Keep reading for activity ideas and word lists for 1 syllable words, 2 syllable words, 3 syllable words and 4 syllable words!
Science of reading research indicates that phonological awareness skills and phonemic awareness skills are vital for learning to read and spell. Students cannot do in print what they are unable to do orally. Children who have phonological awareness are able to identify and make oral rhymes, can clap out the number of syllables in a word, and can recognise words with the same initial sounds (e.g. mat, map, money). Phonological awareness begins with an understanding of words and hearing gaps between words. It then moves onto the ability to identify syllables and rhyme.
Why is understanding the concept of syllables an important skill?
Learning how to chunk words into syllables is an important pre-reading skill and an important stepping stone to developing effective reading skills and writing skills. Syllabification supports reading development as it helps to speed up the process of decoding. It also supports writing development, as the ability to successfully break a word into syllables helps students to spell words correctly.
Students need strategies for chunking longer words into more manageable parts. By explicitly teaching syllables and the different types of syllables (e.g. closed syllable, open syllables) to students we equip them to be able to read longer words accurately, and to successfully segment those words in order to spell them. When young learners are struggling readers, I will always recommend that teachers go back to finding any gaps in a child's phonological and phonemic awareness.
What are syllables?
Syllables are the building blocks of multisyllabic words. A spoken syllable is a unit of speech organised around a vowel sound. All syllables are organised around a vowel sound. The jaw drops open when the vowel in a syllable is spoken.
Quick tip: get students to place their hand under their chin, and count the number of times their jaw drops as they say a word. Help students to notice that their jaw drops for each vowel sound.
- In the word hat, the jaw drops once (1 syllable)
- In the word finger, the jaw drops twice (2 syllables)
- In the word butterfly, the jaw drops three times (3 syllables)
- In the word caterpillar, the jaw drops four times (4 syllables)
There are lots of fun syllable activities to teach young children and consolidate an understanding of syllables. This blog post contains word lists for one-syllable words (monosyllabic words), two-syllable words, three-syllable words and four-syllable words, as well as a range of free resources, fun activities and hands-on ways for kindergarten kids to learn about syllables.
Syllable Games and Syllable Activities
Start with CVC words and Compound Words (short words)
Syllable practice involves breaking up the spoken word into smaller chunks. When beginning syllable counting with younger children, kindergarten teachers should start with simple words: CVC words (1-syllable words with short vowels) and compound words (2-syllable words). For example, the word cat has a single vowel sound and is one syllable, and the word rocket has two vowel sounds and two syllables. Rather than focusing on the individual sounds in these words (the smallest unit of sound in words is called a phoneme), we are focusing on beat of the words.
There are lots of different ways to practice syllable skills with kindergarten students. Some simple activity ideas for teaching children to break apart words into syllables could include:
- Say the first syllable in the word, and ask students to say the final syllable.
- Map the syllables with counters or cubes in ekonin boxes. You could model on your classroom screen to the whole group or each student may have their own copy in front of them for independent practice.
You might like to use The Hive's online elkonin boxes:
- Use a mix of real words and nonsense words, as well as a variety of words with different sounds. Students will love deciding which words are a real word, and which words are a nonsense word!
- Use hands-on tools like poppits to pop the syllable sounds
Once students are successfully counting the correct number of syllables in one-and-two-syllable words, work up to also including words with three syllables and words with four syllables.
Use a syllable game for transitions throughout the day with your early learners. To quote David and Meredith Liben: ‘Phonological awareness games are your classroom management friends!’
Some examples of how you can practise syllables in an interactive way include:
- Read a syllable word card and ask students to take one step for each syllable in a word e.g. 'tiger' = 2 steps
- Hold up a syllable picture card and ask students to clap the beats of the word
- Hold up syllable picture cards and ask students to stomp or jump syllables as you move around the classroom
- Count the number of syllables in student names as you mark the roll
- When lining up for breaks, give students a partner and ask both students to think of a word with 2 syllables, or give each other a word to clap the number of syllables.
- Find or point to an object in the room with X number of syllables
Use song and movement
Following on from the previous idea, songs are a really powerful way to teach concepts to children of all ages, and when combined with movement, they are even more powerful. Physical activity is one of the best ways to activate the brain and improve cognitive function. When movement is added to learning activities, concepts are far more likely to stick. Body movements could include clapping, stomping, tapping, drumming or jumping each syllable.
Manipulatives can be a really powerful way of modelling syllables to young readers. Provide each child with something to hold in their hands (Unifix cubes or Lego are great for this, as they can snap them together) and emphasise the 2 separate syllables in a word (e.g. ti-ger). Then model pushing the objects together to demonstrate how the syllables join together to form a word. Begin with two-syllable words, and gradually introduce words with three or more syllables too.
Mirrors can be a useful tool for demonstrating the movement of the mouth when pronouncing words. Ask students to say words with a variety of syllables e.g. star, robot, kangaroo, helicopter whilst looking in a mirror. As they say each word, ask them to count how many times their mouths move/open. Alternatively, students could place their hand under their jaw and count the number of times their mouth drops as they say the word. This will (usually) correlate with the number of vowel sounds in the word.
Students will love hunting the classroom to find pictures or words with different numbers of syllables. Different small groups could be in charge of finding words with different numbers of syllables (e.g. one group is hunting for 1-syllable words, another group is hunting for 2-syllable words).
If using word cards, I recommend being mindful of your word choices and using decodable words that students are able to read. For younger learners, stick to:
- CVC words (consonant-vowel-consonant words with a short vowel sound)
- CVCC and CCVC words (e.g. land is a CVCC word and flip is a CCVC word)
- If taught, words with simple consonant sounds e.g. consonant digraphs ch, sh, th and wh
- For an extra challenge, words with a common long vowel sound
- Alternatively, you could also consolidate high frequency words
You might like to download my free decodable word lists. There is a list of words for:
Consolidate with syllable worksheets & syllable games
Simple worksheets can be a great way for a young learner to consolidate their understanding of syllables. You might like to use these free syllable worksheets - you'll get instant access to them in the Freebee Library!
You'll also find a range of syllable games and activities at Mrs Learning Bee.
Here is a word list for 1 syllable words:
Here is a word list for 2 syllable words:
Here is a word list for 3 syllable words:
Here is a word list for 4 syllable words:
You can download these free lists of syllable words from the Freebee Library.
More advanced syllable activities
It can be hard to know when to teach what! What should children have grasped by the end of kindergarten, and what is the appropriate grade level to begin teaching syllable types?
Segmenting and blending spoken syllables is an early phonological awareness skill, and should be taught at the beginning of an explicit synthetic phonics program. As students deepen their awareness of sounds, they will be able to also work with a written word as well as a spoken word.
Grade 1 onwards
Reading syllable patterns, identifying different syllable types and syllable division are all more advanced decoding skills – students will require an awareness of different phonemes (letter sounds) and more advanced grapheme-phoneme correspondences e.g. vowel teams, r-controlled vowel sounds, consonant spellings, vowel-consonant-e and consonant + le patterns (sometimes referred to as magic e and silent e).
Introduce students to the most common syllable types from Grade 1 (open, closed, r-controlled syllables), and gradually build up to covering all of the syllable types from the beginning of Grade 2. As their literacy skills advance, students will be able to engage in word-building activities with syllables and work with increasingly unfamiliar words.
Before you go, don't forget to download your free syllable word lists!