For elementary school teachers, teaching phonics can be a challenging task. The English language has a complex system of syllable division, which can create confusion for both students and educators. In order to help students read and pronounce words accurately, it is crucial for teachers to understand the syllable division rules. These rules provide a framework for identifying and dividing multisyllabic words. By mastering these rules, teachers can help their students build a strong foundation for decoding unfamiliar words, which will ultimately improve their reading skills. In this blog post, we will explore each of the syllable division rules, provide examples, and offer helpful tips for incorporating them into your classroom instruction.
Syllable Division Rules
Syllable division rules are guidelines that help us determine where to break a word into syllables. There are some basic rules for syllable division.
- VC/CV Words: Divide between the two middle consonants.
- V/CV Words: Divide before the consonant when the first vowel is long.
- VC/V Words: Divide after the consonant when the 1st vowel is short.
- C+le Words: The -le typically takes the consonant before it. The e will either be unvoiced or schwa.
- VC/CCV & VCC/CV Words: Usually divide after the 1st consonant unless there is a blend or digraph.
- Prefixes and suffixes: Separate those from the root words.
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. Let’s dive into these rules!
Rule #1: VC/CV: Split 2 consonants that are between vowels.
Whenever 2 consonants come together in a word, divide between them: VC/CV.
For example, with the word garlic, the two vowels are a and i. The two consonants that are between the vowels are r and l. Split right between those consonants and now you have gar-lic. It has two syllables.
BUT! We keep digraphs and units (ing, ink, ang, ank, ost, olt, ind, ild, olt) together. Never split those!
Rule #2: V/CV Words: Divide before the consonant when the first vowel is long.
Sometimes there is just one consonant sound between the vowels, rather than 2. If this is the case, the first syllable division rule that we try is V/CV (dividing up the word BEFORE the consonant).
For example, in the word “paper,” we divide up the word before the p. This creates an open syllable, “pa,” that ends in a vowel. As a result, the a in that syllable is a long a.
-OR- VC/V Words: Divide after the consonant when the first vowel is short.
Sometimes, we split VCV syllables after the consonant. In this case, we close that first syllable, leaving that vowel short.
In the word “lemon,” the middle consonant “m” moves with the first syllable making “lem-on”. The first syllable “lem” is closed by the m. As a result, the e in that syllable makes a short vowel sound.
Rule #3: C+le Words: The -le typically takes the consonant before it. The e will either be unvoiced or schwa.
C+le (consonant “le”) is one of our six syllable types, but it can also be used with syllable division. This is the syllable type where there is no vowel sound. You only hear the consonant and the /l/ or /ul/. For this rule, we teach students that if a word ends in consonant “le,” we count back three letters then divide the word into syllables.
For example, in the word table, the word ends in a consonant (b) + le. From the end of the word, count back 3 and divide the word before the consonant. The first syllable is “ta” and the second syllable is “ble”: ta/ble.
Rule #4: VC/CCV & VCC/CV Words: Usually divide after the first consonant unless there is a blend or digraph.
In the case of three consonants between the vowels, we usually split after the first consonant.
There are the usual exceptions with this rule: We never split digraphs or blends. Also, a word this big can often be a compound word. Instead, you would split between the two words.
For example, in the word “pumpkin”, the letters “mpk” are between the vowels. The consonants “mp” go with the first syllable and the other (k) goes to the 2nd syllable: pump/kin
Rule #5: Prefixes and Suffixes
It is super helpful for students to get in the habit of always looking for prefixes and suffixes. Teach your 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.
For example, when working with the word, “reclaiming,” divide into re/claim/ing and focus on the morphological meanings of the prefix re- and the suffix -ing.
Resources to Teach Syllable Division Rules
Learning the rules of syllable division provides our students with an effective strategy for chunking up those bigger words into more manageable parts. This leads to more accuracy while reading.
I have created a resource that can help provide positive reinforcement and practice when teaching syllable division. My SOR Word of the Day Syllable Division Rules is a word study resource that fits into a daily routine. It is a daily 10-minute teaching routine that helps students learn the 6 syllable division rules. It includes 40 words, 5 for each syllable rule. In addition to learning each rule, students can analyze spelling patterns, roots, affixes, phonemes, morphology, and syllabication.
It is designed for grades 2-5, this resource will help your students unlock the code and become skilled readers and spellers. It was created with engaging Google Slides presentations, a comprehensive teacher guide, and a student recording sheet. This is a great resource if you are looking to close gaps in early foundational reading skills in an upper elementary classroom.
Once proficient in syllable division, continue the Word of the Day daily routine targeting different spelling skills each week!