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What is a Closed Syllable and Why is it Important?

closed syllables made with letter tiles

Teaching beginning readers about the closed syllable is an important first step in reading success. Kindergarten, First Grade, and emergent readers benefit from lessons that include explicit, systematic instruction of the closed syllable both in isolation and in connected text (decodable readers). 

What is a closed syllable?

A closed syllable is one of six consistent spelling patterns of the English language.  The closed syllable word contains one vowel.  That vowel is followed by (or closed in by) one or more consonants.  The vowel sound is ‘short’.  This pattern is often referred to as the CVC pattern (consonant – vowel – consonant), although a closed syllable does not always begin with a consonant.  Examples of words following this pattern are: at, in, dog, fun, peck, twin, & scratch.

How many letters are in a closed syllable?

Closed syllables can contain 2 letters (at, in, on), 3 letters (ask, tug, pen), 4 letters (fish, spot, jump), 5 letters (twist, bunch, shrug), 6 letters (shrimp,  clutch, thrill), or 7 letters (scratch, stretch,  ).  The main idea is that ALL closed syllables have only ONE VOWEL that is followed by 1 or more consonants.

As noted in the sample words above, closed syllables can contain digraphs, trigraphs, and blends.


1. What about words like cold, wild, and most?  These words have one vowel closed in by a consonant but the vowel is long.

You are right!  These words do contain the long vowel sound.  These syllables are referred to as closed vowel exceptions.  They are not considered rule breakers because many words contain the closed vowel exception spelling patterns.

Here is a great resource for teaching about the closed syllable exception pattern.  

TPT Decodable Reader Cover-Closed Syllable Exceptions

2.  The word ‘for’ has only one vowel and is closed in by a consonant.  Is ‘for’ an example of a closed syllable?

No.  The word ‘for’ is considered an r-controlled pattern.  The letter r changes the sound of the o so it does not follow the closed syllable pattern.  Other examples of r-controlled words are: car, her, bird, & turn.

Why should I bother teaching the syllable types when English is so random?

The English language is not as random as people have come to believe.  Reading is a code based system.  Readers are most successful when they are taught the code.  The closed syllable pattern is one of the most consistent patterns in the English language.  There are only a few words that are considered ‘rule breakers’ such as from, put, and what.  In these examples, the closed vowel does not make it’s expected sound.  These words should be taught as ‘high frequency words’.  

If there are 6 syllable types, how do I know which one to introduce first?

Great question!  As we mentioned, the closed syllable pattern is very consistent.  Because the closed syllable pattern is so reliable, teaching this pattern first will help to lay the foundation for strong decoding and encoding skills.  Start with the simplest pattern first – CVC.  Here is an effective resource to get you started.

Decodable Readers Short Vowel Bundle Cover

How do I begin teaching about the closed syllable?

Students who have strong phonemic awareness and know most of their letter names and sounds are ready to begin learning about the alphabetic principle.  A consistent, explicit approach to teaching the closed syllable pattern is scientifically proven to be the most effective teaching strategy.     Here is one of our favorite videos about reading and the brain by a leading neuroscientist.

What is the most effective approach for teaching syllable types?

When teaching syllable patterns, it is important to provide explicit, systematic instruction.  You may have heard this referred to as, structured literacy.   It is also important to provide opportunities to apply students’ knowledge to connected text.  Decodable readers are one of the most powerful ways to help reinforce a student’s understanding.

Decodable Readers Digraph Bundle cover

What about the students who have trouble reading CVC words?

Tier 1 support is crucial for helping these learners gain traction.  Some students learn the closed syllable pattern with relative ease, but others need repeated opportunities to practice – emphasis on repeated.  Remember those neuronal pathways discussed in the video?  For some students it takes more time and repeated, successful practice to make the connection from the sound portion of the brain to the print portion of the brain.  The resource pictured below provides mixed review of the closed syllable pattern.

Decodable Readers Closed Syllable Bundle

It is important to follow a structured literacy approach when teaching beginning reading, but for emergent and struggling readers it is imperative!  All of our resources are designed with the structured literacy format.


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