From the archives...
The following question was originally posted on the (now discontinued) LOE Forum.
Breaking words into syllables to aid with spelling was a new concept to me when I started teaching Essentials in my homeschool. However, it's been a few years now and I'm still struggling with knowing where syllable breaks are in a word.
When I hear a word, I can count the syllables but I get stuck knowing what each syllable is. Often it's clear based on the spelling. For example, "ca bin" would have the "a" saying its long sound, so it's clear the syllable is closed and it's actually "cab in." But I feel like I'm missing something that would help determine syllable breaks, which would then help with spelling. Hopefully that makes sense? I am mainly wondering about how to teach my child to find the syllable breaks herself so that she can work through the spelling of new words.
Thanks for the question! You are right - this is a tricky concept. It took me awhile to wrap my head around too. Are you wondering about when you are teaching words from the spelling lists in Foundations or Essentials? In the lists, the Say to Spell column will tell you where the syllable breaks are.
I think the main thing to emphasize is that it takes a pretty thorough understanding of the rules to find the syllable breaks, and that you shouldn't expect her to get it the first time around. That's why we provide it for the teacher too in the spelling lists, and instruct you to provide it as you teach your kids the spelling words.
Eventually, when students have a really strong understanding of the rules, they'll be able to apply them to figure out where the breaks are in new words for themselves, as long as they know the spelling and how to pronounce the word, but while they are first learning the material they only need to be able to apply them to the syllables you dictate to them when teaching the words in the spelling lists.
Here's what took me awhile to understand: you can't usually know the syllable breaks for sure if you don't know the spelling and the pronunciation, because these three things are independent. If you know the spelling and the syllable breaks, you have a pretty good idea of the pronunciation, and if you know the pronunciation and the spelling you can use the rules to find the syllable breaks. But you can't always just say the word and know, and you often can't read a multi-syllable word and know if you aren't already familiar with how the word is pronounced.
A good starting point is to check your dictionary! However, caution is needed, because many dictionaries now break words by morphemes rather than by linguistic syllables. This is helpful in showing you the parts of the word in terms of meaning, but it won't necessarily give you the information you need to understand the spelling. Other dictionaries show two types of syllable divisions: they break the word for morphemes initially, then show the linguistic syllables in the pronunciation guide.
But here are some tips to keep in mind for breaking a word in order to teach it in spelling analysis:
- If there is a double consonant within a word, you'll want to break it so that the student hears both of the consonants. "kit ten." (Linguistically, the consonant is only pronounced once, of course, but you are helping her hear the spelling.)
- If there is a short vowel, the next consonant is part of the syllable, as you noted with "cab in" (not always true with I and Y, but consistent with A E O U - see spelling rule 4)
- If there is a single vowel that is saying its long sound because it is at the end of a syllable (or would be if it weren't saying schwa, e.g. "about"), then the syllable breaks before the consonant. "pa per"
- Don't break a multi-letter phonogram. "re ceive"
- Sometimes, it really is kind of arbitrary and doesn't matter that much! If it doesn't affect spelling, it's less important. It's still helpful to break syllables, whether or not there are syllable-dependent rules involved, simply to give students manageable chunks to segment and write. But doesn't always matter if you find the "correct" break ("res ting" is technically correct, unless you're breaking for morphemes, but it won't make a difference for spelling and reading correctly if you break it "rest ing").
I hope this helps. From what you've written, I am guessing you are on the right track already!
A kindergarten teacher teaching Foundations B recently told us that she just had a grandson born, and when she told her students, who are using Foundations B, she wrote his name on the board including the syllable break: Ca lem. She asked them what his name was, and the class read it correctly - with a long A. She then asked how it would be pronounced if the syllable broke 'Cal em' instead, and they read it with a short A. So they've clearly mastered the concept of rule 4 and can apply it to words. Theoretically, that also means they have the tools to find the syllable break themselves if they see a word written and know how it's pronounced, but that's a big step up in difficulty in applying the concept, so we wouldn't ask it of them yet. It's okay for them to need time to get comfortable applying all these pieces.
Note: If you are using Essentials, students will begin exploring syllables in Unit 3 and build on this knowledge to explore vowel types and syllable division in Units 12 and 14.