• Katelyn Robey

Syllable Stoplights

Updated: Jun 10

Phonemic Awareness is so important, even (and especially) after the early childhood years! Finding worthwhile activities that are truly phonemic awareness activities for the older bunch of kids can be tough, though. I’ve come up with a solution to solve some of that issue, and so far my older students have loved it: syllable stoplights.


In order to call something a phonemic awareness activity, there should be ZERO letters (or graphemes if you’d like to be fancy) visible. P.A. is strictly listening and speaking about sounds. Using some sort of manipulative not only helps students keep track of and “see” the sounds not only makes the learning more concrete, but also adds another way for the brain to remember and learn from the activities. This is what multisensory instruction is all about – using multiple sensory inputs for the brain to make even more connections, allowing students to retain and, more importantly, retrieve information.

I recently started going into some 4th grade classrooms to do quick (10-15 minute) whole-group lessons on phonemic awareness and phonics. As I was thinking about a way to make these activities effective, but also motivating for the big kids I came up with this syllable stoplight activity.


To make syllable stoplights, I gave each student a strip of paper (about an inch or two thick). Then, they cut the paper into 5-6 sections. For this activity, perfectly divided sections is not important. If the kiddos needed some help figuring out a way to make sure they got the right number of sections, I instructed them to mark off sections about the same length as 3-4 fingers.


Once the sections are cut out, students made 3 dots on each section: first green, then yellow, and last red — now you know where the name came from.

The students enjoyed creating their own. They took a bit of ownership over their creations, but I think they just enjoyed the quick break from more traditional “academics” to make something. And lets remember, following directions is part of the learning process as well, even for older kids!


I do know time is tight for most teachers, so here is a free printable version of the syllable stoplights. One page is in color, one in black and white for coloring if you’re someone who likes uniformity in the things their students use (this is typically me, so I get it), and another page with numbers 1, 2, 3 rather than colored dots for those who need a B&W option with no time for coloring. A free printable for everyone!


Alright, now for the important stuff: how these syllable stoplights are used!


I’ve used them two ways so far: first, for simply segmenting syllables and second, to then break up sounds within each syllable. There are certainly more options for using syllable stoplights. Get creative with them! I’ll post on more activities for using them after I test some of my ideas out with the kiddos, but I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments as well! 🙂


Syllabication – segmenting syllables. This is the simple activity. Students line their stoplights up at the bottom of their working space, listen for a word, and slide each syllable stoplight up as they state each syllable in the word. For example, if the word opposite is given, students would push 3 syllable stoplights forward by the end of the word. It would look like this:

Syllabication, then Sounds. Once students get good at using these syllable stoplights for syllabication, or breaking words into syllables, add on to the activity, breaking each syllable into sounds.


This is where the colored dots come into play. The way I have learned and taught a syllables’ sounds is that there are 3 sounds MAX in a syllable. There can be just 1 sound, or 2 sounds, but there are never more than 3 sounds. Remember, I’m talking sounds not letters. In order for that to work, I do keep blends together as 1 sound. I have found that this method keeps kids from adding extra sounds (most often vowels, y’s, or w’s) into syllables as they try to separate blended consonants. Plus, it just simplifies the syllables a bit more, making life easier on everyone in my opinion, especially those students that struggle to manage a lot of sounds at a time.


So here’s the process I’ve used and found success with: pound and tap.


After segmenting each syllable as described above, have students name each separate syllable, “pounding” their fist on the syllable stoplight. Then, segment each sound in that syllable while tapping a finger on a colored dot for each sound in that syllable, starting with the green dot first, moving left to right. For example, using the word opposite again, after pushing each syllable stoplight forward students would then go back to the first syllable, op. While pounding their fist, students say “op”. Then, students start with a finger on the green dot and say /o/ followed by a second finger on the yellow dot while they say /p/. Then students repeat the full syllable and pound again, “op”. Move through each syllable in the word, pounding and tapping the sounds in each.

It does seem a bit daunting when typing the process out into steps, but it does move quickly once students understand how to do this.


My 4th and 5th grade students have had so much fun with these:

  1. The first couple times I went into classrooms, I used this activity with students’ names and they LOVED it! A simple and fun way to learn student names while still doing important learning!

  2. Put the learning into students’ hands, and keep planning to a minimum — allow students to come up with the tricky words to break up (within reason – supercalifradialisticexpialidocious is not allowed). Giving them the ownership of coming up with words also motivates them to engage. The students I work with have their syllable stoplights lined up and ready to go when I walk into classrooms, eager to get started and share the tricky word they thought up.

In another post, I’ll explain how easily this phonemic awareness activity can be used in writing, but before that can happen students MUST be able to hear the syllables within words, and then hear the sounds within those syllables. This is why phonemic awareness is so important for students!


Please let me know how this worked for you, how you adjusted it for your group, or any questions you have in the comments below!

Enjoy! My students love this, and I hope yours do too!


#readingstrategy #phonologicalawareness #syllabication #reading #phonemicawareness #teaching #syllable #segmenting #blending

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