Simplified Syllabification for Decoding

posted in: Reading | 0

Traditionally, syllabification is taught in the context of spelling.  However, there is growing evidence that teaching syllabification strategies can be a useful tool for helping students decode unfamiliar words.

In 2009, Jennifer Diliberto and colleagues published the results of their research on the benefits of teaching students syllabification skills using nonsense words.  They randomly placed 83 middle-school students with reading difficulties into either a control group or a treatment group.  The treatment group received instructions in syllabification patterns, syllabication steps and rules, and accenting patterns. Students practiced these skills by decoding and encoding nonsense and low-frequency mono- and multisyllabic words.  The theory behind using nonsense words during instruction was that it forces readers to rely on English spelling generalizations, rather than memorization, to read the words.

Those students in the treatment group made statistically significant greater improvements in (a) word identification, (b) word attack, and (c) reading comprehension.

Unfortunately, in English you often need to know how to pronounce a word in order to syllabify it correctly, which is not particularly useful if you are trying to decode a word you can’t automatically read.  Consequently, I teach my students a simplified strategy for syllabifying words.  Due to the complexity of English, applying this strategy will not necessarily provide the correct pronunciation of every word.  However, as long as the word is in the student’s oral vocabulary most students are able to quickly ‘tweak’ the word and pronounce it correctly.

This video provides a step-by-step guide of the simplified syllabification strategy.


Jennifer A Diliberto, J.,  Beattie, J., Flowers, C., & Algozzine, R. (2009). Effects of Teaching Syllable Skills Instruction on Reading Achievement in Struggling Middle School Readers. Literacy Research and Instruction, 48 (1) 14-28