Digraphs, diphthongs, blends, vowel teams. Sometimes it’s hard to get a handle on all this phonics lingo! Not to mention that some of the terms are so similar, it’s easy to get them mixed up. And since there’s a scope and sequence as to when and in what order to teach them, let’s start with what comes next after your students have mastered CVC words: digraphs.
Simply put, digraphs are when two letters work together and make just one sound. Letter pairs such as ch, th, wh, and sh, to name a few. Unlike vowel teams, digraphs can be made up of vowels or consonants.
What’s the big deal with digraphs and why are they important? Well, first, there are hundreds of words in the English language that contain digraphs. Children come into contact with digraphs so often that early studying of them is key.
But other than them being popular, why else should students learn digraphs early on in their reading journey? Because when you’re teaching digraphs, although your students know their letter sounds, digraphs are sounded out differently. For example, when a child sees the letters th, he or she may sound the letters out like “/t/ – /h/.”
But when we study digraphs, it’s important for students to know that a th together actually makes a /th/ sound. The earlier we can teach our students the sounds each digraph pair makes, the quicker they will learn to say the two letters together as one sound.
Simple Digraph Activities
Okay, so all this sounds great, but how do we introduce digraphs and what are some simple word work activities we can do to practice? Glad you asked! Below are some simple and quick activities that will make your students masters of digraphs in no time!
Before students begin learning their sounds, they must be familiar with what a digraph is and what it actually looks like. Begin by writing on the board or putting up a poster of some common digraphs (th, sh, wh, qu, ch, and ck are good starters). Have students simply just write words that contain those digraphs underneath each one on the board.
Or rather, you can print out pictures containing those digraphs and allow the students to sort the pictures underneath each digraph heading. For example, a picture of a duck with the word “duck” under it. For this specific activity, there’s no need to review the sound each digraph makes yet. To start, the goal is for the students to just simply recognize digraphs in words they are familiar with seeing (the, she, what, chase, duck, etc.) They don’t even necessarily have to be able to read the words – this activity is merely to show that digraphs simply exist, and that they aren’t strangers!
Teacher hack: digraph sort activities make a great literacy center!
One of the most basic and important ways you can introduce digraphs and how their sounds work is by a phoneme grid. The purpose of this activity is to show students that digraphs have two letters, but they make one sound. In a small group, give a phoneme grid to each student as well as some mini erasers. Make a list of words containing the digraphs you reviewed in the digraph sort activity. To start, you will simply just say each word. As you say each word, students then split up the word into sounds and place an eraser (or other manipulative) in each box as they say the sound.
For example, you might start with the word “duck.” After you say “duck”, students will repeat back, “Duck. /d/ /u/ /k/.” Students will move an eraser into the box for each sound they hear. In doing this, students will realize that the /k/ sound in duck is actually two letters together: -ck. Repeat this sounds activity with various digraph words that they are already familiar with. This will help them understand the idea of “two letters – one sound.”
If you have a particularly crafty class, try some digraph flowers! Simply cut out green stems from construction paper, as well as a yellow circle center and some flower leaves. Write a digraph pair inside each yellow flower and have students write words containing that digraph on the flower petals.
For example, the digraph -ch would be written inside the yellow flower center. Then, students would write one word on each flower petal such as lunch, chase, church, etc. Students glue the digraph petals onto the appropriate yellow center and – voila! – you have beautiful digraph flowers to hang in your room.
Bonus? Students can reference these flowers as they read and write digraphs throughout the year.
Digraph Reading Intervention Mats
If you’re looking for an ultimate go-to digraph activity, well, I’ve got one for you! My Digraph Reading Intervention Mats are the perfect way to practice those digraphs. And the best part? They take almost no prep – simply print and enjoy!
This resource helps early and emergent readers develop their early literacy skills and has a special focus on digraphs specifically. Each mat focuses on phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. That’s a lot of reading strategies in one little mat.
First, teachers will say the sounds in the word as students place an eraser in each of the boxes. Then, they’ll practice phonics skills as they read the digraph word. Fluency in isolation is practiced by saying each word in the sentence, then stringing them together. Students will then sharpen their vocabulary as they write the word representing the picture. Finally, students brush up on their comprehension as they answer a question about the sentence.
As students decode each sentence, it’s also giving them reading confidence and boosting their self-esteem as they make their way through the mats. They’re a fun and easy way to get the hang of digraphs!
Included in this pack are 52 Reading Intervention Mats with a focus on digraphs sh, th, ch, wh-, qu- and -ck. Each digraph has multiple mats for lots of practice. Teachers, reading specialists, classroom assistants, tutors, ELS teachers, and parents alike can use them in small or large group settings. They also serve as great take-home work, too! If you’re wanting to use them as a literacy center, simply laminate the mats for repeated use.
And, if you’re looking to cover a variety of phonics patterns, grab the Reading Intervention GROWING Bundle! These Reading Intervention Mats all follow the same format so they’re easy for you to implement and easy for the students to learn.
With these mats and digraph activities, you can consider yourself (and your little readers) covered!