What does gush, mash, push, shop, dash, and shot all have in common? At first glance, nothing really. But to the trained eye, it’s easy to see that they all share a common digraph. Digraphs in English are a combination of letters that create a unique sound.
Digraphs are vital to learning how to read because once you can correctly pronounce a digraph, you will have greater accuracy at pronouncing words in the future.
Of course, there is much more to learn about digraphs, which is why we have compiled a complete guide for you, including definitions, examples, and activities to help teach this skill.
What are Digraphs?
A digraph is two letters that work together to create a single sound. Unlike blends (which we will review in this post as well), a digraph sound does not necessarily match the letters. For example, the digraph sound /ch/ doesn’t reflect the cha of the c or the ha of the h but instead creates it’s own sound tch.
Many linguists agree that understanding digraphs is equally as important as learning the letters of the alphabet. That’s because they are so common in spoken English. Additionally, because digraphs can be spelled differently and pronounced the same, English language learners who focus their time on learning them will have better success at mastering the language.
Digraphs are broken up into two different categories: vowel and consonant digraphs.
Vowel digraphs are comprised of two or more letters with at least one being a vowel. A consonant can split them, so if your digraph is oe, writing love still qualifies it as a digraph.
Vowel digraphs can be confusing for young learners because many of them sound the same but are spelled differently. For example, the /ai/ sound is similar to the /ay/ sound. This makes it easy for children to misspell words that sound similar.
This is why students must practice these digraphs regularly, to learn the unique spelling to similar-sounding vowel digraphs.
Consonant digraphs are a pair of letters that create a speech sound using no vowels. Remember, that any digraph containing at least one vowel is considered a vowel digraph, so consonants cannot include any.
Like vowels, consonants also run the risk of being spelled differently but sounding the same.
What is a Blend?
When learning about digraphs, you might encounter some information about blends. This is because they are so similar! A consonant blend is two or more letters working together, but who maintain their original sound. For example:
- Bl- (as in blanket)
- Br- (as in brake)
- Sm- (as in smoke)
- Tr- (as in trace)
- Sk- (as in skate)
- Tw- (as in tween).
There are so many blends in the English language that making a list of them all would be endless. Often blends and digraphs are taught together because both kinds of word characteristics help build words and create their sound. The most significant difference between the two is that blends retain their letter sounds like (gr- sounding like, well, grrrr).
How to Teach Digraphs
It is essential to help students learn the various types of digraphs in the English language. Not because there is going to be some big test on it to graduate high school, but because it helps with word pronunciation and identification.
Think about it: if you know that the digraph ch- makes the sound tch, you will not only how to pronounce check, but also choose, chuck, churn, and more.
The ideal age to start teaching digraphs is as soon as your child starts to identify letters and sounds when reading consistently.
Of course, with anything, practice makes perfect. So, if you are looking for ways to boost your child’s digraph understanding, here are a few at-home activities to try:
There is a reason that flashcards are popular methods for comprehension, and that’s because they are so customizable to meet your child’s needs.
Make it a goal to create a digraph deck once a week and then let them toss out the cards they master. That way, they are left with the cards that stump them and that they need more time with.
Create a bingo board that your child can keep with them in the car: each square, a different digraph. Then, when you’re in the car, challenge them to find things on your journey that include the digraphs on their card.
For example, if one of the squares read “oa,” and they found a road (okay that’s an easy one!), they could mark it off on their card.
This is an excellent activity to challenge a child to synthesize their knowledge. That’s just a fancy way of saying to apply their knowledge to real-life situations.
This is the ultimate goal, right? To give our children the skills to apply it on the fly!
There are many ways that you can make learning digraphs a game. For example, you could create your tic-tac-toe version of digraph words. Choose two digraphs and then instead of x’s and o’s write words (correctly, of course) containing the digraph to mark your spot.
Finally, you can always rely on building letters together with magnetic letters (or even cut out letters). For this, simply put them together and let your child play with the letters in the process. Making it a multi-sensory experience with immediate feedback will be useful in teaching them the digraphs.
For example, if you give them the letters to write out three different digraphs, and they misspell one, you can immediately correct by saying, “let’s sound those letters out together, oh they don’t sound quite right, do they? Should we rearrange them?”.
Digraphs seem like a given for many, but the fact is, without an understanding of them, students might be struggling to grasp basic concepts in school.
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The fact is, this concept can be challenging to grasp, but the reality is, we use them all the time! That’s why it’s essential to understand them and apply them to your speaking and writing.