Using Syllabication to Decode

Some students learn how to read somewhat effortlessly, with no need for explicit instruction or strategies. They just “get it.” But many don’t. And all too often, reading instruction in classrooms assumes students will learn to read largely on their own. There may be a smattering of phonics and/or decoding work here and there. But for students who require targeted instruction to master phonics concepts, explicitly teaching reading strategies like syllabication will help develop fluency.

Syllabication is a decoding strategy in which students take a multisyllabic word and divide it into its syllables. After decoding each syllable in isolation, the student works on then putting the syllables together verbally to figure out the word. It is a great way to gradually teach students to read longer words.

Types of syllables

One way students learn to read a range of types of words is by studying patterns in syllables. Many syllables fall into one of several syllable patterns, all with their own predictable structure and rules. For example, ‘consonant-le’ syllables, like ‘dribble,’ ‘puddle,’ and ‘turtle,’ all end in an ‘le.’ If students can remember this rule, they can remember that all these words have a ‘silent e’ at the end. Similarly, some students struggle with multisyllabic words containing an r-controlled syllable (one which has a vowel followed by an ‘r’). They sometimes find it difficult to remember that the r-controlled rules still apply. When we teach them explicitly that these syllables exist, they’re more likely to keep an eye out for them as they read.

Using affixes and their meaning

Quite often, multisyllablic words contain multiple syllables because they have one or more affixes. Teaching students the most common prefixes and suffixes not only helps them more readily decode these words. It can also help them determine the definition of these words by knowing the meaning of their individual syllables. For example, we can teach students that the word ‘indescribable’ means “unable to be described.” They’ll learn the definition and eventually will be able to remember how to read the word as a whole. But if we teach them that the prefix ‘in’ can mean “not,” and that the suffix “-able” means “can be done,” then they’ll be able to arrive at the word’s meaning on their own, and likely, in a more memorable way.

Keeping the rules in mind

A huge part of students’ early reading instruction involves learning all the various phonics rules. They spend a lot of time practicing with words that contain the rules somewhat obviously. However, when these rules are more subtle in words, like in compound words or words with multiple affixes, many students forget to apply those same rules to these larger words. Some students may not even realize that the rules still apply. When using syllabication, it can make some of those rules a bit more obvious because it allows students to visually see the rule within the syllable in which it lives. Check out our article on morphology for more information on syllabication.

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