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How to Teach Syllabication: The Syllable Rules

As beginning readers begin to recognize the connection between speech sounds and letters (phonemic awareness), use the alphabetic code to begin sounding out and blending letter sounds (phonics), and write down the letters to represent those sounds (spelling), they also begin to recognize certain patterns in single-syllable words.

Precocious Paula notices that some sounds are used more than others: long and short vowels more than consonants. In fact, Paula observes that the teacher always writes the letters representing these sounds in different colors than the consonants.  She also sees that the charts on the walls have these same colors. Bonus-year Bobby notices that every word that his teacher writes has at least one of those vowel spellings. Already-reading Alma may even ask why one vowel sound can have more than one spelling. Conforming Carl may be upset that you won’t let him sound out the teacher’s list of Outlaw Words (non-phonetic sight words).

In other words, through implicit or explicit instruction/practice, children will begin to develop recognition of syllable patterns. As more complex stories and advanced instruction layer in multi-syllabic words, most students identify these syllable patterns and apply this knowledge in their reading and writing. About 80% of students at the end of third grade can readily identify syllables and use this knowledge to guide their reading and writing (of course a higher percentage in some schools and a lower percentage in others).

Multi-syllabic decoding (phonics) and encoding (spelling) are the keys to the kingdoms of reading fluency and academic vocabulary. Reading multi-syllabic words is also a fundamental skill required for the new genres of reading that most students begin in 4th grade: their expository history and science texts.

The 80% require practice and refinement of skills to develop automaticity in reading and writing. The 20% require differentiated instruction: some on basic phonemic awareness, some on the decoding, some on the encoding, some on common sight words. Following is an instructional strategy that will scratch both the 80% and 20% itches. The scratch will provide permanent relief to the former, but only temporary relief to the latter; however, instructional strategies that accomplish both at the same time and certainly worth using.

Spelling Transformers Syllabication Strategy Sample Attachment

Time: The Spelling Transformers whole-class activity takes only three minutes of concentrated, whole class practice, twice per week.

Who Benefits: The instructional activity is beneficial for remedial, grade-level, and accelerated readers and spellers  ages seven and older.

Instructional Objectives: Over the year, students will learn to apply each of the Syllable Rules and all of the phonetic patterns in their reading and spelling.

Tactics: Rather than an inductive “Here are the rules-with examples-now apply them” approach, students practice many examples of each syllable pattern to achieve mastery of that pattern. The syllable patterns are taught, using nonsense syllables  because students ages seven and older have extensive sight word vocabularies, which can interfere with learning how changes in spelling affect pronunciation and syllabication.

Materials/Preparation: The Spelling Transformers activity is designed to use the overhead projector, Smart BOARD®, or LCD projector. Make a card with one corner cut off as a rectangle to isolate each word part (see Sample Attachment) and cut a bottom flap to more easily slide the card on the transparency. Develop nonsense word lists that correspond to the Syllable Rules and follow the instructional phonetic pattern of short vowels, consonants, long vowels, consonant blends, silent final “e,” vowel digraphs, and vowel diphthongs (see Sample Attachment). Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary has 17 such lists ready for your projector.

Directions: Teach students to respond out loud, whole class, as soon as the nonsense syllable is isolated on the projector. Tell students that they must pronounce each syllable out loud, and not just whisper. Continue at a rapid pace for three minutes. Formatively assess student progress and repeat difficult transformers. When students have universally mastered the syllable pattern, explain the relevant rule and then move on to the next syllable rule.

For the Spelling Transformers syllabication activity, individual sound-spelling worksheets that correspond with the TSV Spelling Assessmentspelling rules with memorable raps and songs on CD, spelling tests, Greek and Latin affixes/roots worksheets, spelling gamesvocabulary games, and more to differentiate spelling and vocabulary instruction, please check out Teaching Spelling and Vocabulary.

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