Understanding Consonants, Vowels & Syllables: Types, Structure & Activities

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  • 00:00 Vowels
  • 00:43 Consonants
  • 2:12 Syllables
  • 3:27 Activities
  • 4:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.

After watching this video lesson, you will learn how vowels and consonants come together to form syllables. You will also learn how you can teach this part of our language to your students.


Our English language has a total of twenty-six letters. It is our job as educators to teach our young students these twenty-six letters. Only five of our letters are vowels, which are the letters a, e, i, o, and u. Vowels are a very important part of our language because, without them, we wouldn't be able to speak smoothly. Our spoken language would be very choppy. For instance, try saying 'ct'. It sounds rough doesn't it? It's rather hard to pronounce too. Now, add in a vowel and try again: 'cat'. Isn't that much easier? It's a much smoother sound and you can easily say it. Teaching these five vowels is crucial to helping your students to read with confidence.


The bulk of our letters are called consonants. We define consonants as all the letters that are not vowels. These include the letters b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, and z. These are the letters that combine with our vowels to make the words we read and speak every day. Our consonants also alter the sounds of our vowels, depending on the word. For example, the words 'car' and 'cat' have a different 'a' sound. The consonants surrounding the vowel, 'a', have changed the sound.

There is no right order in which to teach these letters. You don't have to teach these letters in alphabetical order. You can teach them by order of reliability or frequency. Reliability here refers to how many sounds the letter has. The letter 'v', for example, is very reliable because, if you see it, then it most likely will sound like a 'v' as in 'van'. The letter 's', for example, is very unreliable because it can have different sounds, as in 'families' and 'first'. Frequency refers to how often the letter is used. The letter 'e', for example, is a high frequency letter because it is used very often. Where one method might work for one student, it may totally fail for another student. You need to be aware of how your students learn and you will need to use a variety of activities that target the different learning styles of your students. Keep watching and we will look at some ideas for activities.


When our vowels and consonants combine to form the sounds of our language that we are so familiar with, we have syllables, units of uninterrupted sound in the spoken language. The most common way of teaching syllables is with clapping. I remember learning the word 'happy' and clapping twice, one for 'ha' and again for 'ppy'. Since most of your students are already familiar with the language, clapping with sounds of a language comes easily.

On a technical note, our English language has six syllable types. This is probably not something you need to teach your younger students, but it is something that may be of interest to older students. The six types are these:

  1. The closed syllable ends with a consonant, as in 'cat'
  2. The open syllable ends with a vowel, as in 'you'
  3. The 'vowel-consonant-e' syllable has a long vowel followed by a consonant and then a silent 'e', as the world 'rate'
  4. The vowel team syllable has two vowels together, such as in 'tough'
  5. The 'consonant-l-e' syllable has a consonant followed by an 'l' and then an 'e', as in mantle
  6. The r-controlled syllable has a vowel followed by an 'r', as in 'far'


Now let's look at some activities that you can do to help your students learn these letters and syllables.

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