Reading and Spelling Long Words:

Multi-Syllable Skills & Concepts for the Teacher

Many fourth, fifth and sixth grade students—and also middle school, high school, and college students—who can often read and spell shorter words, begin to falter at the multi-syllable level. As one student recently said, “If I have seen the word before and someone told me how to pronounce it, I can read it, but if I haven’t been told what the word sounds like, I have no way to figure it out on my own”.

By learning syllable types and morphology, your students’ ability to thoughtfully read and spell multi-syllable words will greatly expand, which is why the following lessons teach syllable types while exploring prefixes, suffixes, and root syllables in words of Anglo-Saxon, Latin, and Greek origin.

These morphology lessons can add spice and meaning to our instruction, along with lessons which teach the inflectional suffixes, the past tense orthographic pattern, and the plurals orthographic pattern. The derivational suffixes, which change the part of speech of the original word—like teach, a verb that becomes a noun with teacher; and comment, a noun or a verb that becomes commentator, a person who comments—can be taught by exploring ending syllables/morphemes.

English letters, spelling patterns, syllable patterns, roots, prefixes and suffixes all come from other languages, and the four main donors—Anglo-Saxon, Latin, Greek, and French—each has its own specific syllable and affixing patterns.

Steps to Teaching Multi-Syllable Words

Reading and spelling at the multi-syllable level is very different than the one-syllable level. Therearenewconceptsandproceduresthathavetobetaughtandpracticed. Theseconcepts and procedures will first be explained for you as a teacher and then incorporated into the lessons about syllable types and all of your lessons when students are reading and spelling multi-syllable words should include these concepts and procedures.

New vocabulary is also introduced at this level: syllable types and syllable boundaries, accented and unaccented syllables, schwa and morphemes.

Each of these concepts are explained in-depth in the following “Concept” section.

          1. Defining the structure of single and multi-syllable words

          2. Counting syllables
          3. Defining syllable boundaries
          4. Steps to dividing a word into syllables

          5. Determining accent and defining schwa

Lessons that explicitly teach all six syllable types and syllable boundaries for each syllable type follow these sections.

Finally, each of your multi-syllable lessons should include a variety of activities to help students process and integrate the ideas. These activities are similar to the activities that were done during the one-syllable level reading and spelling lessons.

  • Take an unknown word, label the vowel/consonant pattern within the word, define the category of vowel and syllable type within the word to “sound out” the word.

  • Phonemic awareness exercises at the multi-syllable level

  • Spelling words syllable by syllable

  • Fluency activities on the multi-syllable level

  • Reading connected text at the multi-syllable level

  • Writing assignments with multi-syllable words

  • Discussing the concept of morphemes or units of meaning in multi-syllable words

  • Anglo-Saxon prefixes, suffixes and compound words, Latin roots, prefixes and suffixes and Greek combining forms

  • Discussing how ending syllables in multi-syllable words signal the words grammatical category: nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, as well as tense and plural markers.

  • Common ending syllables are often unaccented and therefore their vowel sounds are muffled into a schwa sound.

  • Etymology – exploring the history, development and meaning of words throughout time