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Teaching CVC Words (closed syllable words)

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While many of us may remember sight words and the endless hours of memorization, there’s another way these days. Closed syllable words offer an easier, less frustrating way for young learners to conquer common sounds and strengthen reading readiness skills.

Now, I’ll be honest – we still do sight words sometimes, but not with the intensity today that I remember having with my older kids when they were learning. Instead, we’ve leaned into the science of reading (or Orton-Gillingham Approach) approach with our younger kids and it’s been great!

Orton–Gillingham places a strong emphasis on teaching rules and patterns in a systematic way, so that students understand the hows and whys behind reading. This helps children to apply that knowledge to decoding (reading) and encoding (writing) new words that follow those same rules.

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The logical and systematic approach is so beneficial! With this approach, we start our kids off learning closed syllable words, not sight words.

These words play a crucial role in setting the stage for your child’s reading and writing skills. But what exactly are they and why are they so important?

We’ll walk you through the benefits of teaching closed syllable (aka CVC) words and share helpful tips and techniques for working with your child.

mom helping her son read while sitting outside

What Are Closed Syllable Words?

Closed syllable words are the fundamental building blocks in early literacy development and the very first pattern taught in the science of reading. They are also known as CVC words.

CVC, or consonant-vowel-consonant, refers to words that have a simple three-letter structure.

Examples include words like cat, dog, and pig, and are significant in early literacy because they are often the first words that young children learn to sound out, read, and write independently.

Is My Child Ready To Learn Closed Syllable Words?

To know if your child is ready to learn closed CVC words, answer one question:
Does your child know the difference between a consonant and a vowel?

You’re going to use these words to introduce the concept of syllables, so they need to understand them.

Now, don’t stress this at all – they concept of a syllable may be hard to grasp at first, but they don’t have to fully understand it. The goal is familiarity.

A closed syllable is when a vowel is closed in by one or more consonants at the end of the word. When the vowel is closed in, it can only make its short sound.

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Closed syllables follow the pattern C-V-C (consonant – vowel – consonant).

Please note: every child learns at their own pace. This isn’t a sprint or even a marathon. It’s just a stage in reading development. Repetition and consistency in practicing will be your friend.

While one child may pick this up right away, another may wrestle with it for months. That’s okay – each child is UNIQUE.

Why is Teaching CVC Words Important in Early Literacy?

Watching your child learn to read is incredibly rewarding.

By introducing CVC words, children learn to focus on blending the sounds of individual letters together to form words. They also begin to understand what a syllable is.

As children gain confidence in sounding out CVC words, they also begin to recognize patterns in spelling and pronunciation. These skills help them build a strong foundation to acquire the basic skills necessary for reading and writing success.

Early exposure to CVC words can have a lasting impact on your child’s literacy journey and pave the way for future language development. CVC words have proven to be vital in early literacy education for their role in teaching phonics, building vocabulary, understanding sentence structure, and helping a child confidently and fluently read.

1. Teaching Phonics

CVC words introduce children to the world of phonics. By breaking down words into individual sounds and letters, children develop phonemic awareness.

Research has shown that children who are better CVC word decoders are also better letter-sound readers (Wolf 2014). Additionally, they are also the faster letter-sound readers (Biemiller 1977–1978).

2. Building Vocabulary and Developing Sentence Structure

Young children can use CVC words as a jumping off point for building their vocabulary and sentence structure, too.

As they begin to grasp the concept of closed syllable words, they strengthen their comprehension skills while learning to properly combine these simple words to form more complex sentences.

3. Fostering Reading Fluency

Teaching CVC words serves as a stepping stone to reading fluency. Often found in beginner-level texts, these words are vital in building a strong foundation in early literacy.

As children master the skill of blending letter sounds to form words, they can progress to more challenging words and simple sentences. As they progress, they will also learn to develop their writing skills and become more proficient at spelling and constructing sentences.

Teaching CVC Words

Ready to dive in and learn the best tips and techniques for teaching CVC words to your young reader? Don’t worry – once your child is identifying letters and the sound each letter makes (aka phonemic awareness), introducing CVC words is a natural next step to reading!

It’s all about blending sounds (or phonemes). My kids like to say they are “smushing” the sounds together.

Choose a CVC word, like pit, and begin by having your child make the sounds of each letter individually. Once they make the sounds /p/i/t/, encourage them to blend those three sounds together until they form the word pit.

mom sitting on bean bag with son teaching him to read

Here’s an example of how your first lesson might go:

Mom: Is “i” a vowel or a consonant? Can you write the letter that says “i”?
(let them write in on a white board, with their finger in sand or shaving cream, or on paper)

Young Reader: writes the letter and tells you that “i” is a vowel and says /i/

Mom: the T is what makes that i say /i/. That’s a closed syllable. Can you read this word? /p/ /i/ /t/ — PIT

Additional activity: once they read the word, then have them write it. In another color, have them write “c” under the consonants and “v” under the vowel in the word. This is a great way to enforce what they are learning.

Word Families

Word families are a logical and easy starting point when introducing CVC words.

Since word families rhyme and share the same ending, your child can experiment with the first letter, swapping it out to create new words. With only a new beginning sound to focus on, blending becomes easier with practice.

For example, once your child knows that “a” and “t” together say /at/ they can add an “h” in front for /h/a/t/ (hat) and a “c” in front for /c/a/t/ (hat).

Using printable activities that allow them to see, touch, and play with this is even better than just having them practice reading it. And putting them together in word families makes for faster recognition of the blended sounds (phonemes).

Building Reading Fluency Through Repetition

Like all skills, practice makes perfect.

The more you immerse your child in CVC words, the easier blending becomes. Incorporate them in your daily routine, whether you set aside a designated time each day or you’re reading a book together on the couch.

Also, don’t forget to play rhyming games – while you’re in the car, going for a walk, or just hanging out at home.

Seek out or create opportunities to practice sounding out letters and blending them into words. Flashcards are ideal for strengthening reading fluency, as they’re inexpensive and easy to have handy wherever you go.

three kids happily reading a book

Helpful Strategies for Teaching CVC Words  

Hands-on opportunities are an incredible way for children to learn and commit things to memory.

Worksheets have their place in education, but we’ve learned over the years how much better kids learn when they enjoy what they are doing! That’s why we prefer printable activities and hands-on play when we teach in our homeschool.

So what does this look like for teaching closed syllable words?

We’re all about the fun and games with closed syllable words (and just about everything else). Here’s our favorite resource for these activities.

You can also pull out a tub of manipulatives (such as those plastic magnet letters most of us have) and encourage them to switch and swap those letters, sounding out each word they build.

Remember those flashcards we’ve mentioned? Try color-coding word families for your visual learners! Create cards with the ending phoneme in blue (the ending vowel-consonant, such as -at or -it), while the beginning consonant is in red, no matter which letter it changes to.

Playful Practice

Is it ok to make up CVC words? Absolutely! In fact, it’s part of keeping the learning process fun. Remember, the goal is for your child to blend the sounds to form a word, whether it’s nonsense or not.

You can even turn it into a game, asking them if they just formed a real or silly word.

Incorporate Tools

Beyond the reliable flashcards, there are a variety of tools you can incorporate that will make the experience easy and fun. Experiment and find out which tools are most helpful for your child. A few tools include:

  • Magnetic Letters
  • Scrabble tiles
  • Games on the ipad
  • Whiteboard or chalkboard writing
  • Printables

As your child’s skills progress and they become fluent with CVC words, they’ll be on their way to simple sentences! Until then, continue to practice with your child to help build confidence and a deeper love of reading.

Next Steps

Now that they’ve mastered the basic closed word, you can have a little fun and get them even more excited about what’s coming and build their reading confidence.

Try writing two CVC words next to each other that when combined will make a two syllable word. For example “bit” and “ten” for “bitten” or “nap” and “kin” for “napkin.”

You can do nonsense words as well as ‘real’ ones, just to get them used to flexing that mental muscle.

Now that they are confident with the closed syllable pattern of CVC, it will soon be time to introduce them to CVCe words (aka the “Magic E” syllables) and eventually into other syllable patterns.

This approach to reading is systematic and helps the child understand HOW to read, not just recognize words.

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