students should do is identify the vowels. I always have my students draw a dot above each vowel. After that, I have them label every vowel and consonant by writing a V or C under each letter. Then they have to check if it’s a vowel team or silent e. At this point, they know exactly how many syllables a word has, even if they’re not sure where to split it yet.
Below is an example using the word student.
Teach students to look for patterns
At this point, students can look for patterns in the consonant and vowels. Students should look for vowel teams and magic e’s, digraphs and blends, then look for syllable patterns: VC, CV, VCCV, VCe, C+le, VCV, VV, Vr.
Teach base word families, prefixes, and suffixes
Students should also check for any base words, prefixes, and/or suffixes. Each base word or affix usually is its own syllable, but in some cases, they are not. Students can split these and try reading the word.
Teaching affixes daily and working with word family groups is a great way to address this area. Through consistent exposure and practice, students internalize these word parts and more quickly divide words into syllables.
Teach the different spelling patterns for each sound
It’s helpful if students know the options for spelling certain sounds, such as all the ways to pronounce the suffix -ed. This way when they are breaking up the word into syllable and sounding it out, they can accurately read a word.
A sound wall is a great way to teach all the spelling patterns for each sound. You can display each spelling pattern as students learn it and keep it up all year long as a reference. Read more about sound walls here.
Syllable Activities For Teaching Syllable Separation
Start off with teaching the 6 syllable types, one at a time. These syllable types reference posters are available to download for free in my freebies library.
Diagram multisyllabic words
Whenever I am teaching syllabication, students must always follow the same procedure to diagram each word:
- Spot and dot the vowels
- Label the consonants and vowels underneath
- Look for patterns, affixes, and base words
- Split according to the rules
- Mark the vowels as long or short
- Read the word aloud
Below is an example, the same picture I used above to show how to mark the vowels. You can see the student placed a dot above both vowels, labeled each consonant and vowel, found blends, found where to split the word, then marked the vowels as long and short.
Cut words into syllables
The very first activity after teaching the syllable division pattern is to cut words up because the visual really helps struggling learners. I write a few words on index cards, have students diagram the words, then cut them along the division line. We later use these to sort syllables.
There are tons of syllable sorting activities you can download and prepare, but I like to use the cut up syllables from the previous activity to sort syllables. You can sort into all the syllables types or just choose 2 to focus on as pictured below.
I also use a syllable and vowel pattern chart to sort syllables as I teach them. Each student has their own copy of this and fills it in as we learn each syllable. I have this template available to download for free in my freebies library.
This is an easy activity you can do with any text, but a targeted decodable text is ideal. Simply ask students to read a passage and highlight all the words that have the target syllable. From here, students can create a list of the words they found and split them.
Syllable division rules help readers break words into smaller parts making reading the word easier on their brains. This means that they don’t have to work as hard when trying to figure out what word you’re saying or spelling because each syllable has its own meaning and breaks up the task of decoding letters in order one at a time for your brain. Try these activities next time you teach syllable division.
- How To Teach Spelling by Laura Toby Rudginsky and Elizabeth C. Haskell
- Phonics and Spelling Through Phoneme-Grapheme Mapping by Katheryn E. S. Grace
- Structured Literacy Interventions: Teaching Students with Reading Difficulties, Grades K-6 by Louise Spear-Swerling
- Speech to Print: Language Essentials for Teachers by Louisa Cook Moats
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