Teaching Syllable Division

Teaching syllable division to English learners provides many benefits. It enables them to read multisyllable words and decode new words they encounter. It provides strategies for breaking down lengthy words into small readable pieces.

Students should  know that every syllable must contain one vowel sound and be familiar with the basic 8 syllable types when beginning syllable division. Teaching the patterns of syllable division creates automacity in reading.

Syllable Division ESL English Language Reading Classroom Anchor Chart Poster

Rule 1 - Twin Consonants

English contains so many common words with twin consonants in the middle! By beginning with twin consonants, students gain confidence and are eager to learn other rules. After dividing words into syllables, identify the syllable type and pronounce each syllable accordingly. Many unstressed syllables use the schwa vowel sound so be sure to point this out.

  • lesson - les / son
  • little - lit / tle
  • happy - hap / py
  • yellow - yel / low
  • pizza - piz / za

Rule 2 CV - VC

Next introduce the VC-CV words. Students should locate the two vowels and divide  between the two consonants in between the vowels. These words are a little more challenging than Twin Consonant words, but the process is the same. After dividing the word into syllables, identify the type of syllable and pronounce it. 

  • candy - can / dy
  • marker - mar / ker
  • pencil - pen / cil
  • Monday - Mon / day

Rule 3 V-CV & Rule 4 VC-V

The words with one consonant between two vowels have two options. Most words will divide after the first vowel creating an open syllable. About 30% of words are divided after the single consonant creating a closed syllable. This may involve some trial and error for English learners, so use known words to teach these rules.

  • zero - ze / ro
  • tiger - ti /ger
  • baby - ba /by
  • label - la / bel
  • seven - sev /en
  • lemon - lem /on
  • never - nev / er
  • money - mon / ey

Rule 5 -Cle

Words with -Cle syllables are generally easy to learn. Words are divided before the -Cle syllable. The first syllable can be an open, closed, or r vowel syllable. The one exception is if the word contains a "-ckle" combination. These are divided after the "ck" (pick-le) to create a closed syllable. 

  • Open: title - ti / tle, cable - ca / ble, cycle - cy / cle
  • Closed: middle - mid / dle, little - lit / tle
  • R vowel: purple - pur / ple, circle - cir /cle
  • Digraph: double - dou / ble, trouble - trou / ble
  • CKLE Rule
  • pickle - pick / le, buckle - buck / le, tackle - tack / le

Rule 6 V-V

This is a good time to review the digraph vowels that stay together. Words with two vowels together are challenging for beginning readers because they initially think of vowel teams. The first syllable in these words may contain an open, vowel team. or digraph vowel syllable. Teach open syllables first.

  • science - sci / ence
  • poem - po / em
  • quiet - qui / et
  • create - cre / ate
  • towel - tow / el
  • auto - au / to 

Rule 7 VCC-CV & Rule 8 VC-CCV

This is a good time to review the consonants digraphs and blends that stay together.

  • Consonant Digraphs   moth / er,  crack / er, sing / er
  • Beginning Blends        hun / dred, sub /tract, com / plete
  • Final Blends                 child / ren, pump / kin, ath / lete

Words with three consonant in the middle help to reinforce knowledge of consonant blends and digraphs. Have students locate the vowels and the three consonants in the middle. Determine if there are consonant digraphs (th, ch, ph, etc.), beginning blends (cr, fl, sp. etc.) or final blends (nd, mp, ld, etc.) that should be kept together. Divide, identify the type of syllable, and pronounce accordingly.

Rule 9 Compound Words

Compound words are abundant in English! Students learn compound words the first week of school. Encourage students to identify other compound words.

  • notebook - note / book
  • backpack - back / pack
  • playground - play / ground
  • hallway - hall / way

Rule 10 Prefixes & Suffixes

Lastly, prefixes and suffixes play an important role in English vocabulary. When approaching a large unfamiliar word, separate affixes from the root / base word. Then apply the syllable division rules. 

  • unimportant - un / im / port / ant
  • noninvasive - non / in / va / sive
  • disestablishment = dis / es / tab / lish / ment 

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