Understanding the Six Syllable Types - R-Controlled Syllables

Understanding the Six Syllable Types - R-Controlled Syllables.png

R Controlled Syllables

Anytime the letter R follows a vowel, that is an R-Controlled syllable. We often refer to this as The Bossy R.

What is an R-Controlled (Bossy R) Syllable?

In an R-Controlled Syllable, the vowel is neither long nor short; it is controlled by the letter R and the /r/ sound.

The vowel before the R does not make its regular long or short sound, so we say it is being bossed or controlled by the R. Some of these R-Controlled vowels can make the same sound. For example, the sound of /er/ can also be represented as “er, ir, ur.” Unfortunately, there isn’t a concrete rule for how to know which spelling to use and this is where teaching students what is most common and least common is important.

The most common spelling for /er/ is er.

The second most common spelling for /er/ is ur.

The least common spelling for /er/ is ir.

Knowing which spelling is the most or least common helps students when they are experimenting with spelling or encoding new words.

Now the tricky part with some R-Controlled vowels is that some may have a schwa sound. Words with “or” like in doctor can have the \er\ sound. Words with “ar” can have a long sound like marry or schwa like dollar.

We want students to recognize the R-Controlled syllable when they read and with so many variations with this bossy letter, we provide a lot of systematic practice.

How do I teach R-Controlled Syllables?

As with all our work, we guide students to rely on syllable marking to help them recognize patterns and bringing their attention to letters, sounds, and syllable types. Repeated practice with this helps cement the strategy and this becomes a useful safety net for students when they approach an unknown word in a text or if they want to spell an unfamiliar word in their own writing. Marking syllables becomes such a habit that students will begin to see words in this way which will give them the ability to break down multi-syllabic words that would have otherwise been very difficult for them to read.

We mark the R-controlled syllable words by boxing in the vowel and the R. You can also highlight or underline - just make sure that you are consistent with which strategy you are introducing. Below is an image of how we mark R-controlled syllables with our students


As I mentioned, our progress through the R-Controlled syllable type is systematic and responsive to the student’s needs. We look for evidence of mastery before moving onto the next phonogram within the Bossy R family. As with all of our syllable types, we practice the R-Controlled syllable type in a variety of multi-sensory ways that moves students from the word to the phrase level and culminates with developing fluency at the sentence level using sentences or passages that present words with R-controlled syllables.

If you are looking for activities to support your Bossy R instruction, check out our “Bossy R Word Work” on Teachers Pay Teachers (video below).

You can find more information on the other syllable types here:

Corey Pollard