How to Teach Digraphs to Kids

by Sandy Fleming
Understanding digraphs is an important part of phonics.

Understanding digraphs is an important part of phonics.

Digraphs are two or more letters that combine to make a new sound. The reader or speaker cannot separate the new sound into the sounds made by the component letters. The letters "s" and "h" combine to form the digraph "sh" as in the beginning of the word "show." Other common consonant digraphs include "ch," "wh," "th," "ck," "tch" and "ph." Vowels can form digraphs as well. Vowel digraphs also are made of two or more letters that combine to form a new sound unlike the sounds of the component letters. The vowels "ou" form a digraph in the word "out." Other common vowel digraphs include "ew," "oi" and "oy."

Introduce the concept of consonant digraphs by making a list of two consonants that team up to make new sounds. The list should include "sh," "th," "ch" and "wh" for younger students and should be expanded to include "tch" and "ph." Be sure to contrast these digraphs with consonant blends such as "st" where both letters' sounds are audible. Choose one digraph at a time for the focus of each lesson. Have the group make a list of words that begin or end with the target combination or those that contain the digraph. Write each example on the board and mark the digraph.

Present a group of words to the students that contain some examples of the target digraph. These can be in list form or in prose form. Have the students use a highlighting marker to find and mark the words containing the target digraph. When all have been marked, have students read the words aloud. Assess each student's understanding by checking the accuracy of his or her highlighted examples.

Do word sorting activities. Give students a list of words, some of which begin with the target digraph for the lesson and some that do not. Have the student create two sorting areas and put words with the target digraph in one area and words with the other digraph in the other area. Repeat the sorting activity with words ending with the target digraph or containing the target digraph separated from those that do not. Finally, have students sort words that have the target digraph in different positions into a group where the digraph is in the initial position, one with the digraph in the final position and one with the digraph in a medial position. Please note that not all digraphs can be in all positions. For example, the "tch" digraph does not begin any words in English, so there will be no way to sort for it in the initial position.

Review digraphs using a board game. Create a board game trail on a paper or in a file folder. This should have a starting line, finish line and spaces in between. Scatter penalty and bonus spaces such as "go ahead one" or "go back to start" on a few spaces, then write digraphs that have been the focus of lessons on the other spaces. Use a die and pawns from other game sets. Each player should toss the die, move the correct number of spaces along the path, then state a word containing the digraph shown on the square.

Teach vowel digraphs in a similar manner but in separate lessons. Introduce the vowel digraphs, distinguishing vowel digraphs from pairs of vowels with a voiced vowel followed by a silent partner. Make a list of words containing the target vowel digraph. Have students identify words containing the target digraph and read the words they find. Complete word sorting activities and practice using games such as the one described above.

Things You Will Need

  • List of words or reading passages containing the target digraph for each lesson
  • Highlighting marker for each student
  • Whiteboard, markers and eraser
  • Lists of words containing the target digraph in initial, final and medial positions
  • Lists of words containing another digraph or digraphs in initial, final and medial positions
  • Blank file folder for game board
  • Markers
  • Game pawns and dice from other game sets


  • "Words Their Way: Word Study for Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling Instruction"; Donald R. Bear, et. al.; 2008
  • "Teacher's Handbook on Diagnosis and Remediation in Reading"; Eldon E. Ekwall; 1986
  • "Wilson Reading System Instructor Manual;" Barbara A. Wilson; 1996

About the Author

Sandy Fleming is a writer and educator from Michigan with master's and bachelor's degrees in special education. She has been writing for the Web for more than 10 years and does private tutoring with children and adults. Her areas of expertise include educational and parenting topics as well as how-to articles and informative pieces. Fleming writes for numerous Internet publications and the local newspaper.

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