The Importance of Syllable Segmenting

The importance of Syllable Segmenting

Children who can segment and blend sounds easily are able to use this knowledge when reading and spelling. Segmenting and blending individual sounds can be difficult at the beginning. So, our recommendation is to begin with segmenting and blending syllables. Once familiar with that, students will be prepared for instruction and practice with individual sounds.

phonological skills checklist

Developing a child's phonological awareness is an important part of developing a reader. Many research studies indicate that kids who have weak phonological awareness also have weak reading skills.

This image of our Phonological Checklist shows how the teaching of segmenting and blending should progress, starting at the sentence level, moving to syllable, and finally to individual phonemes. Be sure to provide lots of practice at each level before moving on.

Early in phonological awareness instruction, teach children to segment sentences into individual words. Identify familiar short poems or songs and have children clap their hands with each word. This can even be done with spoken language or when giving directions to students. “It’s time to line up at the door.” Students can clap each word as they move to their spot in line.

As children advance in their ability to manipulate oral language, teach them to segment words into syllables. For example, have children segment their names into syllables: e.g., Kel-ly, Mik-ay-la, and Al-ex-an-der.

Helping students develop a sensitivity to syllables will help them grow into stronger readers and spellers. The ability to correctly break a word down into syllable chunks helps readers decode large or unfamiliar words.

Although some students will pick up these skills with relative ease during their kindergarten year — especially if the curriculum includes explicit activities — other students must be taught these phonological skills directly and systematically.



What To Do When Your Student Can't Hear The Rhyme

What to do when your student can't hear the rhyme

We know that one of the core deficits of dyslexia is a lack of sensitivity to phonemes thus making phonemic awareness skills such as rhyming very difficult to master.

In school, students are often asked to do rhyming activities in small groups or as a whole class. This has great benefits for practicing rhyming skills, but one drawback is that this can also allow a student who struggles with rhyming to go unnoticed or fly below the radar. It is important that phonemic awareness skills are screened in a one on one setting until mastery is reached. For students who struggle with these skills, they must be developed and at times, explicitly taught.

Some students need explicit instruction and guided practice with rhyming; both hearing the rhyme and producing a rhyming word. To do so, begin with using picture cards that have no words or letters on them. Use pictures that the student will easily recognize and that are age appropriate.

It is important to first understand that what is referred to as the "onset" is the initial phonological unit of any word (the d in dog) and the term "rime" (yes, it is supposed to be spelled that way) refers to the string of letters that follow, usually a vowel and final consonants (-og in dog). Not all words have onsets.

When starting with picture cards, guide the student in naming the picture to ensure they are using the key word for your rhyming activity. Then, model for them how you make the onset sound and exaggerate the rime.

For example, with the word log, I would say, “/l/ /og/ /og/ /og/” repeating and emphasizing the rime portion of the word. I am doing this to help the student isolate the sounds in the word that will rhyme. We don’t rhyme by connecting the onset or the first sound, we use the vowel and ending sound or rime.

If I were to show a picture of a log and a dog, I would do the same pattern of emphasis for both picture cards so that the student can hear the emphasized ending or rime and that it matches for this set of words.

The same is true for words that don’t match. If I had a card for dog and a card for bug, I model reading the cards as: “/l/ /og/ /og/ /og/ and /b/ /ug/ /ug/ /ug/. An example such as this can be tricky since the /g/ sound at the end of the word is the same in both words, but due to the different vowel sound – the words don’t rhyme. The emphasis and repetition of the rime here is essential.

This may take repeated modeling before the student is ready to try this one their own.



A Lack of Phonemic Awareness Skills Can Drastically Impact Older Readers

A lack of phonemic awareness skills can srasticddally impact older readers. 

Phonemic Awareness skills play a critical role in reading success regardless of the student's age. 

Phonemic Awareness refers to the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the sounds (or phonemes) in words. A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound. For example, the spoken word dog can be broken down into three separate and distinct phonemes or sounds; /d/ /o/ /g/

Developing phonemic awareness is important because it is the foundation for spelling and word recognition skills. Phonemic awareness is one of the best predictors of how well children will learn to read during the first two years of school instruction. Students at risk for reading difficulty often have lower levels of phonemic awareness than their peers.

Difficulties with phonemic awareness skills such as having a hard time hearing or making rhymes, challenges substituting the first letter in a word with another letter, or not being able to break a word into syllables can all be indicators of an underlying disability such as dyslexia.

The good news is that phonemic awareness and phonological awareness can be developed through a number of activities.

One of the most important factors to consider when analyzing a student’s grasp of phonemic awareness skills is to never assume theses skills are intact just because of a student’s age.

A number of assessments (such as the iReady) don’t even test a student on phonemic awareness skills past grade 3 because it is assumed that they are already in tact due to the students’ grade level or age.

This can be detrimental for a student who may have an underlying disability or undiagnosed issue such as dyslexia.

If you are working with a struggling reader who is older, it is important to assess their phonemic awareness skills. We know that one of the core deficits of dyslexia is a lack of sensitivity to phonemes thus making phonemic skills very difficult to master.

Some easy “spot-checks” that you can do with your older student is to ask them to rhyme with you. Give them a word that is age appropriate (don’t use words like cat, pig, house, etc. as many students have these rhymes memorized). Use unique words and ask the student to produce rhymes for that word.

You can also ask them to manipulate phonemes such as “think of the word pitch, now replace the /p/ in pitch with /h/. What word do you have?” Difficulty with either one of these tasks is a sure sign that you need to devote some time to helping your older student strengthen their phonemic awareness skills. This is at the core of decoding and may need explicit instruction in order to be successful.

This Friday, we will be sharing an excellent phonemic awareness tool for our Freebie Friday! Be sure to keep an eye out – you won’t want to miss it! 


5 Clues Your Student May Need a Different Approach to Reading

5 clues that you may need to change your approach to reading. 

Do you have a student who just doesn’t seem to be progressing his reading ability? Or a student who speaks with beautiful vocabulary but then her writing looks far below her grade level?

First, I want to start off by saying this isn’t because of your teaching - you are a rockstar teacher. I know this because you are reading blogs about teaching! Here’s the bigger surprise, it’s not your student’s fault either. It’s likely that there is a disconnect between the curriculum being used in the classroom and your student’s learning style.

It’s also likely that you have more than one student in your classroom struggling to learn to read or write at a level you would expect from that child.

So how can you pinpoint and identify these struggling students? We have five tips to get you started on identifying these students immediately. Don’t forget to download or mini-assessment to get a really solid picture of which students you likely need to keep your eye on.

 Signs to watch out for

1. Your student rocks the spelling test (or they don’t and that’s a major clue in itself) and then doesn’t apply any of those spelling rules to his or her writing.

2. When you read along with your student he or she may struggle with the actual words substituting words like mom for mother, the for a, of for from, and other little changes to the print in front of them. Often your struggling or at-risk readers CAN read but they are providing clues that they will struggle later on when they can’t memorize all the words and need a different approach.

3. Your student reads slowly or is consistently repeating words, phrases, and/or entire sentences. When students rely solely on visual memory for reading and don’t have other strategies locked down you will likely see really labored reading. Difficulty with tracking, which impacts fluency, is a major clue that something’s not quite right.

4. Your student memorizes sight word lists in isolation but seems to be unable to recognize those same words in sentences or passages.

5. Your student frequently runs into a “tip of the tongue” phenomenon trying to describe around a concept because he or she just can’t think of the word he or she wants to say quickly. This lack of word finding ability is a big clue that your student may need a more structured and systematic approach to reading and writing.


Grab the Simple Screening Tool here.

Syllable Division Strategies

We teach decoding and encoding skills through instruction of the six syllable types. Knowledge of syllable types helps students anticipate what sound vowels will make in different words or word parts. Thus, they can approach that word confidently for reading or spelling.

We teach the six different syllable types in a systematic and cumulative manner meaning that we begin with the easiest concepts and progress to more complex concepts. We teach specific phonogram rules within each syllable type.

An integral part to this instruction is teaching students how to correctly divide unknown words into syllables to break the word down into decodable chunks.  We refer to this as animal division.

We know that students with dyslexia benefit from having anchors to their learned information. Assigning animal names to the different syllable division rules helps students remember and differentiate between the rules, but the animal names themselves also refer to the specific strategy that is used to break the syllables.

We teach the following animal rules: Rabbit, Reptile, Tiger, Camel, and Hornet.

This is helpful when students approach an unfamiliar word or a nonsense word. For even the most experienced reader, unfamiliar words can become a reading pitfall – unless you know how to syllabicate the word into decodable chunks.

Rabbit Division: rab / bit

When you have one or more consonants stuck between two vowels, divide between the consonants so that each vowel has its own consonant.

Examples: sunset, cobweb, index

Reptile Division: rep / tile

Always divide syllables a way that will keep your VCE syllables together as one unit. We hear one talking vowel and therefore you must keep that syllable together.

Examples: devise, expose, sunrise

Tiger Division: ti / ger

Whenever you have two vowels with only one consonant stuck between them you need to try tiger syllable division. Your first choice is to divide after the first vowel to make the vowel open so that it makes its long sound.

Examples: spider, even, super

Camel Division: cam / el

Whenever you have two vowels with only one consonant stuck between them you need to try two syllable division strategies. Your first choice is Tiger Division, your second choice is Camel or keep the first vowel closed by the consonant so that it makes its short sound.

Examples: finish, robin, model

Hornet Division: hor / net

Whenever you have two or more consonants stuck between two vowels you want to divide between the consonants so that each vowel has its own consonant. But remember that the r-controlled vowel makes a different sound, or no sound at all.

Examples: order, garlic, harvest

Rabbit Syllable Division.PNG


CLICK HERE to see our animal division posters – an excellent tool and visual anchor for your classroom!

Understanding the Six Syllable Types - Stable Final Syllables

Stable Final Syllables

Stable Final Syllables

Stable Final Syllables or C-L-E syllables are the last of the six syllable types that we introduce to our students at Ascend Learning using Smart ALEC Resources.

What is it?

This is a word that has a consonant followed by le. You will hear a schwa sound /ul/ in these syllables preceding the le. An example is the word table. Notice how the –ble sounded like /bul/? This is due to the schwa sound before the le.

How do I teach it?

We call this the Turtle Rule and teach students that when they spot a word ending in –le, they need to check to see if a consonant comes before the –le. If it does, they have a Consonant-le. We model how to count back 3 to divide this syllable starting at the last letter and counting back.

Step 1 – Spot and dot your vowels

CLE 2 step.PNG

Step 2 – Consonant – l – e Count Back 3

CLE angled.PNG

Step 3 – Cover your second syllable while you read the first, then cover the first and read the second. Blend the syllables together.

Details on this syllable type:

C-L-E words have at least 2 syllables.

When dividing C-L-E words we start at the end of the word.

Some of our favorite games to use when practicing this syllable type are: C-L-E Collect 3, Syllable Type Sorts Game which are available on our Membership Site and on TPT.

Other helpful resources for teaching this syllable type: Interactive notebook pages, syllable type posters which are available for free on our Free Resources page.

Understanding the Six Syllable Types - Vowel Teams

Vowel Team Syllables

Vowel Teams

Vowel teams are the fifth syllable type that we introduce to our students at Ascend Learning using Smart ALEC Resources.

What is it?

Vowel Teams (more formally they are called vowel digraphs and diphthongs) most often include two vowels that work together to make one sound. Sometimes W sneaks into these vowel teams and sometimes a vowel paired with other consonants like IGH work together to create a “vowel team” type pattern.

How do I teach it?

I explain to students that we have two vowels touching and working as a team. Sometimes only one vowel will do the talking and sometimes they work together to create a new sliding sound.

We mark vowel team words by placing a dot above each vowel if it makes a single sound we will connect the dots with a line. If it is a sliding sound, we will connect the dots with a squiggle line. Let’s practice marking!

Vowel teams angled.PNG

We teach vowel teams in the following progression:

-ai, -ay, -ee, -ey, -oa, -oe, -oi, -oy, -oo, -ou, -ow, -ea, -au, -aw

Several of these vowel teams follow a pattern that students can generalize. Some vowel teams only come at the beginning or middle of a syllable, where other vowel teams that makes the same sound only comes at the end of a syllable.

For example, ai comes at the beginning or in the middle of a syllable whereas the vowel team –ay (that makes the same sound) only comes at the end of a syllable.

We anchor all our phonogram rules with key words and images that create a visual and auditory, anchor to this information. For the –ai phonogram, we use the word and image for rain. For the –ay phonogram, we use the word and image for play.

When introducing vowel teams that follow this pattern of placement within a syllable, we teach them separately at first. This means that we use one lesson to teach –ai, explicitly. In our next lesson, we will teach –ay, explicitly. If the student demonstrates mastery with these phonograms in isolation, we combine these words within our word lists.

We wait to integrate word lists but we do introduce the other vowel team. It can help begin to warm students up to the idea that when they are spelling and hear the /a/ sound in the middle of a word, it is spelled –ai. But, when they are spelling and hear the /a/ sound at the end of a word, it is spelled –ay.

Other vowel teams that follow a similar pattern are: ee and ey, oa and oe, oi and oy

Some of our favorite games to use when practicing this syllable type are: Play In The Rain, Find the Keys, Destroy the Poison, Look at the Moon, Make Trout Soup, Snow Plow, Eat Bread and Steak, Yawn – I Have To Do The Laundry, Vowel Team War, Syllable Type Sorts Game which are available in our Membership Site and on TPT.

Other helpful resources for teaching this syllable type: Interactive notebook pages, syllable type posters which are available for free on our Free Resources page.

Understanding the Six Syllable Types - Open Syllables

Open Syllables

Open Syllables 

Open syllables are the opposite of Closed Syllables. The Open Syllable Type is the fourth syllable type out of six that we teach, but I do show examples of an Open syllable to students when introducing Closed Syllables. I have found that providing an illustration of how an Open syllable is the opposite of a Closed Syllable helps students cement the concept as they are building background to approach instruction that focuses on the six syllable types.

What is it?

An open syllable is a syllable that ends with a vowel. When the vowel is at the end of the syllable and there is no consonant trapping or closing in the vowel, the vowel says it’s long name.

Let’s use the word hi as an example.

This is a one-syllable word. The syllable ends with a vowel. Since the vowel is not closed in or trapped by a consonant, the vowel says it’s long name.

How do I teach it?

I explain this to my students by telling them a story about my dog, Hawkeye. Hawkeye is a wild and crazy puppy. She loves to chase the bunnies that play in our backyard and she is always trying to get out the back door. She doesn’t bother with the front door because the bunnies aren’t out that way. She only wants to get out the back door. If we accidentally leave the back door open, Hawkeye will get out and go for a LONG run after those bunnies. (A story like this will help anchor the concept of Open Syllables for our students. Students with dyslexia are big-picture thinkers, stories or background information anchor them and provide context for new learning. Even if you don’t have a dog, you can make up a story about a dog getting out the back door to go for a long run or something similar.)

After I tell this story, I use a whiteboard with the word hi written on it. First, I spot and dot the vowel. I put an outline of a door frame around the space behind the vowel, the letter i. I point out that the door is Open since there isn’t a consonant there, there is no letter blocking the vowel, so the door is Open. The vowel is like my dog, Hawkeye! The vowel wants to out and go for a LONG run and when it runs it shouts its long name – then, I mimic the vowel shouting its long name as if it’s running for freedom like the dog. (I also point out that the vowel, like my dog, only cares about the back door, not the front door. We don’t have to worry what comes in front of the vowel or the front door, just the back door and what is behind the vowel).

I do another example with an Open syllable word, she. I write the word she on the whiteboard, spot and dot the vowel, and draw the door frame around the space behind the vowel letter e. I ask, “Is this door open or closed?” I guide the student to noticing that the doorway is empty, there is no consonant letter in that doorway, there is not a letter closing in or trapping the vowel. Since there is not a consonant there, and the door is open, the vowel letter e is going to go for a long run and shout its long name of /e/. We would sound out this word as /sh/ /e/.

Next, I go back to a closed syllable and use a word like big. I spot and dot the vowel letter I and draw the door frame around the letter g since it is in the space behind the vowel. Then, I ask, “Is this door open or closed?” I guide the student to noticing that since the letter g is in the doorway, the door isn’t open, it is closed. The consonant letter g is trapping the vowel letter I and the I can’t get out and go for a long run. It’s stuck and can only say it’s short sound of /i/. Therefore, we sound out this word as /b/ /i/ /g/.

Even as students become more proficient with this concept, I have them spot and dot their vowels. Drawing attention to that vowel is what will cue them to notice what follows the vowel. I continue drawing the door frame behind the vowel until I am ready to gradually release my students to noticing this without the prompt of the door frame. This varies for each student.

In a multi-syllable word, you may have an open syllable and a closed syllable together. Let’s look at the word robot. First, this is a two-syllable word. Guide students in dividing or scooping the two syllables to break the word into two smaller chunks ro – bot.

After spotting and dotting the vowels, we can look closely at the first syllable ro. Notice that the syllable ends with a vowel, the letter o. It is important that the syllable is isolated at this point so that students see we are looking at the syllable, not the word. When we look at the word as a whole, it looks like the consonant letter b is closing in or trapping the vowel. It’s only when we break the word into syllables that students see the vowel isn’t trapped or closed in, it is the last letter in the first syllable. Since there is not a consonant behind it, the syllable is open. The vowel can go for a long run and say it’s long name of o.

The second syllable is bot. If we spot and dot the vowel, we notice that the consonant letter t is following the o or closing it in therefore the vowel can’t get out, it’s trapped and can only say it’s short sound of /o/ like olive.

The word Robot is an example of a multi-syllable word that has both an open and a closed syllable. 

Some of our favorite games to use when practicing this syllable type are: Tiger Toes, Camel Hump, Syllable Type Sorts Game which are available on our Membership Site and on TPT.

Other helpful resources for teaching this syllable type: Interactive notebook pages, syllable type posters which are available for free on our Free Resources page.

Words Per Minute Does Not Equal Comprehension

The most common progress monitoring we tend to do with our kids is tracking how many words per a minute they can read.  We often start with word lists and quickly move on to text, having the child read as quickly as they can for a 1-minute stopwatch.  Often this is the only data point we track.  I have been there.  I tracked every single 1st and 2nd-grade students words per a minute when I administered DIBLES.  This is not in and of itself a problem in fact words per a minute does help us know if the student will be able to fluently read at their grade level, but it is not the end all be all.  

We must always keep in mind that we are striving for so much more than words per a minute or even fluency.  We want our students to be comprehending what they are reading and words per a minute does not equal comprehension.  And in fact, some of our dyslexic kids will never be able to read at a pace or fluency that will equal grade level, but this does not mean that they cannot comprehend what they are reading.  

I am not saying that we should stop tracking words per a minute, though for many of my students I don’t track this data point, what I am saying is to look more deeply at what is going on with the student.  I have noticed over the years that if a student has been timed over and over again then they tend to approach reading like a race.  They sit down, put their finger on the first word and start to try and read ahead a bit before you can even tell them what you are working on.  They speed through reading as fast as they can and they are motivated by getting more words per a minute which can be positive, but they also lose out on why they are reading.  We are reading to learn information or enjoy a story not to win a race and this can quickly get lost.  

The flip side to this race against the clock reaction I see a lot is pure anxiety.  Many kids that struggle with reading and have been tested in one-minute intervals for all of elementary school sit down with a reading passage in front of them and are overwhelmed with anxiety.  This reaction is so hard to see and also does not allow the student to understand why we read, but rather overwhelms them with the pure task of reading.  

If our ultimate goal is that a student is comprehending what they are reading then we need to be focusing on helping the student understand how to work with what they have, how to take their ability and apply it to reading in a way that allows them to comprehend even if they are slow readers and non-fluent readers.  Personally, my reading rate is at a 5th-grade level, but this has not stopped me from completing college and graduate school.  My comprehension is very strong, but I have to approach reading like a job.  I have to use tools and concrete methods to help me stay focus and be an active reader.  I stop frequently, reread, look words up, check my understanding and write down thoughts and questions.  

This is all to say reading rate does NOT equal comprehension and your struggling readers can be strong compressnders with the right tools and strategies. 

Understanding the Six Syllable Types - R-Controlled Syllables

R Controlled Syllables

R-Controlled, Bossy R Syllables 

Anytime the letter R follows a vowel, that is an R-Controlled syllable. We often refer to this as The Bossy R.

What is it?

In an R-Controlled Syllable, the vowel is neither long nor short; it is controlled by the letter R and the /r/ sound.

The vowel before the R does not make its regular long or short sound, so we say it is being bossed or controlled by the R. Some of these R-Controlled vowels can make the same sound. For example, the sound of /er/ can also be represented as er, ir, ur. Unfortunately, there isn’t a concrete rule for how to know which spelling to use and this is where teaching students what is most common and least common is important.

The most common spelling for /er/ is er.

The second most common spelling for /er/ is ir.

The least common spelling for /er/ is ur.

Knowing which spelling is the most or least common helps students when they are experimenting with spelling or encoding new words.

Now the tricky part with some R-Controlled vowels is that some may have a schwa sound. Words with or like in doctor can have the \er\ sound. Words with ar can have a long sound like marry or schwa like dollar.

We want students to recognize the R-Controlled syllable when they read and with so many variations with this bossy letter, we provide a lot of systematic practice.

How do I teach it?

As with all our work, we guide students to rely on syllable marking to help them recognize patterns and bringing their attention to letters, sounds, and syllable types. Repeated practice with this helps cement the strategy and this becomes a useful safety net for students when they approach an unknown word in a text or if they want to spell an unfamiliar word in their own writing. Marking syllables becomes such a habit that students will begin to see words in this way which will give them the ability to break down multi-syllabic words that would have otherwise been very difficult for them to read.

We mark the R-controlled syllable words by boxing in the vowel and the R. You can also highlight or underline – if you are consistent with which strategy you are introducing. Below is an image of how we mark R-controlled syllables with our students

Bossy R angled.PNG

As I mentioned, our progress through the R-Controlled syllable type is systematic and responsive to the student’s needs. We look for evidence of mastery before moving onto the next phonogram within the Bossy R family. As with all of our syllable types, we practice the R-Controlled syllable type in a variety of multi-sensory ways that moves students from the word to the phrase level and culminates with developing fluency at the sentence level using sentences or passages that present words with R-controlled syllables.

Some of our favorite games to use when practicing this syllable type are: R-Controlled Go Fish and Syllable Types Sort Game which are available on our Membership Site and on TPT.

Other helpful resources for teaching this syllable type: Interactive notebook pages and syllable type posters which are available for free on our Free Resources page.

Understanding the Six Syllable Types - VCE

VCE or Magic E

What is it?

The VCE syllable type or the Magic e syllable type is a syllable where the first vowel is long and the final vowel, the e, is silent.

How do I teach it?

As I prepare to teach this syllable type to my students, I want to make sure they have a clear understanding of the short vowel sounds and the long vowel sounds. This flexibility of being able to go back and forth between the two sounds is important with the VCE syllable type. This work can be done in our Sound Drill when we review the vowels.

Then, I guide students in using letter tiles or markers and a whiteboard to build a closed syllable word such as the word van. Remember, closed syllables always have one vowel that is trapped or closed in by a consonant so it can only say it’s short sound.

If we add an E to the end of this closed syllable word, van, the E can jump over the consonant and make the vowel say its name or long sound and the E says nothing – the word van becomes vane. So, even though there are two vowels, we only hear one vowel sound. We call the E magic because of the way it jumps over the consonant and makes the vowel say its name.

Next, through guided practice, we mark this syllable type. When we mark a magic e, we start by having the e jump over one consonant, this looks like an arc. We code the vowel with a straight line or macron since the vowel is saying its name. We cross out the e since it is silent. We spend time marking and reading these words with support.

If the student is showing evidence of proficiency with marking the words and reading them, we progress to asking the student to read closed syllable words as they are, and then read them after we have added an e to the end. We guide the students in noticing that the magic e on the end changes that vowel sound from a short sound (as it was in the closed syllable) to the long sound now that the magic e is in place.

After this, we spend time sorting words, marking words, and using other multi-sensory activities to cement this syllable type. Some of our favorite games to use for this VCE syllable type instruction are: VCE game, Syllable Sorts Game, Reptile Strike which are available to our Membership Site subscribers and on TPT.

Other helpful resources for teaching this syllable type: Interactive notebook pages, syllable type posters which are available for free on our Free Resources page.


Understanding the Six Syllable Types - Closed Syllables

Closed Syllables

One of the most effective practices used in evidence-based reading intervention is the stress on teaching each of the syllable types and syllable division patterns. If you have never heard of the six syllable types, don't worry - you are not alone. Check out our blog: What's This About Six Syllable Types here!

Understanding the syllable types helps students anticipate the sound vowels will make in each word.

The first syllable type that we teach is the Closed Syllable.

A closed syllable is a syllable that ends in a consonant. When you find a consonant behind a vowel, the vowel is closed in or trapped. This makes the vowel say it’s short sound.

It does not matter what letter is in front of the vowel, we are only looking at the letter that follows the vowel.

Let’s use the word cat for an example.

This is a one-syllable word. The syllable ends with a consonant. The consonant follows the vowel, the letter a. Since the consonant is behind the vowel, we would say that the consonant, or letter t, is trapping the vowel or that the vowel is closed in. Thus, it can only say it’s short sound of /a/ like apple. Therefore, we would pronounce the word /c/ /a/ /t/.

Another example is the word in. This is also a one syllable word. The consonant, or letter n, is following the vowel i. Since the letter n is behind the vowel, the vowel is closed in or trapped. When it is closed in, it can only say it’s short sound of /i/ like itch.

Let’s look at a multi-syllable word, fantastic. This is a three-syllable word. First, we would want our students to divide this word, or scoop the syllables in this word; fan-tas-tic. Now, let’s look at each syllable starting with fan. The consonant n is behind the a, this makes the first syllable a closed syllable. Since the a is closed in or trapped, it makes the short sound of /a/ like apple. We pronounce this syllable as /f/ /a/ /n/. In the second syllable, tas, the consonant s is trapping or closing in the vowel a. This means the a can only say it’s short sound of /a/ like apple. We pronounce this second syllable as /t/ /a/ /s/ and it is also a closed syllable. The same is true with the final syllable of tic. The consonant c is closing in or trapping the vowel i, so the i can only say it’s short sound of /i/ like itch. We would pronounce the final, closed syllable as tic.

The opposite of a Closed Syllable is an Open syllable. While this syllable type is taught at a different time, and not in conjunction with Closed syllables, I do show an example of an Open syllable to my students when introducing the concept of Closed syllables because I think the illustration of an Open Syllable helps cement the concept or difference between Open and Closed.

For a video tutorial about Closed Syllables, click here:

Stay tuned for more information on our remaining syllable types: Open, Vowel Consonant E, R-Controlled, Vowel Teams, and Stable Final (Consonant LE).

Some of our favorite games to use when practicing this syllable type are: -ck Spelling Game, Crazy Floss, Syllable Type Sorts Game. Which are all available to our Membership Site subscribers or on TPT.

Other helpful resources for teaching this syllable type: Interactive notebook pages and syllable type posters which are available for free in our Free Resources section.

Reading Is Hard - Understanding the Bases of Literacy

Reading is Hard - Understanding the Bases of Literacy

Reading is a complex process that our brain was not designed to do. While there are specific areas in the brain in charge of motor planning and speech, there are no specific areas in the brain that are designed for reading. This means that several areas in the brain must work together in order to accomplish this task.

In order to read efficiently the brain must create a neural pathway from several distinct areas in the brain in less than half of a second. The brain must hear the sounds of a word, associate the meaning of that word, and recognize or produce the symbol of the word (pictorial representation of each letter). This is NOT EASY!

A break down in any of these areas formally known as semantics (meaning), phonology (sounds), or orthography (visual letters) can cause difficulty in reading. Therefore, solid reading intervention needs to be able to address potential breakdowns in any one of these areas and needs to systematically build all of these skills.


What do we do about it?

                Using the Literacy Processing Triangle along with the Five Essential Components of Reading identified by the National Reading Panel, intervention programs should target:

  1. Phonological Awareness (Identifying how words break into sounds)
  2. Phonics (Pairing Letter Sounds with the symbol of the Letters)
  3. Vocabulary Instruction
  4. Reading Fluency
  5. Comprehension

For students with dyslexia, it's important that we put these skills together in a systematic and cumulative progression. So that the skills are building from the easiest skills to the most complex skills and always building on itself. Much the way we teaching adding before we teach subtracting and we teach multiplying before dividing. These skills require foundational knowledge before we can jump in.

Effective Reading Instruction for Struggling or Dyslexic Readers Targets

Phonological Awareness – The identification and manipulation of individual sounds that make up words. This correlates to the phonology base of our triangle.

Syllabication – The ability to break words into syllables in order to predict the vowel sound of each syllable and break words into decodable chunks. This correlates to our phonology base of our triangle.

Sound Symbol Knowledge – The ability to pair the sound with the pictorial letter. This correlates to the line connecting phonology and orthography on our triangle.

Morphology – The ability to recognize affixes (prefix and suffix patterns) and root patterns that convey meaning. This correlates to the line connecting orthography and semantics on our triangle.

Reading Fluency – The ability to improve rapid recognition at the sound, word, sentence, and passage level. This correlates to the entire perimeter of the triangle connecting as quickly as possible. This is IMPORTANT, remember that it's the ENTIRE perimeter of the triangle - connecting sounds to symbols to meaning. To often we focus on reading fluency only connecting sounds to symbols measuring only things like Correct Words Per Minute. More on this topic to come!

Syntax – The ability to put together a grammatically correct sentence. This correlates to the line connecting orthography and semantics on our triangle.

Semantics – The ability to tie meaning and understanding to a word, sentence, or passage. This correlates to the semantics base of our triangle.

So what we see if that all of these components of effective reading instruction come back to understanding the triangle of literacy processes or the three bases of literacy. Effective reading instruction has to teach specific skills to create the bases or foundations of the triangle but also must include skills that connect the bases to each other.

If you are interested in learning more about the neural processes of reading and how to support instruction in each of these areas check out our free course on Talking the Talk - Foundations of Reading.

Or if you want to dive even deeper check out our course on the 5 Essentials of Literacy and learn how to incorporate activities into your classroom or intervention group with our 5 Essentials of Literacy Bundle which can be used for recertification hours!

5 Tips for Comprehending Nonfiction Text

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When I am working with my older students on comprehension I find that non-fiction comprehension can often be the trickiest.  I’ve spent so much time and energy just working with them on decoding, reading fluently and getting them to a point where they feel successful at reading, that asking them to read a dense text and pull specific information from it can be daunting.  Despite this, I find that many dyslexics end up preferring non-fiction text over fiction simply because they view reading as a means to an end and the end is learning something or gathering information.  Fiction text is great in an audiobook format but often not worth the time and struggle to personally decode.   As a quick aside, for me, reading is not at all enjoyable or relaxing, in fact it is quite the opposite, it is taxing, exhausting and downright dreadful.  This is not the case for every dyslexic, but I never tell kids that I want them to love to read or even enjoy reading, I want them to be able to read and feel empowered by their ability to read and comprehend. 

At first, the majority of authentic literature I bring into a session is fiction. Fiction is often more engaging and it is easier to create a movie or picture in your mind.  When I bring non-fiction reading into a session I tend to use shorter articles and 3-4 paragraph passages.  However, reading in the classroom often requires more than 3-4 paragraphs. For my older students, I need to help them transition to using strategies in order to successfully comprehend their social studies and science text.  We don’t always have a fun relatable character like Katniss Evergreen or Percy Jackson surrounded by rich visual text that helps us create a movie in our mind.  This non-fiction text is dense and can be overwhelming for middle school and high school dyslexics, but with concrete techniques, they can become confident and competent comprehenders.

Okay, that said let’s move on to concrete strategies to help our students with nonfiction comprehension.  For the most part, I want my students to recognize that with nonfiction text there are 5 things to keep in mind:

1.    You are reading to learn

2.    This text will inform you or teach you a how-to

3.    The information is given to you directly

4.    The text is based on real events and information

5.    Use the text features such as charts, graphs, lists, and diagrams

This may seem like the definition of nonfiction, but it is always important to directly instruct our students on what it is they are doing with the text in front of them.  If students understand that they are not looking for a character, a story line, or most importantly they don’t need to be making abstract connections this helps them prepare themselves for what they are about to read.  In the blog: 6 Tips for Teaching Reading Comprehension I mention the importance of reading the title to prepare your mind for what you are about to read and see if, in fact, you have any background knowledge of the subject.  This is similar in that you are setting your student up for success by having them focus on these points. It allows them to have clarity on what they are about to read.  These 5 points are how I frame non-fiction text, but then I make the gathering of information and actual comprehending of the text concrete with the use of graphic organizers and note taking tips. 

Keep your eyes peeled for our Members Only bimonthly email, in it, you will find our comprehension resources including 5 nonfiction graphic organizers and our KWL chart.  These are all really helpful ways to concretely pull information out of dense nonfiction text. 

Not a Member? Subscribe here!

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Enhancing Instruction with the Use of Authentic Literature

Enhancing Instruction with the Use of Authentic Literature 

Effective literacy instruction includes five critical components: Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension. Instruction and practice within each of these areas is necessary for a student to become a proficient reader. If you are interested in learning more about each of these teaching strategies check out our evergreen online courses.

At Smart ALEC, we believe the first step to building a strong reading foundation is to provide students with explicit, systematic instruction to develop phonemic awareness and phonics skills. During this time, it is important to expose children to other skills such as fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. If you are familiar with our curriculum, you will notice that practice with each of these components is woven into every single lesson.

We advocate for exposure and experience with authentic literature in conjunction with the use of our curriculum and materials. This may look different for each teacher, depending on the needs of your classroom.

As you work with your small groups, specifically your at-risk or struggling readers, you will want to focus most of that time on the Smart ALEC lessons to develop your students’ phonetic skill set and ability to decode. As this group gains momentum with phonograms and decoding strategies, you can begin to layer in texts. The texts should be at their level and should reinforce what you are teaching. If you are meeting with small groups daily, you can balance Smart ALEC instruction with text application each time you meet.

The ratio of time you spend on decoding work using the Smart ALEC curriculum and text application will depend on each group and their specific needs. Some groups will not need as much intensive work in the Smart ALEC curriculum as others, and these are readers who are more prepared to dig into texts and reading strategies such as visualizing, predicting, inferring, etc. While all students should be exposed to text daily, some students will need to spend most their small group time receiving intensive intervention from you that focuses on the Smart ALEC curriculum and decoding strategies.

If you do not have access to a classroom library or a literacy resource room, you must get creative about how you will find books to stock your classroom library and student book boxes.

Some suggestions: write a grant to your school’s parent organization for books, use printable books that are leveled from sites such as Reading A-Z, printable articles from, use classroom or fundraising money to purchase multiple copies of titles from sites such as Scholastic.

Many of these sites that provide printable texts allow you to search and select texts by a phonetic rule or pattern. This is an easy way to align your weekly concept to a text to provide application practice.

The use of authentic literature is paramount to a child’s growth as a reader. In order to provide students with the necessary instruction to nurture these developing skills, you will want to make sure that you are including the opportunity for children to read real books every single day, as well as hear books read to them every single day.

Building a silent reading station or time into your literacy block is so important to get books in the hands of our emerging readers. When a child can sit with a text and have the opportunity for their reading practice to be driven by interest (versus teacher selection) they view themselves as readers. This is a critical step to a student’s growth as a proficient reader.

Students also need to hear books read aloud to them for a variety of reasons. This exposes students to literature that they might not be able to access otherwise, it promotes a love of literature and stories, this models fluent reading and vocabulary use, and this is an excellent platform to model comprehension strategies.

How We Organize Our Intervention Binder for 1:1 or Small Groups

Evidence-Based Reading Intervention Binders

In our intervention setting we create binders for all of our students, they look different depending on the level but generally, they follow the same format. The reason here is that when we think about evidence-based reading intervention it's really important that we are hitting all of the necessary components of reading and writing.

The way we organize our materials and our binder set-up is based around making sure we have activities to align with each of core components of effect literacy instruction including: phonological awareness, sound-symbol knowledge, morphology, syllable type and syllabication instruction, syntax, and semantics that align specifically with the National Reading Panel's analysis of the 5 core components of literacy which include Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Reading Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension.

We have our binder set up in five sections or eight sections depending on what binder tabs we have available ;)

We have tabs broken into:

  1. Decoding
  2. Morphology
  3. Red Words/Phonological Awareness/Spelling
  4. Reading Fluency/Comprehension
  5. Written Composition

Sometimes we break out the sections in tabs 3 and 4 when we have 8 tabs available. Ultimately this comes down to whatever was on sale or available in the supply closet!

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Often in our front section before jumping into the decoding tab we put a sound drill deck or the phonogram race to have it consistently available for our students.

Then we jump into the meat of our lesson with our decoding drills. Often we will fill the students' binder ahead of time with all of the lessons - this really depends on whether the student will be keeping his or her binder or if we will be keeping it with us. We have learned that it's often best to have a separate homework folder that we send back and forth and we hold onto the binder so we always know we will have it.

So let's dive into those sections a bit.

Section 1 - Decoding

Since this is the core aspect of our intervention we want to have this front and center in our notebook or binder. We use student workbook pages in this first section that correspond to the rule we are teaching for the week.

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Section 2 - Morphology

This is the second big rock of effective reading intervention. If you are familiar with the bases of reading you know that the goal is to create an extra speedy pathway in the brain from our semantics processor (processes the meaning) to phonology processor (processes the sounds of the word) to the orthography processor (processes the visual letter). When we think about this triangle of reading processes we may need to move from the semantic processor (meaning) to the orthographic processor (visual print). This is where morphology can come in really helpful! For students who are ready (often third grade and up) for this type of instruction it needs to be a core piece of the session. Read more about Morphology Instruction here!


Section 3 - Red Words, Phonological Awareness, Spelling

The next section of our binder is geared toward practicing red words (phonetically irregular words that don't follow our patterns). Whenever possible we use this opportunity to layer in some structured word study or word inquiry. For example studying the base word do can give us the words does and done. English is a tricky language because we preserve morphology (meaning parts) over phonology (sound parts) so sounding out these red words can be difficult.

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We also include our Elkonin boxes and our spelling and dictation sheets in this tab. Or if we are really lucky and have 8 tabs available we will give Phonological Awareness and Spelling their own tabs!

Section 4 - Reading Fluency & Comprehension

We work on reading fluency and comprehension together. When we work with our students we like to practice passages on a cold and hot read so they can begin to chart their growth. Get our reading fluency chart here. While you can absolutely practice reading fluency at the single word level, what we have found is that students will take speed over accuracy every day of the week. We don't want this at all. So when we are looking at fluency we are aligning this task with comprehension because the end goal of strong reading fluency is better comprehension not faster reading.

We align our students' comprehension passages to meet his or her specific needs. This really depends on what type of comprehension difficulties (if any) our students are displaying. We personally love to incorporate authentic text into our sessions wherever possible.

We like to use appropriately leveled text for this section but not controlled text. Reading controlled text passages does not generalize well to real reading. While we like using controlled text at the sentence level and in some instances to build confidence we don't like relying on this practice. What we want to see is students applying their knowledge and finding patterns they know. While there will likely be patterns they haven't yet been exposed to in non-controlled text reading, this is okay! Our goal is for students to be able to self-recognize patterns they know versus patterns they don't. When we come across a pattern we have not explicitly instructed, we will simply provide the word to the student.

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Section 5 - Written Composition

Finally, the most complex piece of it all - written composition. We find it important to explicitly teach sentence structure, grammar, and theme development in writing. We also focus on mechanics using the COPS (Capitals, Organization, Punctuation, and Spelling) checks. However, in all of this - we never want the work to be boring or dreaded. So we don't do worksheets identifying the subject and the predicate and the verb versus the adverb. Instead, we focus on real writing that is fun and engaging like Silly Sentences or structured themed-writing prompts. If you are wondering what activity might work in this section consider using the differentiated spelling list writing prompts that align with each lesson.

Sometimes Things Don't Stick...Then What?

We know that systematic and explicit instruction that is designed to build on itself is the best form of intervention for students struggling with reading and/or spelling. So if you are working through concepts that are delivered in this way, what do you do when your student just is not getting it?

Some programs tell you to stay on that concept indefinitely, you can't move on without providing a very strong foundation which means you cannot move on.

Other programs will tell you to just keep going at their pre-prescribed rate of instruction.

So how do you know what you should do?

6 Tips to Teaching Comprehension

6 Tips to Teaching Comprehension

Comprehension, our end goal!  Ultimately this is what we are working towards when we are teaching kids reading.  We want to get them to a place where they are decoding individual words well enough to fluently read sentences, with a developmentally appropriate vocabulary in order to comprehend what they are reading.  Everything we do, starting at the very basic level of letter sounds builds on top of each other to bring students to comprehension.  So here we are, now what do we do? Comprehension is so important and ultimately our goal but how do we know we are teaching useful skills and if these skills are translating to the metacognition needed to be a successful comprehender.

Today we are going to be looking at 6 specific strategies to help teach comprehension.  Teaching comprehension to our struggling readers should be explicit and not inferred or incidental.  Research shows that the best way for students to learn how to comprehend text is to be taught strategies explicitly.  When it comes to explicit instruction we want to first directly explain the strategy, model the strategy either in a whole group setting or one-on-one, use guided practice with the students and finally have them practice applying the skill.

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