Syllabication with claves

About a month ago, Marcia Daft came to our school to do a training on Reading and Writing fluency. She taught us MANY wonderful things but the one I have used the most is the syllabication activity. If you don't have a set of claves, go to your school's friendly music teacher and borrow some or purchase some from your local music store.

This activity uses music to teach students how to break words into syllables. Instead of having students always clap the syllables they hear, you teach the students to play different syllabled words in different places on their bodies.

To introduce the activity, do this with each students name. Demonstrate with each child's name how it sounds with the claves. If the child's name is one syllable, just tap the clave one time and say the name. John. Just go around the room saying students names and playing them to the claves so they get a sense of how many taps for each name.

Some two syllable words are played differently on the claves. For example, balloon and flower are both two syllable words, but balloon has a stress on the end of the word so it is played almost more quickly than flower. You may want to practice seeing if students can tell the difference as you play them on the claves.

Next, choose about three volunteers with 2 and 3 syllable names. I try to pick two students with two syllable names (one with stress and one without) and a student with a 3 syllable name. Example-Ginger, Colleen, Daniella) Colleen has a stress on the end of the name so it is played differently on the claves. It really takes a strong ear to hear it and not all of your students will get it the first couple of times. After you have chosen your three names, play them on the claves without saying the name and see if students can point to the volunteer you chose. Continue until you think students understand.

The next part of the activity is to have students actually play the names on their bodies. Each word goes in a different place on their body based on how many syllables it has. Students play a one syllable word with two hands in between their legs. John. (Students tap the floor or chair between their legs as they say the name). A two syllable name, Ginger, would be played alternating hands on each thigh. For example, I would play Gin- on my right thigh and -ger on my left thigh. Put it together as you would say the name, Gin-ger.

A three syllable word or name is clapped in front of you. Dan-iell-a. A four syllable word goes on alternating shoulders as they say the name. E-liz-a-beth. Each syllable must be said at the time they play that part of the word. Five syllables, you alternate tapping your hands on your head and 6 syllables are alternated with your hands in the air above your head.

It is essential to make sure that you alternate your hand motions for each new syllable in a word so the students can distinguish between them.

Now, how does this apply to reading!? Well, I started using this activity to introduce words that my kids had trouble reading in the content areas. I choose a couple words for each syllable. I read the word. Igneous. I ask students to play the word where they think it goes. They may make a mistake but they all eventually end up doing the right thing. Sedimentary. They would alternate tapping their head with their hands.

You will notice that some students will draw out the word really slowly as they are trying to figure out how many syllabes, but once they know, they shouldn't do that anymore. You have to have a conversation about how that's now how we talk. We don't say iiiig-neeee-ooouuusss. They have to play the word like they would hear it in conversation or read it out of a book. After you have them play the words where they go, take your claves and play a word without saying the word. See if students can guess which word or words could fit with what you played on the claves. If I want to play pla-teau, I will tap my claves two times on the exact syllables. Vall-ey is a two syllabled word but it sounds different on the claves because there is no stress on the word. See if students can hear the word with their "inner voice."

They love this! They think the inner voice is something majestic and amazing even though they hear it all day every day as they are thinking. Until you bring it to their attention, they never even realize it's there! It is really funny to watch.

With all that being said, this activity has been amazing to introduce new vocabulary words at the beginning of units. At the start of this year, I was finding that we would talk about all these words in class and then when we got to reading them in the book, they didn't know what they were because some of them were such large words. Now, when my students see the word metamorphic or sedimentary, they know what it says. =)

Thank you, Marcia Daft!

If you would like any information on having Marcia come to your school, please visit

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