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How to Teach Closed and Open Syllables

How to Teach Closed and Open SyllablesClosed and open syllables are the first two syllable types students should learn. Out of the six syllable types, these two are the easiest for students to master. Hundreds of common words can be spelled using these two syllable types, so our students can get a lot of practice even while their spelling skills are still in the early development stage.

To determine whether a syllable is closed or open, look at the vowel.

Closed Syllables

In a closed syllable, the vowel is followed by a consonant. Explain to your students that the vowel is “closed in” by the consonant. Take a look at these words:

cap
sit
men

Do you notice that in each of the closed syllables, the vowel is short?

Open Syllables

In an open syllable, nothing comes after the vowel. Look at the word he. We say that the vowel is open. There is nothing closing it in.

For other examples, look at the first syllables in these words:

ba by
e ven
pa per
a ble

Do you notice that in each of the open syllables, the vowel is long (says its name)?

Why Does It Matter?

Knowing the syllable types will help the student be a much better speller.

When spelling multisyllable words, students should spell the word syllable by syllable. Teach them to say the first syllable, then write it down; then say the next syllable, and write it down. Using just this approach, students can spell many words accurately.

Some words, though, cannot be spelled correctly using this simple approach. Take the word kitten. We say it ki(t) ten, without pronouncing the first t. So a student who doesn't have a visual picture of the word and doesn't know about syllable types may just write the word down as kiten.

A student who does understand closed and open syllables, however, will know that when he hears the first syllable /kĭ/, he needs to close the syllable with the letter t to make the i short. If he leaves the i open, it will be a long vowel sound. So even though he doesn't hear a t spoken in the first syllable, he knows that he needs to add one.

More Examples of Closed and Open Syllables

Two closed syllables

Here are words that have two closed syllables:

absent
combat
comet
contact
contest
contrast
dentist
fabric
happen
insect
kitten
mishap
napkin
pencil
pilgrim
rabbit
subject
submit
sudden
velvet

Both closed and open syllables

Here are words containing both closed and open syllables:

apron
basic
began
begin
beyond
bonus
depend
even
hotel
latest
locate
moment
music
recent
relax
resist
result
robot
student
unit


Knowing just these two types of syllables will enable your student to accurately spell hundreds of words. Whether your student is new to spelling or has been spelling for years, it will pay big dividends to teach the syllable types. After your student masters these, you will want to go on to teach all six syllable types.

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