Scaffolding the teaching of multisyllabic words – simple to complex
Many teachers are focused on teaching kids how to sound out graphemes (spellings) and to blend sounds together into words. They will even be teaching kids how to manipulate phonemes in phonemic awareness activities. These are all essential underlying skills necessary for learning to read. These activities are based on one syllable words and we often assume that kids can transfer these skills to longer words, but this is not the case.
Multisyllabic words put a greater strain on working memory, therefore, we need to teach kids how to read and spell them explicitly. If we think of working memory as a post-it note that must be secured in long-term memory, we can see the need for explicit instruction and plenty of practice. The reader must be able to move quickly from sounding out each sound in the syllable to recognizing the syllable at speed and blending it with the other syllables in the word. If the pupil is stuck on sounding out each sound within each syllable, working memory will not be able to hold on to all this information.
From simple to complex: which words to start with?
In the same way that there is a scaffolding of teaching phonics for one syllable words, there is also a scaffolding for teaching multisyllabic words. A good place to start is 2-syllable CVC/CVC compound words. In these words each syllable has meaning, e.g. ‘lap-top’. Compound words help beginner readers recognize where syllables end. The student can then progress to syllables that don’t have meaning on their own. e.g. ‘cos-mic’. Once the student has some practice, he/she will not expect syllables to have meaning until the whole word is read. We have created some free resources for teachers that offer a sequence of teaching from simple syllable structured to the more complex ones.
What is the hierarchy of difficulty of multisyllabic words?
1. Words with CVC syllables
Start with CVC/CVC compound words (lap-top) and words that are not compound words (cac-tus). See the list below.
2. Words with CVCC syllables
Next is a list of words that have at least one syllable with CVCC structure. Note the the highlighted syllable has the CVCC syllable in the word.
3. Words with CCVC syllables
Here is our list for words that have at least one syllable with CCVC structure. Here the highlighted syllable has the CCVC structure.
4. Words with CCVCC syllables. Here the highlighted syllable has CCVC or CCCVC structure.
To download these FREE word lists and words with 3, 4 and 5 syllables go to:
For teachers wanting to introduce multisyllabic words to their students, our Dandelion Launchers Series, Stages 16-20 are a great introduction for beginner readers to two syllable words within a simple sentence structure.
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