Closed Syllables, the First Pattern on the Six Syllable Types Poster

February 2, 2011 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Articles

The upper left graphic on the Six Syllable Types poster represents the closed syllable pattern, the one we often start with. Closed Syllables are represented by the letter v on my syllable poster. The v represents any vowel. The vowels are a, e, i, o, and u. For some students you can add, “… sometimes y and w.” Although y can be a vowel in a closed syllable (“gym”) it isn’t common enough to worry about it right off. It might add unnecessary confusion. The poor vowel has a gate slamming against it. Ouch! Notice its tears. The gate represents any consonant, or group of consonants, following the vowel in a word. The vowel is hurt by the “mean” consonant slamming against it, and cries out its hurt sound. We call this sound “short.” That scooped symbol above the vowels on the poster is the code to indicate a short sound. Examples of closed syllables include at, mom, jump, stop, pack, and spill.

But, really, the terms short and long don’t make any sense. So, for beginners, I use the terms “name” for the long sound, and “sound” or “hurt sound” for the short sound. I tell students that vowels love to say their name, they are happy just walking about singing it out. I have a student pick a vowel on a card and walk about, in and out a door, singing their vowel’s name in an elongated fashion. Then we stick a consonant on the door, and as the vowel tries to go through the door, it shuts and the student bumps against the door. The vowel cries out its hurt sound. This is fun! Children will want to try it out with different vowels. Imagine letter a saying “augh!” or letter u sounding like it was hit in the stomach, “uhh!” If you have a group, and don’t want to use a door, try a cookie baking rack to substitute for the door, calling it a gate, as in the poster.

My friend Pat Martz shared a way she learned to teach the scooped symbol above the vowel to signify the hurt sound. She has the student hold something, a necklace, lei, piece of string, etc., over his/her head stretched out straight while singing out the vowel’s name. When the door shuts and the student bumps against the door, the straight line sags – thus the short or hurt sound symbol.

After you act this out, you can put a word like “no” on the door. Since vowels love to sing out their name, and there’s no mean consonant after the o, it will be singing its name (this is an open syllable, the third pattern on the poster). The word is easy to sound out, “nnnnnoooooo.” Now tape a t on the door jam, so that when you shut the door, there’s a t after the o. Now everyone will see the word “not.” Oops, there’s that mean consonant t. Poor letter o will say its hurt sound. Have everyone sound out the word with the short/hurt o sound.

After introducing this concept, you can practice with a variety of words.  You can start with two-letter words such as “at” and “it,” then move to three letter words like “cat,” and “sit” and then four letters such as “scat,” and “spit.” Really Good Stuff carries vests that hold letters for classroom word building. For kindergarten children who tend to hold letters so that they can see them, instead of their classmates, these vests can be quite useful. See them at:

For regular learners you can contrast what they have learned about closed syllables by practicing closed and simple open syllables together, or simply providing a list of one syllable, open syllable words to learn along with the closed syllable pattern. In addition to your explanation that a vowel at the end of a word is happy and says its name (third pattern on the poster with a happy vowel going through the open gate) you can add that letter i is afraid to end words because it is very tippy and might fall over. Therefore, we turn it into letter y (except for the word “hi”). Have a letter i visible, and draw a diagonal line to turn it into a y. Then your students can learn to read: no, go, so, we, me, be, he, hi, my, and by. If they have learned sh and wh, add she and why.

I’ve done this sort of acting out with people of many ages, kindergarten, different ages of children in special education, even adults. It makes the learning fun and memorable.

In my next blog entry I’ll talk about teaching ideas for silent (magic) e, the upper middle graphic on the Six Syllable Types poster.