Have you ever heard someone say a strange word that makes you turn your head and go, “Say, what!?” Well, that’s a little bit of what it’s like when you first hear the term “diphthong.” And despite their head-turning name, they are an essential piece of the reading puzzle. Let’s explore all they have to offer.
When you think of the term “diphthongs”, the word sound should come to mind because that’s what these guys are all about. Diphthongs make special two vowel sounds. They begin as one vowel sound and slowly glide into another. In fact, diphthongs are sometimes called gliding vowels because you glide from one vowel sound to the next. Diphthongs can be found at the beginning, middle, or end of words.
Now, diphthongs are not to be confused with digraphs (although they usually are because they sound so similar and the difference is subtle!) The important difference to note is that digraphs focus on the two letters making one sound (ch, sh, wh, etc.), while diphthongs focus on two letters making two gliding sounds (oy, aw, ow, etc.) Check out this list of common diphthongs:
au – cause, laundry, sauce, haunt
aw – paw, claw, pawn, fawn
ou – trout, count, loud, cloud
ow – howl, gown, allow, down
oi – boil, spoil, void, joint
oy – toy, boy, royal, enjoy
So many words contain diphthongs in our language, so learning them is important for reading and spelling. But even more so, learning when to use each one and choosing between the options is essential. And since students always have two choices that say the same sound, practicing them is important – and may take some time.
But never fear! I’m here to help guide you through this phonics journey, so I’ve compiled some activities that will help your students become well-acquainted with diphthongs and their spellings. Practice truly does make perfect with diphthongs, because the more familiar students can get with their sounds and spellings, the more likely they are to correctly read and spell words that contain them.
Take note: when learning diphthongs, it’s best to learn them in pairs and then move on to the next sound pair. For example, start with learning au and aw together and then move on to ou and ow, and so on. This will make them a bit easier to digest. Okay – let’s get started!
1. On the Hunt
Start out simple and have kids go on a diphthong “hunt” with a decodable reader.
How to Play:
- Pass out some decodable readers to students.
- Tell them that you’re going to focus on one pair of diphthongs (example: au and aw) and explain that both of these pairs say the /aw/ sound.
- Hand out highlighters, highlighting tape (always a hit!), or crayons.
- Students then go through their decodable reader and simple highlight or circle all of the words that contain au and aw.
- When finished, have students write their findings on the board and go over the words as a class, emphasizing their /aw/ sound.
- This activity can be done with any diphthong pair you’d like, or even at the end of the unit for a review on all of them.
2. Fill in the Blank
Once your students have the sounds down, that’s the first step. But it’s choosing the right sound while spelling that can be particularly tricky. This game can help! It takes just a *bit* of prep, but worth the five minutes of effort.
How to Play:
- Let’s say you’re working on the ou and ow pair. Write down a list of words that contain both pairs. (Examples: mouse, house, loud, cow, plow, owl)
- With each word, spell it two ways (Example: mouse and mowse)
- Students go through each word pair and decide which spelling is correct.
- For an added challenge, you could leave a blank within the word and the students fill it in with the correct diphthong (Example: m__se)
- This is actually a great partner activity where students can think of words for their partner to fill in!
3. Partner Proofread – Any chance kids get to work with each other is a great opportunity for everyone to learn. This is particularly good at the end of learning diphthongs for an all-encompassing review.
How to Play:
- As a class, come up with a long list of all sorts of words containing diphthongs. This will serve as a guide for students as they write their stories.
- Students then write a story containing various diphthongs, but spelled incorrectly.
- For example, students will write “plou” instead of “plow.” (This will take a bit of thinking!).
- These stories can be one paragraph or many, depending on the level of your students.
- Students pair up and switch stories.
- Partners proofread their partner’s story and correct the misspelled diphthongs.
4. Magnetic Letters
These little gems never disappoint! This is a great hands-on activity to practice diphthongs (or really, any literacy skill).
How to Play:
- Grab some magnetic letters and marker boards for each student.
- Students form the diphthongs with the letters and form words around them.
- For example, a student might put the magnetic letters ou on their board and write the letters m and th on either side to spell the word mouth.
- Students continue to erase the letters and make new words containing the diphthong.
5. Diphthong Reading Intervention Mats
These mats are one of my biggest hits because they cover so much with so little prep! On each mat, students are honing in on their phonics and spelling skills, reading in isolation, practicing fluency, learning vocabulary, and working on comprehension. Yep – these mats cover all the components of literacy a child needs in order to become better readers.
How to Play:
- Grab my Diphthong Reading Intervention Mats and print off however many pages you’d like your students to have.
- Consider grabbing my Reading Intervention Mats Bundle for all of the phonics skills!
- Whole Group:
- Project one of these mats up on the board so the entire class can see.
- Work your way through the mats as a group, practicing fluency, reading in isolation, sound mapping, reading, and comprehension.
- Discuss any new vocabulary words that students might be unfamiliar with
- Small Group:
- Pass out a mat to each student
- As a group, work your way through the mats.
- Or rather, give students each their own individual mat based upon their needs and help them work through the mat together, guiding them along the way
- My Reading Intervention Mats Bundle is particularly useful for small groups so you can focus on a specific phonics skill, depending on student ability.
- Each student gets the same mat and partners can work through them together.
- Or rather, each pair gets a different mat that’s inside a pocket protector.
- Students complete their mat with their dry erase marker and then hand it off to their partner to either check their work or to simply erase and switch.
- Literacy Center:
- Place a stack of these mats in a small bin, along with some pocket protectors and dry erase markers.
- Students can go to this literacy center when they’re finished with their other work and choose which phonics skill to work on.
- Want More?
- These mats are perfect for classroom teachers, tutors, reading specialists, or parents looking to supplement their child’s learning at home.
- All 50 of these mats follow the same format for maximum learning that provides consistency for students.
- These mats can be used in a variety of settings and in a variety of different ways, making them work for you as they cater to the needs of your students.
- Read more about my Reading Intervention Mats!
When you need to teach your class a new skill, coming up with the activities can be half of the battle. As always, I want to fight that battle for you and provide you with top-notch ideas and resources. I love saving teachers time and providing tools that make readers out of their students. My hope is that these diphthongs activities are just one of the many ways I can help make your classroom a place where readers grow!