Digraphs are a super fun way to learn about sounds and letters! They’re like best friends:two consonants that say one sound. Every digraph makes one unique sound, so it can be exciting for students in kindergarten through second grade to explore. In this blog post we’ll look at some examples of these dynamic duos. Keep reading to the end of the blog for a free digraphs chart and orthographic mapping templates for your classroom.
What is a digraph?
It is important children learn to read words with digraphs early in their phonics instruction! After teaching CVC words digraphs are some of the first sounds that should be taught. These two consonant combinations can either be consonant or vowel digraphs. They consist of two letters put together and represent a single distinct sound–So remind students that a digraph is a 2 letter combination that makes an individual sound.
Consonants are made with the closure of the vocal tract, like ‘sh’, while vowels usually make sounds with little obstruction from air passing through, such as in ‘ay’. Many teachers use the term digraph for just consonant pairs and cover vowel team letter pairs(like ai) separately. I teach vowel digraphs homogeneous digraphs like <ee>and heterogeneous digraphs like <ai> as vowel teams and cover them later in phonics in instruction. Get ready to delve into ways to teach children some wordplay.
Teaching Phonics-Can you recognize different consonant digraphs?
Can you recognize which one of these words has a digraph?
Two words above contain blends and one contains a digraph. In the above example, “sh” in the word ship creates one single phoneme. The letters “s” and “h” have two separate sounds, but used together they represent the new sound /sh/.
But in the words ‘flat and ‘scrap’ The first 2 letters in the word ‘flat’,<fl>is a blend but each letter keeps its own sound. In the word ‘scrap’ there are three letters in the blend <scr> and all the letters say their own sounds. Teach common blends after teaching digraph phonics concepts. Make sure students have enough practice with digraphs before you teach blends.
Teaching consonant digraphs
Ready for a crash course in consonant digraphs? Here’s your go-to guide of the most commonly taught letter combinations. Get ready to become an expert on these super useful sounds!
Digraph SH can be found at the beginning of a word like in ‘ship’ and at the end of a word like in ‘rash’. SH is generally the easiest digraph to teach in phonics instruction so it is usually the consonant digraph I teach first. After students have an opportunity to read words with SH then encourage children to write and spell words with SH.
Make it Multi-sensory with consonant digraphs
Use Elokin boxes or an orthographic mapping template to write a new word. Have the segment the words into sounds and then have them say the letter names as they are spelling words.
Make sure that students put one sound (letter pair) per box not one letter per box. You can change up this multi-sensory activity by using magnetic letters as well. This boxing of phonemes helps students to be able to see the different details between digraphs and blend words or consonant clusters.
Digraph TH has 2 sounds
The digraph Th is usually the next one children learn in a phonics program. Did you know that the digraph ‘th’ can make different sounds without using a different digraph to represent the 2 phonemes? When heard aloud in words like ‘path’ and ‘moth’ they take on unvoiced consonant tones – meaning no vocal cords are engaged to create them.
On the other hand, when spoken as part of phrases such as this ‘this’ and ‘them’ the combination produces voiced consonants instead! This fun fact goes to show just how valuably flexible our letter combinations are for forming language!
Voiced vs. Unvoiced
Learning the difference between voiced and unvoiced consonant sounds can be easy to teach your students! With just a few simple steps: place your open hand against the front of your neck; say a word, then check to feel if there is any buzzing vibration.
If yes, you are getting an audible vibration from speaking – that’s likely to be indicated by ‘th’ being pronounced as “then.” In contrast, saying ‘moth’ results in no vibrations- indicating “th” should sound like “math!”
When I am teaching phonics skills I usually get students to practice with many words with of both voiced and unvoiced TH. I just ask students to listen and see if they can hear and feel the difference before I ask them to read example words with TH.
Speech and Language Difficulties and consonant digraphs
Students who struggle with speech and language issues often struggle with saying digraphs correctly so they can also read and spell the sounds incorrectly. Some students perceive the unvoiced<TH>and the letter <F> as saying the same sound. For example, a student may spell the word ‘math’ as ‘maf’.
It is useful to use hands-on activities like using a mirror and a picture sort to see if the student can hear and see the difference between a specific digraph<TH> and the sound of the single letter <F>. Make sure to do these listening exercises before asking struggling students to read and write words with sounds they struggle with.
The consonant digraph “wh” has an interesting history in phonics. In older versions of the English language, it was pronounced somewhat differently with a sound almost like “hw”. However, this pronunciation is no longer used today; instead many dialects of English simply pronounce it as /w/ – making the ‘h’ silent.
<WH> is not found in many decodable words so when I teach digraphs I don’t focus much attention on this letter combination but I do point out that it is found in most question words like ‘what’, ‘where,’ ‘when,’ and ‘why.’ Knowing this will help students with spelling these words.
Consonant digraph ch can be used at the beginning of words. Examples of <ch> at the beginning could ‘chat’ or ‘chin’ be but CH is generally only found word finally after a consonant sound or a long vowel sound. Examples would be ‘bench’ or with long vowels in ‘peach’ and ‘speech‘ The trigraph <tch> is generally only found word finally right after a short vowel. Examples would be: ‘catch’ or ‘pitch’ But there are some exception words examples such as ‘such’,’much’ and ‘rich’.
This spelling rule for English words is not taught to students early on during a structured literacy lesson on consonant digraphs but it can be taught more in-depth later when students need to orthographically map and spell these more complex words.
In the classroom setting, many teachers differ on how to approach introducing “qu” for new learners. Is it a blend? A digraph? Something entirely different? Technically QU has two sounds, /k/ and /w/ rather than a single sound. I teach <qu> as a buddy team along with other digraphs. It helps students in the early years as a sign of how to be able to differentiate between <p> and <q> as they search for these letters in words.
Introducing “ck” to Kindergartners can be tricky since it’s not a unique sound like others in the digraph family – but worth teaching nonetheless. Combining two letters may seem simple, yet learning that the consonants “ck” are used at the end of syllables or words with one short vowel takes time and practice for young learners. It might take until 1st-2nd grade for students to master spelling with this challenging combo!
Once students have a solid foundation in the common consonant digraphs then we can teach the “glued sounds” such as ing, ang and ung. These chunks are commonly taught separately from other digraphs at an early stage before exploring vowel teams later on. It’s worth noting children may encounter examples of ‘ph’ within books earlier than expected. However, it is not usually covered until upper elementary school curriculums come into play.
Teaching digraphs through games
My No-Prep Phonics Games make your phonics program fun and easy! From Kindergarten to 2nd Grade, these engaging activities focus on digraphs — perfect for teachers looking for independent or cooperative educational experiences.
Teaching digraphs through Decodable Passages
With decodable texts, your kids can show off their skills with different digraphs! By reading words within familiar contexts, they’ll be able to boost their confidence and help make learning fun.
Teaching digraphs through Orthographic Mapping
No phonics program is complete without developing phonemic awareness skills as well as segmenting and writing words focusing on sounds one sound per box.
If you need some free teaching resources below is a free digraph chart and orthographic mapping activities that are free to download. Have fun teaching digraphs with your students!
If you need more information on how to teach the most common blends please check my other blog post on digraphs and blends.
Decodable Mini Books
Download the Orthographic Mapping Sheets and Digraph Anchor Chart
Q: What is a digraph?
A: A digraph is 2 consonants or 2 vowels that say one unique sound. In most American classrooms we teach 2 consonants as digraphs and vowels as vowel teams.