Why Closed Syllable Words Are Game Changers And How To Teach Them

Closed Syllable Words Pin

Closed syllable words were one of the biggest discoveries of my early years of homeschooling.

You see, the box curriculum I chose for my first child included an intense year of phonics for first grade. She was learning a new phonogram (/ai/, /ea/, /ou/) almost every day!

But in 2nd grade, there was no formal reading instruction included in the curriculum. 

I felt left on my own to ensure she progressed to the next reading level, which often included breaking longer words down on a whiteboard with her.

To be honest, I was completely guessing at how to break down these multisyllable words for her as she sounded them out.

I had never heard of open syllable or closed syllable words. So I either had her guess at the vowel sounds or I would just tell her the vowel sound.

two syllable word divided incorrectly on white board

You can imagine how frustrating and disheartening that would be for a 6 or 7-year-old trying to read. 

The process of sounding out words was wonky and confusing at times.

I was so suprised though when we were going through her spelling curriculum and suddenly started hearing about two types of syllables: open and closed.

I was blown away that there was actually a method for breaking down large words. The English language wasn’t created by an insane person after all! 

Who knew?!

These reading tools are serious game changers that will do so much to smooth out the reading process. 

Below you will find everything you need to know to help your budding new reader! At the end, I also included some resources that reinforce the concept.

Enjoy and happy reading! 

5 Steps To Teach Closed Syllable Words To Young Readers

happy kid with books

1. Ensure The Child Understands The Concept Of Syllables And Their Rules

At this point in reading, you have probably done several games of clapping out and counting syllables in a word.

Review those games with your child and make sure they remember that a syllable is part of a word. 

Explain to the child that every syllable must have a vowel. If there is no vowel, then it is not a syllable.

This rule will help them understand the next few steps much quicker.

2. Explain Closed Syllable Words With Simple One-Syllable Examples

letter tiles spelling closed syllable words

Begin by showing the child simple cvc words that they already know, such as /cat/, /dig/, and /pop/.

Explain that the words have a short vowel sound because this one-syllable word has a consonant at the end of the syllable. 

The vowel is closed in. When the vowel is closed in like that, it cannot say its name. It can only say its short sound.

Have the child go down word lists such as the following one, explaining why the vowel is short as they go along:

  • wax
  • mop
  • sum
  • dug
  • tax
  • log
  • bog

Continue on by showing the child that a final consonant blend will also “close in” a vowel – such as in:

  • dash
  • fast
  • cash
  • clock
  • black

****If you don’t already have a set of letter tiles, bananagrams are a great way to make reading more hands-on. Use them for teaching new concepts and reinforcing old ones!

3. Teach Short Open Syllable Words

open syllable words spelled with letter tiles

It will really help the child to understand what they are learning by contrasting it with open syllable words.

They may have learned them as sight words, but now they will understand why there is a long vowel sound.

For example, the words /so/, /no/, and /hi/ are all one-syllable words with a long sound.

Where does that long vowel sound come from?

It is a long vowel sound because there isn’t a consonant at the end of the syllable.

The vowel has room to stretch out and say its name! 

When a consonant comes and closes in the vowel, it doesn’t have room to say its name anymore. 

Try this great activity to really drive home the point:

Ask the child how these open syllable words would change if you added a consonant to the end. On a whiteboard (or with letter tiles) write out /so/, /no/, and /hi/.

Add consonants to the end of the words and ask the child what the vowel now says.

The long o in /so/ will become the short o in /sob/.

/No/ will become /not/. 

/Hi/ will become /him/. 

Again, the consonant to the right of the vowel closes it in and keeps it from having the space to say its name.

4. Teach Syllable Division For Multisyllabic Words

2 syllable words correctly split into closed syllables

The concept of open and closed syllable words is pretty easy to understand until you get into larger words.

How can you know where to break apart the syllables if you are dealing with unfamiliar words?

Believe it or not, there are basic rules to help struggling readers break down these words. 

Here are some beginning rules for dividing two-syllable words:

  • Always divide a word between double consonants (example: hap-py, lit-tle, waf-fle)
  • Syllables usually divide between two consonants in the middle of a word (example: mas-cot, pub-lish, pic-nic, cac-tus)
  • “Consonant – L – E” at the end of a word is always its own syllable (example: can-dle, pic-kle, fum-ble)

Help the student by teaching one rule at a time and going through a corresponding word list. 

Have them look at the first vowel in the first syllable and determine if it is open or closed. Have the child sound out that syllable and then move on to the next one.

They will quickly see how fun and easy it can be sound out new words! It could be a real light bulb moment for them.

After they begin to feel more comfortable, listen to the child read and use the above syllable rules to break down difficult words. Show them how the process can be used with real words while they are reading. 

****Be sure to explain that vowel teams and an r-controlled syllable are not changed, whether open or closed. For example, you could show them words like /pain-ful/, ea-gle, /cir-cle/, or /gar-gle/ do not follow the open or closed syllable rules.

5. Use Resources To Help Practice And Reinforce This New Information


This concept may be so simple and eye-opening to you…but to a kid, it can be overwhelming.

Low-stress, regular practice is the best way to internalize this information. And that practice will absolutely be what carries them from struggling reader to fluent reader. 

I strongly recommend picking up workbook #4 from the Explode the Code Series. It focuses almost exclusively on the concept of syllable division and open and closed syllable words.

The pages are so cute for kids and much of it can be done independently.


If you scrolled through in a hurry, here are the take away points you need to remember:

Make sure your child understands all syllables have a vowel.

Teach closed syllable words with simple CVC words that your child already knows (they are shut in!)

Reinforce that teaching by showing them simple open syllable words they already know (the vowels have space to say their whole name!).

Teach them the basic syllable division rules and help them divide and sound out words. 

Provide lots and lots of practice!

That’s about it! Teaching reading can be a challenge, but it has so many rewards. 

Do you have any tips of your own for navigating this area of reading?

Please drop any resources, tips, or activities that you have loved over the years into the comments!

Read Next:

The Easy Way to Teach Your Kid to Tell Time Pin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *