What is an Open Syllable and Why is it Important?

open syllable fluency grids

The open syllable is a great way to introduce beginning readers to the long vowel sound as it appears in print. Hopefully, you’ve continued to work on Phonemic Awareness with a variety of vowel sounds so when students begin to connect the sound to print, they will have had previous exposure to the long vowel sound.

What is an open syllable?

An open syllable is one of six consistent spelling patterns in the English language. The single vowel is at the end of the syllable. The vowel sound is long. No, he, why, and flu are all examples of this syllable type.

How many letters are in an open syllable?

Open syllables contain anywhere from one to four letters. I, she, go and spry are additional examples of this type of syllable.

Why should I spend time teaching the open syllable if there are few words that follow this pattern?

There are three powerful reasons to teach this syllable type.

  1. Students can grasp this pattern relatively quickly. Because the words that follow this pattern contain so few letters, segmenting and blending this syllable type does not tax a student’s phonemic memory.
  2. Teaching this pattern promotes flexible thinking when word solving. As students are exposed to unfamiliar words, they must have the resources (knowledge) to word solve. The understanding that vowels have more than one sound will help students become flexible as they decode unfamiliar words. (Here’s an Instagram post of ours that provides more information about this flexible thinking skill.)
  3. Nonsense words! We’ve talked before about the importance of including nonsense words in your phonics instruction. One important reason is because many nonsense words are syllables within longer words. As students learn to read nonsense words such as ba and mo they will begin to have a strategy to help them read longer words such as basis and moment.

How do I begin teaching about the open syllable?

The most important thing to do BEFORE teaching about the open syllable is to make sure your students have a solid understanding of the closed syllable. Be sure to read our post ‘What is a Closed Syllable and Why is it Important’.

Now you are ready to begin teaching the open syllable.

First, explain that although there are only a few vowels in our alphabet, these letters are the most important because every word (or syllable) must have a vowel.

Start with a letter-keyword-drill. This connects the printed letter to the sound.

Letter-keyword-sound cards help students connect the sound of the vowels to the printed form
Letter-keyword-sound cards help students connect the sound of the vowel to the print form.

Next, explain that words that end with one vowel have a different sound. They have the long sound. Demonstrate how to tap open syllable words (/w/…/e/, we) and ask students to echo.

Letter cards help students learn to tap and blend words
Letter cards provide a multisensory component when tapping and blending.

Incorporate a multisensory component. One of our favorite techniques is shown below. The closed door represents the closed syllable with the short vowel sound. The open door represents the open syllable with the long sound. Students can take turns opening and closing the door and reading the words aloud. This strategy helps develop that flexible thinking mentioned earlier.

This multisensory image of the closed door indicating a closed syllable helps students remember the CVC phonics pattern
The closed syllable pattern is reinforced using this simple technique. This multisensory strategy of closing the door helps students understand that the vowel is closed in by the consonant.
Multisensory image of door being opened
Multisensory image of an open door helps students remember the CV pattern
The open syllable pattern is reinforced as students ‘open the door’. The vowel is no longer closed in by the consonant.

Another way to develop fluency AND flexible thinking is with the use of fluency grids. You’ll want to start with one element (the open syllable) and have the students practice reading these syllables with fluency. When they are ready, introduce a fluency grid that contains words with both open and closed syllable patterns. This forces the students to attend to the print and move between reading the long and short vowel sounds.

Fluency grids with open and closed syllables
These fluency grids are designed to promote both fluency and flexible word solving. They are available in our TPT store. Click on the image.

Additional Questions

1. What about words like do and to?  These words have one vowel at the end, but the vowel doesn’t make the long sound.

You are right!  These words do follow the same pattern (one vowel at the end).   However, they are considered irregular and are taught as ‘heart words’. When teaching these high frequency words, draw the students’ attention to the part of the word that is not making the expected sound.

2. Doesn’t ‘y‘ also make the long e sound?

Yes. The letter y makes the long e sound at the end of a multisyllabic word. This is taught when students begin to read two syllable words.

3. What about words like tree and sea?

While these words do have a long vowel sound at the end of the word, they do not follow the open syllable pattern. Tree and sea have two vowels instead of one vowel at the end of the word. Therefore, they follow the vowel team or vowel digraph pattern.

Want to know more about explicit instruction of phonics skills?

We’ve written several posts on this topic, including the closed syllable with consonant digraphs, closed syllable with consonant blends and closed syllable with bonus letters. We also discuss how to provide explicit instruction when teaching students to read words with the suffix endings -s and -es.

Have you heard of the term welded (or glued) sounds? Want to know more about what they are and how to teach them? Then be sure to check out Glued Sound Post 1 and Glued Sound Post 2.

The closed syllable exception is another important phonics pattern within the closed syllable.

Interested in knowing the order in which you should teach these skills?

We have a FREE K-2 Scope and Sequence. Just click on the image.

picture of our K-2 Scope and Sequence
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