Our students encounter multisyllabic words daily in the spoken and written word. One of the hallmarks of dyslexia is "...difficulty with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities..." (International Dyslexia Association, Dyslexia Definition). Just as students need explicit instruction in early decoding skills, they need reliable decoding strategies as they move into reading multisyllabic words. These word-attack strategies are necessary for students, especially those struggling with reading, so they can avoid falling into the bad habit of guessing. Strong readers subconsciously break words into syllables and meaningful parts (think affixes and roots) when reading new unknown words. Explicitly teaching students HOW to approach a larger multisyllabic word sets them up for success and is especially important for our dyslexic and struggling readers.
Part 2 of this series discussed the difference between spoken syllables and syllabication. When students apply a word-attack strategy for reading words, especially multisyllabic words, they must have an idea of where to divide them based on the syllable types. This syllable division may vary from our spoken syllable division.
We use our knowledge of syllable types and syllable division to aid our reading and writing. There is a gradual release of responsibility and teaching of flexible variants as students develop more skills, but beginning with the most common syllable types and syllable divisions provides students with reliable strategies to apply to decoding words and is essential for students with dyslexia or other reading difficulties.
The VC/CV syllable pattern, or vowel-consonant-consonant-vowel pattern, is the first syllable division pattern to teach to your students because it can be introduced fairly early in the scope and sequence. When students understand closed syllables, carefully choose multisyllabic words reinforcing this knowledge to provide ample opportunities to transfer learning to practice—model and practice syllable division with consistent expectations and procedures with multisensory strategies designed to engage learning.
The following are the steps that I use:
Words like napkin, picnic, insect, and contest are examples of VCCV pattern words where the short vowel remains. A hierarchy of knowledge and application within the VCCV syllable division pattern is systematically addressed with students as they gain sound-symbol knowledge.
Think about the progression of skills within the VCCV pattern:
The next pattern typically taught is the Vowel-Consonant-Vowel syllable division or VCV pattern. There are two ways to divide this pattern, and we usually begin with the V/CV division once you have taught open syllables.
The first way to divide the VCV pattern is after the first vowel, which makes the first syllable open and the vowel long. The words ti/ger, mu/sic, ro/bot, ze/ro, ba/con are all examples of this syllable division pattern where the first syllable is open and accented, representing the long vowel sound.
The second way to divide the VCV pattern is after the consonant, which closes the first vowel and represents the short vowel sound. The words lem/on, fin/ish, liz/ard, rap/id, and pan/ic are all examples of this syllable division pattern. Teaching students to set for variability is part of structured literacy lessons - we build the foundational components and then introduce the flexible variants within our language.
The vowel-vowel syllable division pattern exists when we have two adjacent vowels that are not a digraph or a diphthong. When this occurs, we divide between the two vowels. The first vowel is open and accented, representing the long vowel sound. Words like li/on, po/et, flu/id, and tri/al are examples of the v/v division pattern.
Additional syllable division patterns include words with a vowel-consonant-consonant-consonant-vowel pattern. There are two ways to divide this pattern, usually beginning with dividing after the second consonant, VCC/CV, as in pump/kin, sand/wich, ost/rich, and ant/ler.
The second way to divide this pattern is after the first consonant, VC/CCV, in words like mon/ster, nos/tril, dis/trict, and in/stant. Teaching students to set for variability in reading words is an important skill when addressing multisyllabic words.
Teaching syllable division patterns aims to provide students with sound strategies to attack unknown words. This strategy is one tool for students to use to access the reading of multisyllabic words. Without it, our students flounder, searching for a word they think will work in the context of a sentence. Those with high vocabulary and language knowledge can often scoot by this way - but only for a while before the overload of new words becomes too great, and their guessing creates a misunderstanding of the text, negatively impacting their comprehension. Instead, we need to provide reliable strategies for students to access unknown words as they read - one part of which is breaking words into syllables. The other is identifying meaningful parts. Stay tuned for part 4 of the series, where we dig into the morphology aspect of reading multisyllabic words.
Looking for a resource to help teach or reinforce syllable division patterns? These syllable division cards provide multiple ways for students to engage in hands-on practice. Each set includes a mini-anchor chart for students to reference and word cards for practice.
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