Teach your child to count the words in a sentence

Did you know that sentences are strings of words and that words can be counted?
Teach your child to count the words in a sentence. You’ll be surprised to discover that your child may think the word table is two words, and elephant is three. This is a common misunderstanding because children often mistake syllables for words.

Practice with monosyllabic words (words with just one syllable) and produce a sentence like “Tim eats.” Tell your child that this sentence has two words, and help him or her to become word conscious by counting the words and comparing the length of sentences. Use words of one syllable until your child learns to distinguish the difference between words and syllables. Say, “John is sad” and ask your child to count the words.

How many words are in the following sentences?

  1. Jim ran to the store.
  2. My mother is the best in the world!
  3. Do you have any questions?
  4. The cow jumped over the moon.
  5. The phone rang.

To reinforce the point, explore several more sentences in this way, and allow your child to count the words on his or her fingers, if necessary. Once your child has established that sentences are made of words, it’s time to introduce him or her to the idea that words themselves are made of smaller units of sound (speech) called syllables.

Unlike words, syllables are usually meaningless and many children will never have thought about them until now. Yet they will be able to hear them fairly easily. Say, “Words often have more than one part. Let’s clap our hands every time we say a word and count the claps.”

Start by saying the whole word and then help your child clap the syllables. After a while, you’ll find that your child will be able to do it alone. When he claps the syllables say, “Yes, two claps, that means two syllables in that word.” Start with words ending in closed syllables (syllables that end in consonants) like rabbit(rab-bit) or candle (can-dle), then move to other types of syllables like quickly (quick-ly), tiger (ti-ger), and dinosaur (di-no-saur). All of these words have only 2 syllables.

Vary between words of one, two or three syllables. It helps to say, “Elephant, one word, how many syllables?” so that your child learns to differentiate between words and syllables. It is important to keep in mind that accessing syllables is designed to help your child decode an unfamiliar word by separating it into syllabic parts, then being able to recombine those parts into the whole word.

How many syllables are in the following words?

  1. Com-put-er
  2. Straw-ber-ry
  3. An-gel
  4. Sky
  5. El-bow

It’s not necessary for the child to divide the word perfectly. Practice makes perfect![:]

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