Knowing the syllable rules can help students avoid a lot of spelling errors, but some kids struggle with even understanding what a syllable is. The article on Syllable Types has some great information on how to explain syllables to your child. But if your child is still having trouble with this concept, here are some game-like approaches you might enjoy.
First, make sure your child understands what a syllable is. A syllable has only one vowel sound. It can have zero, one, or more consonant sounds, but must have only one vowel sound. (There can be more than one vowel in a syllable, as with vowel teams like the ‘ee’ in meet, when two vowels stand for one sound.). Sometimes just clarifying this can help a child understand what a syllable is.
Here are some activities that might help your child identify syllables:
- For each syllable, jump in place. "Di-no-saur" would be three hops. "Happy" would be two hops. Model this for your child several times per day: first you do it and then he does it. Or make it a game: you say a word for him to hop, and then he says a word for you to hop.
- Compare syllables to beats in music. Let your child clap hands, snap fingers, or beat a drum with every syllable.
- Sing simple songs with a STRONG BEAT that your child knows. For example, Yankee Doodle. For each beat in the song, clap. "Yank – ee - Doo- dle - went - to -town -a -ri - ding - on- a -po -ny." Each of you could also beat out the rhythm on a homemade drum (box and spoon, or oatmeal container and chopsticks). Call it music class, and work on it a little each day. Make sure you pick songs where only one syllable is sung per beat.
- Play “going to the zoo.” Each person takes turns calling out animal names and then you can all hop, beat, or clap to the syllables.
- Tape written syllables onto blocks and have them build the word with the blocks. Then they can “see” how many syllables are in the word by counting the blocks. Make sure they also say each syllable as they place the blocks, because the goal is for your child to hear the syllables.
- Use compound words. Clap once for “hot,” then once for “dog,” and then put it together and clap “hotdog.”
- Try clapping this rhyme with your children. Tell them ahead of time, “On some of the beats, there is more than one syllable. Some of those syllables snuck in without permission! Listen carefully for the sneakers and see if you can ‘catch’ them, and tell me how many there are.”
Clap the four beats as you say, “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe.” Stop at the end of this phrase and ask your children if they caught any sneakers. If they guess part or all of them, praise them & see if they can tell you how many. You could say, “That’s right, “buckle,” and “my” too! I said all of that during only one clap! How many syllables is that? You count two? Let me try…’buc-kle-my…’ I count THREE! Those sneakers! Let’s try the next line!”
Three, four, shut the door (“shut the” has two syllables on one beat)
Five, six, pick up sticks (“pick up” has two syllables on one beat)
Seven, eight, lay them straight (“seven” and “lay them” both have two syllables on one beat).
Nine, ten, a big fat hen. (“a big fat” has three syllables on one beat)
Some children confuse the idea of “sounds” with “syllables,” and will tell you how many sounds a word has. If that happens, say, “You’re right, ‘cat’ has 3 sounds. A syllable is different from the sounds though. A syllable is a group of sounds put together in one beat.” Then demonstrate by clapping with the Yankee Doodle song slowly to show them the chunks.
This is a hard concept for some children, so don’t lose heart, your child will get it!