Category Archives: syllables

Will avatars improve learning how to read?

What’s the future of reading?

Kindle pronunciation and definition pop-up

Already available on the Kindle, readers just touch unfamiliar words and a definition pop-up appears. (shown is an excerpt from “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett) CLICK on the picture for a link to the pronunciation.

A student who knows she has trouble reading long words creates an avatar—say an owl—to help her.  Then whenever she is reading online, the avatar would appear before every long word.  The avatar will help her to figure out long words–three and four syllable words.

The student could skip the avatar if she thinks she knows the word.  But if she  needs help, she could click on the owl and the owl might segment the word into syllables, making the word easier to deconstruct.  “Conversation” might show in a tiny screen as “con-ver-SA-tion.”

If the word does not follow the rules of phonics, the word might be shown as it is pronounced.  “Business” might appear as “BIZZ-ness.”

An option for the avatar to pronounce a word might also exist.  If a student can figure out “discreet” but not “discretion,” the avatar might pronounce the latter word.

With technology, we have the ability to personalize reading instruction, offering individual help for students.  Fast learners could have an avatar which acts as a high speed dictionary and thesaurus, allowing students to read difficult words without a word search.  Slower learners’ avatars could offer private tutoring help, allowing students to progress at their own slower pace with no one the wiser.  ESL students could get help with pronunciation.

Even older students reading advanced text books could use this help with the avatar segmenting the word, perhaps showing its root, pronouncing it, and defining it.  It could refer to previous pages in the book where the word is used the way an index does—all at the click of an avatar.

Sound farfetched?

With Google’s Alexa, some of this technology already exists.  If a student is stumped by a word, the student can spell the word and ask how to say it or what it means, and Alexa, after a split-second of “thinking.” would respond.

It’s only a matter of time before this kind of technology will be custom fit to meet individual students’ reading needs.

How to teach a child to read with little cost

If you are attempting to teach your child to read, and you go to Amazon or your local book store and find literally hundreds of instruction books, dozens of video games, and all kinds of apps and CDs, and boxes of flash cards, where do you begin?  Is all that “stuff” really necessary?

I suggest a method which includes spending time with your child but not much money.

Start with the sounds of English. There are about 42 in most parts of the US.  Say the sounds aloud, one at a time.  Let your child listen and repeat the sounds aloud.  If he can’t say one or two of the sounds, work on those sounds for a few minutes each day until he can hear and repeat all the sounds.  (Supplies you will need:  a list of the 42 sounds, available free on this website and online.)

Next, explain that we associate letters with those sounds.  Start with consonants and teach the child to match each sound with a letter.  Move on to vowels and explain that some sounds share the same letter.  (At this point, don’t try to teach digraphs or exceptions.)  Say a particular sound and ask your child what letter goes with that sound.  Show a handful of letters to choose from and add more options as the child gains accuracy.  (Supplies you will need:  a set of the ABC’s on cards, on letter tiles or written by hand on index cards.)

Once the child can associate sounds with letters accurately, form CVC (consonant—vowel—consonant) words, such as “c a t.” From years of experience I have found that letter tiles work best at this.  (I use Scrabble game tiles, but there are other kinds.)  Set the three letters an inch apart.  Say the letter sounds one by one.  Move the letter tiles together slowly and then more rapidly, saying the letter sounds so that they eventually slur together.  Help the child learn that when we put letter sounds together, we form words.  (Supplies you will need:  lists of CVC words available free online.)

At this point, your child can read many of the words in some books, such as The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham and  Hop on Pop.   Encourage the child to read the words she can and you read the other words.  If you own the books and don’t mind marking them, you can underline the words your child knows as she reads–a visible proof to the child that she can read.  (Supplies you will need:  a few early reading books available free online or for less than a dollar each at most resale stores.)

CVCC twin consonantsNext you need a plan to sequence the teaching of various types of words.   You can find plenty online.  Most plans start with two- or three-letter short vowel words like “cat” and “ax.”  Then they move on to blends, first at the beginnings of short vowel words (“blot”) and when those are understood, at the ends of such words (“blotch.”)  Adding “s” to form plurals is considered such a blend.  Then teach digraphs and sight (Dolch) words.  (Supplies you will need:  Lists of sight or Dolch words available free online.)

Some authorities suggest teaching two- and three-syllable short vowel words at this point, such as “catnip” and “tunnel.” Others suggest tackling one-syllable long vowel words beginning with words ending with a silent “e” such as “bake” and “tune” and then moving on to other long vowel combinations such as “ee” and “oa.”  There is no right or wrong sequence.  It is important to keep reviewing words the student already learned and mixing them up while you are teaching new kinds of words.  (Supplies you will need:  Lists of such words available free online.)

boy choosing right root for a prefixAt this point, you might teach prefixes and suffixes, or words which don’t follow rules such as two-syllable words with one consonant between the two vowels. Does the consonant go with the first syllable (“robin”) or with the second syllable (“robust”)?  (Supplies you will need:  Lists of such words available free  online.)

Three- and four-syllable words follow the same rules as one- and two-syllable words, but the problem is where to put the inflection so that they are pronounced correctly.  Help the child pronounce such words all possible ways until she hears the correct way.  You and your child might read books you own or library books, and when you come to long words, stop, and figure them out together.  (Supplies you will need:  Picture books, and lists of multi-syllable words available free online.)

By now your child is reading.  She might need help occasionally pronouncing a particular word, or more likely, understanding the meaning of an unfamiliar word.  But learning the sounds of English (phonemes) and linking those sounds to form words (phonics) is largely done.

When a word has a single consonant between two vowels, which syllable does the consonant go with?

When a two-syllable word has a single consonant in the middle of two vowels, which syllable does the consonant go with?

Usually the consonant goes with the second syllable.  This forms a first syllable with a long vowel and a second syllable that is either CVC or CVCe. The first syllable which ends with a long vowel is called an open syllable. Some examples include:red headed girl in easy chair reading, legs up

  • minus
  • tulip
  • pupil
  • motel
  • basic
  • humid
  • rotate
  • unite

Sometimes these words  have a one-syllable, stand-alone word as the first syllable.  Or they have a prefix as the first syllable. Helping students to recognize this tiny word or prefix can help them to pronounce the word correctly. Some words like this include:

  • beside
  • rerun
  • protest
  • defend
  • trisect
  • bypass
  • nomad
  • hotel

Some students get mixed up if the first syllable is a single vowel. They want to put the middle consonant with the first syllable instead of with the second.  If this happens, ask the child to pronounce the word both ways. Usually one way will make sense and one won’t unless the child is not familiar with the word. Some words like this include:

  • omit
  • item
  • unit
  • ozone
  • even
  • evil
  • amen

I recommend teaching children words with a single consonant between syllables after they have learned words with two middle consonants.  The latter are easier to learn because children more easily spot the CVC + CVC pattern.

One warning:  Many words beginning with the letter “a” follow the letter pattern just mentioned, but the “a” is not pronounced as a long vowel.  “Alive,” “along,” “awake,” “atone” and “apart” and dozens of other “a” words pronounce the “a” as “uh.”  Save them for a separate lesson.

How to divide words into syllables—start with words having double consonants between two short vowels

Figuring out how to pronounce words with two or more separated vowels can be a problem. However, there are guidelines which often help.

boy reading book If a word has two consonants of the same letter in the middle of the word, the split into syllables happens between the two consonants. These words are easy to segment and to pronounce. Words like this include

  • happen
  • little
  • mitten
  • ribbon
  • puddle
  • peddler
  • attic
  • minnow
  • biggest

girl on floor readginIf a word has two different middle consonants preceded by and followed by short vowels, the split into syllables usually happens between the two consonants. Usually the vowel sound to the left of the double consonants is short because the first syllable creates a CVC “word,” and the syllable after the split is short for the same reason. Words like this include

  • Hagrid
  • often
  • piston
  • Wilson
  • walnut
  • mascot
  • dentist
  • impish
  • whiplash

Seated young boy is playing a portable video game..Sometimes in the middle of a two-syllable word are three consonants composed of a consonant and a blend or a blend and a consonant.  The three consonants are preceded and followed by a single vowel. The split into syllables happens before or after the blend, in such a way as to keep the blend together. Usually these words contain short vowels before and after the split. Words like this include

  • chinchilla
  • tundra
  • umbrella
  • ashes
  • pumpkin
  • sandbox
  • liftoff
  • pigskin
  • distress

All of these two-syllable words have certain features in common which make pronunciation easy:

  • they have either two consonants or one consonant and a blend in the middle of the word,
  • and they have a single vowel preceding and following the middle consonants.
  • The first vowel is a short vowel, and usually the second vowel is short also if it is followed by a single consonant or a blend.

But what if there is only one consonant between two vowels? Does the consonant go with the first vowel or the second? It depends.  We’ll talk about that soon.