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Open and Closed Syllables

Ever wonder what the difference is between 'she' and 'shed', 'I' and 'it', 'me' and 'met'?


The first is an open syllable, and the latter is a closed syllable.


Open Syllable

An open syllable is a word or syllable that ends in a vowel.

When this happens, the vowel says its name (its long sound).

Example: she, I, me


Closed Syllable

A closed syllable is a word or syllable that ends in a consonant.

When this happens, the vowel says its sound (its short sound).

Example: shed, it, met


It is a lesser taught skill, but it is remarkably prevalent in English spelling.


For example, when it comes to the sound /A/ as in April, 45% of the time that Long A sound is written using an open syllable. Unfortunately, many educators and various literacy programs don't teach this skill.


In contrast, many of us have experienced instruction with the vowel teams AI and AY which respectively only occur 9% and 6% of the time. When it comes to the sound /O/ as in focus, it is created by an open syllable a whopping 73% of the time.


There is an easy case to make that this skill deserves instructional time.


Here is a catchy-song that can help further explain the skill:



Larger Words

While the skill is easy to see in one syllable words, it is complicated in multisyllabic words because we have to split the syllable which requires knowledge of various syllable splitting patterns. These patterns can be explicitly taught and can strengthen your child's confidence when encountering larger multisyllabic words. I will discuss this in a later post.


Another crucial piece of information that kids need to decode multisyllabic words is the schwa sound. Represented as an upside-down e, the schwa sound sounds like a short u sound, /u/. I love describing it as a lazy vowel sound. When saying big words, we want to say them faster so we often are 'lazy' - we don't drop our chin as far down (thus creating a short u, /u/ sound). This allows for quicker speech. Knowing that vowels can get 'squished', can help prepare students for those lazy vowels when reading larger words.


I love this catchy-song that helps explain the skill:



Interested in learning more about vowel frequencies:

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