Teaching Syllables to ELLs

Teaching Syllables to ELLs

Syllables are one component of phonological awareness. 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 how 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. 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

Help with Reading and Spelling

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. As ELLs become more advanced shift the focus away from syllables towards word morphology including prefixes, suffixes, and roots.

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 Activities– Get a set of picture vocabulary cards to use for sorting along with two levels of worksheets.

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

teaching syllables to ELLs

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