Teaching Syllabication & Word Breaks

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  • 0:00 Why Learn Syllabication?
  • 1:06 Remember the Rules
  • 2:27 Start with Names
  • 3:41 Strategies Beyond Names
  • 4:24 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Learning how to break words up into syllables is a helpful part of spelling and decoding. This lesson gives you some ideas about how to teach syllabication and word breaks.

Why Learn Syllabication?

Ms. Fern is a reading specialist at an elementary school. Her students often struggle with decoding, or the aspect of reading that has to do with sounding out words on the page. Even her students who are solid decoders often have trouble with spelling, particularly when it comes to longer words. Ms. Fern knows that there are many important ways to help students with decoding and spelling, but one important aspect is to teach students explicitly about syllabication and word breaks.

Syllabication refers to breaking words up into their component syllables. Students who can count the syllables in a word are aware of how many vowels a word should have, and they are better prepared to chunk, or break them into manageable parts, polysyllabic written words so that they are easier to decode. Though syllabication is not necessarily the most exciting part of learning to read and write, Ms. Fern knows that it is essential, especially for those students who need an extra boost to accessing the complexities of written language.

Remember the Rules

When Ms. Fern helps other teachers in her school prepare to work with their students on syllabication and word breaks, she cautions them to first refresh their own understanding of syllabication rules in English. The five most common and important rules to remember, according to Ms. Fern, are:

  1. When two consonants come between two vowels in a word, the syllables should divide between the consonants. Good examples of this rule include un/der, san/dy, or pig/let.
  2. When there are more than two consonants together in a word, the syllables should be divided so that the blends stay intact. Examples of this type of word include en/trance, mon/ster, or sub/tract.
  3. When a word contains one consonant between two vowels, the word should be divided after the first vowel and prior to the subsequent consonant. Some examples are mi/nus, a/ni/mal, and cu/rate.
  4. If a word contains a double consonant, the syllables should be divided between the two consonants. Examples include hap/py, lit/tle, and diz/zy.
  • Finally, when there are two vowels together in a word that each produce a separate sound, the word gets divided between the vowels. Some examples are li/on, qui/et, and po/em.

Start with Names

Of course, knowing the rules is not the only part of teaching them to students. Ms. Fern always recommends that students begin the process of learning about syllabication and word breaks by focusing on their own names as well as those of children in their class. Children have an inevitable attachment to and awareness of the sound of their own name, and chances are that within one class, there will be names with a variety of syllable numbers and following a variety of rules.

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