Hearing and feeling the natural rhythm of a language is an important part of learning to speak and read fluently. The Spelling City website points out that “syllables play an important role in spoken English, in that they greatly influence the rhythm of the language, its poetic meter and its stress patterns. As the basic units of speech sounds, syllables are often considered the phonological building blocks of words.”
Because singing and music involve rhythm, they can be the ideal tools for helping children segment syllables and decode words. The authors of The Music and Literacy Connection write that music teachers “work with children at the syllable level from the very beginning. This may be the reason that some children enjoy music and singing from music texts even when they struggle with traditional reading activities that require decoding …” (2007)
Several musical activities can help children reach this all-important understanding of syllables. Children can start clapping rhythmic rhymes and and sounding out syllables even before they start reading – they’ll be that much further along in their understanding when the time comes to decode the words.
One of my favorite games involves getting children to tap the syllables of their names on a drum. This activity is popular for both musical and literacy education. Even children who don’t initially get the concept of syllables soon learn to tap their own names accurately and even to accent the syllables properly.
I play the syllable name game with children standing in a circle. I walk around the circle with my drum and sing to the tune of “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush.”
I’m glad we came to school today, school today, school today
I’m glad we came to school today. Can you tap your name?
If you’re not in school, you can always sing, “I’m glad that we can sing today … “
Reinforce the syllable segments by having all the children echo and clap each person’s name.
My “Hand-Clapping Rap” songs, with animals and food words, are another way to encourage syllable clapping. I’ve made cards for all the words with the text and a picture. The multisyllable words have each syllable underlined in a different color. These are available on my Songs for Teaching page and on my CD, Singing All the Way Home.
Lately, I’ve seated my kindergarten students in a circle and passed out the words in the order that they come up in the song. Each student ends up with three words, and I put the remaining ones on the floor in front of me. Before we start, I ask the students to put all of the one-syllable words on the floor in front of them, and to set the other words aside. They need their hands available for clapping. I do the same for each group of words.
A fun activity is to have kids sort the words by the number of syllables. You can also print out coloring pages of animals and have kids write the words and underline the syllables in different colors.
Still another song/chant that explores syllables is the Spanish “Cho-co-la-te” rhyme made popular by Dora the Explorer. We’ve been doing this one lately with rhythm sticks. You can find out more about that song on YouTube or at this site.
If you have other songs and musical activities that feature syllable clapping, I hope you’ll let me know.
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