Teaching Syllables to MLs

Teaching Syllables to MLs


Syllables are one component of phonological awareness and syllable types are a part of phonics. A syllable is part of a word that has a vowel or vowel sound. Here are some ideas for teaching syllables to English Language Learners.

Introducing Syllables

One way to teach students to identify syllables is to have them close their mouth and say a word. They then count how many breaths of air they take to say the word. That is the number of syllables. For students that have learned about vowels, explain that each syllable needs to have a vowel sound.

syllable poster

You can read more about this and other phonological awareness activities on the Reading Rockets website.

Counting Syllables

One of the simplest ways of teaching syllables is to have students count them in a word. They can clap the syllables as a way to help them hear them. They can also sort them under numbers.

Use Pictures

Especially with ELLs, pictures help students learn new vocabulary words as they are practicing syllables.

syllable pictures


6 Syllable Types

For older students at beginning language levels, learning how to break apart words into syllables is helpful as they try and read or spell longer words. Students chunk words into different syllables for reading or spelling. For spelling, there are 6 different types of syllables that influence how a word is spelled.

The most common syllable type is a closed syllable. In these types of syllables, the vowel is short. Other syllable types include Open syllable (long vowel), Vowel-Consonant-e (long vowel), Vowel Team (long vowel, short vowel, diphthong vowel sound), Vowel R, Consonant le (final stable syllable).

Learning how to divide multisyllabic words can be a helpful strategy for decoding and spelling longer words. Particularly for MLs that may struggle with when to use long or short vowel sounds, learning about the patterns that each syllable type follows can help students that are struggling to crack the reading code.

closed syllable

In addition to syllable types, word morphology (including prefixes, suffixes, and roots) is another helpful strategy for decoding and spelling.

Use Vocabulary Words

For older students, one way to quickly practice syllables is to take vocabulary words that the students are already learning and find out how many syllables are in each word. Students can sort the words into the number of syllables in the word.


Syllable Practice Activities– Get picture vocabulary cards, puzzles, syllable division worksheets, and syllable sorting worksheets in this bundle.

The Florida Center for Reading Research has free syllable activities for students in grades PreK-4th.

teaching syllables to ELLs

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