What Is a Consonant Digraph and Why Is It Important?

consonant digraph decodable books and large digraph sound cards

Consonant digraphs are two consonants next to each other that work together to make one sound. The most common digraphs that beginning readers need to recognize are wh, ch, ph, sh, th, and ck.

Why do I need to teach about consonant digraphs if my students already know their letter names and sounds?

Consonant digraphs work together to make unique sounds. Beginning (and struggling) readers typically read these letter combinations with two distinct sounds. For example, th is frequently read as /t/…/h/ rather than /th/. Many closed syllable (CVC pattern) contain consonant digraphs. Students need practice hearing these new sounds and recognizing specific digraph combinations.

What is the best way to teach consonant digraphs?

The best way to teach digraphs is to begin with phonemic awareness. When segmenting and blending words orally (without print attached), be sure to include words containing the sounds of the digraphs.

The next step is to help students match the sound to print. One way to do this is to show a flashcard with the two letters of a digraph and a picture that matches the digraph sound. Then teach the sound drill. Show the card and say, “c..h, cheese, /ch/. The student(s) repeat the phrase. Go through the sequence of digraphs.

Digraph Sound Cards (available in our TpT store)

How can I help my students read consonant digraphs in connected text?

We find the best way to help students develop their ability to read words containing digraphs is to use controlled text. Controlled text refers to texts (words, sentences, and stories) in which the majority of the words students are expected to read contain previously taught concepts. Another term for controlled texts is decodable texts. Here are a couple of tips:

  1. Focus on reading and spelling one digraph at a time.
  2. Use texts that students are able to write on. Before reading the text, prompt the students to underline the digraph with one line. This serves as a reminder that the digraph makes one sound.

What is the best way to help my students spell words with consonant digraphs?

An incredibly effective approach to help students spell with digraphs is a phoneme/grapheme grid. Each box on the grid represents one sound. Because digraphs make one sound the two letters share one box. Our students use the following procedure:

  1. The teacher says the word.
  2. The students repeat the word.
  3. Ask students to ‘tap’ the word and make a small dot in the bottom corner of the grid.
  4. Then students must go back and write the letter in the corresponding box.
  5. Last, have the students write the word on the line next to the boxes.
phoneme grapheme spelling

This spelling approach helps reinforce the idea that the two letters in the digraph work together to make one sound and leads to accurate spelling. It’s like magic!

As mentioned in the previous section, we recommend that you introduce one digraph at a time. Once students are able to correctly spell words containing that digraph, move onto the next digraph. When using the phoneme/mapping grid, a magnetic board, or a white board, always start with a review of familiar digraphs and then move onto the current digraph.

Where can I find consonant digraph resources? We’ve got you covered!

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