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.
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