How to Teach Digraphs for Reading and Spelling Success

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Digraphs are two letters that make a third letter sound, when combined, such as ch or sh. Many sight vocabulary words use digraphs, which may provide a springboard for exploring these letter pairs when helping students learn to read new and unfamiliar vocabulary. 

When considering a spelling program and how to best help children learn the sounds of the English language, you will need to choose words that help them understand all of the 44 sounds.

Part of those 44 sounds include the 'digraphs'. It is also important to distinguish letter digraphs from letter blends, which are letters commonly paired whose individual sounds are created in concert, such as sl, pl, pr, sr, etc.  Often, children with disabilities have difficulty hearing and distinguishing letter blends, but consonant digraphs are easier, because even the voiced and unvoiced digraphs (th) are made in the same way, with tongue placement in the same place.

Often, students who have problems with identifying and/or hearing digraphs are also struggling with hearing (hard of hearing) or articulating (apraxia) the letter sound. Students with these difficulties should be referred to audiologists or speech language pathologists for assessment and/or services.

The consonant digraphs are: ch, sh, th, ng (final sound,) ph and wh.

Instructional Strategies for Teaching Common Words With Digraphs

Introducing the Sound

  • Use decodable books with consonant digraphs to introduce the sounds. 
  • Use picture cards (chew, chop, chin, etc.)  to introduce the sounds.
  • Use a double ch letter card with other letter cards to build words. Have students build the same words with an individual pocket chart.

Practicing the Sound

  • Word Sorts: Put lots of words with paired initial sounds in squares. Have them cut out the words and paste them under the consonant digraph, i.e. ch-chap, chart, chink, chop, chip and then sh-ship, shop, sheep, sharp, etc.
  • Word Building: Create worksheets where students choose from two digraphs to build words, such as ship, sheep, shop. Some should have more than one of the same ending (chop, shop) and others should have only one ending (chin, sharp, etc.) 
  • Word Games: Create bingo games, especially with more than one word from a word family, to help students focus on the digraph. Examples include chip and ship, shop and chop. 

Sound: ch as in chew

Initial ch sound:  chew, chop, chips, choice, chance, chain, champ, chase, cheer, cheek, cheat, chase, chalk, choose,

Final ch sound: touch, each, reach, coach, ditch, ouch, beach, teach, ditch, lunch.

Sound: sh like in shy or rush

Initial sh:  shadow, shade, shine, shop, shell, shout, shrub, shut, share, shower. .

Final sh:  push, rush, fresh, wish, wash, fish, dish, trash, ash, rash. .

Sound: the unvoiced th as in this

the, then, they, there, their, this, them, these, that, though.

Sound: the voiced th as in thin

thin, think, thick, thank, theft, thumb, tooth, truth, with, width .

Sound: wh as in why

why, where, what, when, while, wheel, white, which, wheat, whistle .

Final Sound ng as in ring

sing, sang, wing, bang, clang, bong, dung, sung, mung, clung, cling

Sound:  ph as in phone

Phillip, phantom, phonics, phase, phlox

Print PDF Digraph Word Cards

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Your Citation
Watson, Sue. "How to Teach Digraphs for Reading and Spelling Success." ThoughtCo, Jun. 4, 2017, Watson, Sue. (2017, June 4). How to Teach Digraphs for Reading and Spelling Success. Retrieved from Watson, Sue. "How to Teach Digraphs for Reading and Spelling Success." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2018).