Posts Tagged ‘transformers’

Syllable Transformers

Every teacher and parent has heard about transformers: the movies, the action characters, etc. If you’re a parent of a younger child, you know all about Bumblebee.

Since the dawn of the Transformers in 1984, the spunky little Autobot called Bumblebee has been a fan favorite. Why? He was the underdog. He was small, and he was one of the weaker Transformers, but his heart was huge and he showed great bravery on the battlefield. As a result, he was an admired and gentle friend not only to humans, but to his peers as well. And it didn’t hurt that his alternate mode was a cute little yellow Volkswagen Beetle. He now has at least six other transformations!

What if we could apply that same transformer concept to beginning reading and reading intervention? We can with Syllable Transformers.

FREE Unit on Syllable Transformers

Syllable Transformers

As a reading specialist working with struggling older readers in the 1990s, I had the pleasure of learning from the late Dr. John Sheffelbine from California State University at Sacramento. John was a self-described “phonicator” and created the BPST (Basic Phonics Skills Test) in its various iterations and the Scholastic Phonics Readers. One powerful set of lessons that John developed dealt with open and closed syllables. An open syllable is one which ends in a long vowel e.g. bay; a closed syllable ends in a consonant and the vowel is short e.g. bat.

John hypothesized that the best way to learn these open and closed syllable rules was to practice them together: to see how the vowel sound transforms from one syllable pattern to another. Additionally, because educators were transitioning from the whole language philosophy to a phonics-based approach, many students over-relied on sight words and syllables, rather than upon applying sound-symbol correspondences. The instructional implications were clear that practice in real syllable patterns would not solve the problem for these “look and say” syllable guessers. The answer was to use nonsense syllables. Brilliant!

I tried John’s “Syllable Transformations” and they worked wonders. However, I could see the power of expanding John’s idea to other syllable patterns. I also tweaked his approach to make the methodology a bit more “user-friendly” and “technologically-savvy” (I typed them up and displayed them on a machine we used to call the overhead projector.)

Years later I developed my own comprehensive reading intervention program (promo below), and I included Syllable Transformers as part of the weeks 9–13 instruction in both the half-year intensive and full-year program implementation. Teachers and students love this fast-paced whole-class response activity. I’m sending all of these lessons to your email inbox with the FREE download at the end of this article.

Week 9: Open and Closed Syllables

A vowel at the end of a syllable (CV) usually has a long vowel sound. This pattern is called an open syllable. The syllable following begins with a consonant. Example: below.

A vowel before a syllable-ending consonant (VC) is usually short. This pattern is called a closed syllable. The syllable following begins with a consonant. Example: bas-ket.

Weeks 10–11: Silent Final e Syllable Rule

The silent final e makes the vowel before a long sound, if only one consonant sound is between the two (VCe). For example, lately.

Weeks 12–13: Vowel Teams Syllable Rule

Usually keep vowel teams together in the same syllable. For example, beau-ty.

Syllable Worksheets and Derivative Worksheets: Following the Syllable Transformers, we continue learning the more complicated syllable patterns with real word blending.

Check out this quick video on how to teach Syllable Transformers: Syllable Transformers


Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive assessment-based reading intervention curriculum, the Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLEIdeal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program. Phonological awareness, phonics, syllabication, sight words, fluency (with 128 YouTube modeled readings), spelling, vocabulary and comprehension. The 54 accompanying guided reading phonics books each have comprehension questions, a focus sound-spelling pattern, controlled sight words, a 30-second word fluency, a running record, and cleverly illustrated cartoons by David Rickert to match each entertaining story. These resources provide the best reading intervention program at a price every teacher can afford.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Get the Vowel Transformers FREE Resource:

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How to Teach Syllabication: The Syllable Rules

FREE Unit on Syllable Transformers

Syllable Transformers

As beginning readers begin to recognize the connection between speech sounds and letters (phonemic awareness), use the alphabetic code to begin sounding out and blending letter sounds (phonics), and write down the letters to represent those sounds (spelling), they also begin to recognize certain patterns in single-syllable words.

Precocious Paula notices that some sounds are used more than others: long and short vowels more than consonants. In fact, Paula observes that the teacher always writes the letters representing these sounds in different colors than the consonants.  She also sees that the charts on the walls have these same colors. Bonus-year Bobby notices that every word that his teacher writes has at least one of those vowel spellings. Already-reading Alma may even ask why one vowel sound can have more than one spelling. Conforming Carl may be upset that you won’t let him sound out the teacher’s list of Outlaw Words (non-phonetic sight words).

In other words, through implicit or explicit instruction/practice, children will begin to develop recognition of syllable patterns. As more complex stories and advanced instruction layer in multi-syllabic words, most students identify these syllable patterns and apply this knowledge in their reading and writing. About 80% of students at the end of third grade can readily identify syllables and use this knowledge to guide their reading and writing (of course a higher percentage in some schools and a lower percentage in others).

Multi-syllabic decoding (phonics) and encoding (spelling) are the keys to the kingdoms of reading fluency and academic vocabulary. Reading multi-syllabic words is also a fundamental skill required for the new genres of reading that most students begin in 4th grade: their expository history and science texts.

The 80% require practice and refinement of skills to develop automaticity in reading and writing. The 20% require differentiated instruction: some on basic phonemic awareness, some on the decoding, some on the encoding, some on common sight words. Following is an instructional strategy that will scratch both the 80% and 20% itches. The scratch will provide permanent relief to the former, but only temporary relief to the latter; however, instructional strategies that accomplish both at the same time and certainly worth using.

Spelling Transformers Syllabication Strategy

Time: The Spelling Transformers whole-class activity takes only a few minutes of concentrated instruction, a few times per week, over a five-week period.

Who Benefits: The instructional activity is beneficial for remedial, grade-level, and accelerated readers and spellers ages seven and older.

Instructional Objectives: Students compare and contrast syllable patterns to read with automaticity by practicing syllable patterns in whole-class response..

Tactics: Rather than an inductive “Here are the rules-with examples-now apply them” approach, students practice many examples of each syllable pattern to achieve mastery of that pattern. The syllable patterns are taught, using nonsense syllables  because students ages seven and older have extensive sight word vocabularies, which can interfere with learning how changes in spelling affect pronunciation and syllabication.

Materials/Preparation: The Spelling Transformers activity is designed to use the display projector. This instructional component is from my own comprehensive reading intervention program (promo below). Teachers and students love this fast-paced whole-class response activity. Download the entire five-week activity at the end of this article.

Check out this quick video on how to teach Syllable Transformers: Syllable Transformers


The Teaching Reading Strategies (Reading Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight-adult. Ideal as both Tier II or III pull-out or push-in reading intervention for older struggling readers, special education students with auditory processing disorders, and ESL, ESOL, or ELL students. This full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides explicit and systematic whole-class instruction and assessment-based small group workshops to differentiate instruction. Both new and veteran reading teachers will appreciate the four training videos, minimal prep and correction, and user-friendly resources in this program, written by a teacher for teachers and their students.

The program provides 13 diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files). Teachers use assessment-based instruction to target the discrete concepts and skills each student needs to master according to the assessment data. Whole class and small group instruction includes the following: phonemic awareness activities, synthetic phonics blending and syllabication practice, phonics workshops with formative assessments, expository comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern assessments, reading strategies worksheets, 123 multi-level fluency passage videos recorded at three different reading speeds, writing skills worksheets, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards (includes print-ready and digital display versions) to play entertaining learning games.

In addition to these resources, the program features the popular Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable books (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each 8-page book introduces two sight words and reinforces the sound-spellings practiced in that day’s sound-by-sound spelling blending. Plus, each book has two great guided reading activities: a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns and 5 higher-level comprehension questions. Additionally, each book includes an easy-to-use running record if you choose to assess. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug. These take-home books are great for independent homework practice.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

FREE DOWNLOADS TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING RESOURCES: The SCRIP (Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict) Comprehension Strategies includes class posters, five lessons to introduce the strategies, and the SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks.




Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

Get the Vowel Transformers FREE Resource:

Get the Syllable Rules FREE Resource:

Get the Accent Rules FREE Resource:

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