Posts Tagged ‘digraphs’

Digraphs and Diphthongs | Academic Language for Reading Instruction

In a recent forum on reading instruction, a teacher asked the following question:

Phonics Question
Hi guys. Would you consider ow and igh vowel teams? If not, how would you classify them? I’ve recently created a silent e resource and would like to create another resource that addresses the other long vowel spelling patterns but am not sure how to title it. Thanks in advance for your help.

The responses concurred that vowel teams was an appropriate “title.” Now, that got me thinking: Are the titles, terms, or classifications really that important? Does it make sense to use kid friendly terminology?

I read a few comments, but stopped at this one:

Ow is a digraph and igh is a trigraph but I doubt the name matters that much as long as the student understands what sounds the letters make when they show up together in a word.

Now, that got me writing: Here’s how I responded…

You are absolutely right that “ow” and “_igh” are a digraph and a trigraph, respectively.

However, I do think our language of instruction matters, and you prove the point. From the initial question in the post, we assume that the teacher is talking about the

"ow" Spellings

Digraph and Diphthong “ow” Spellings

“ow” spelling (after all, the “igh” certainly is a spelling); however, the “ow” spelling can reflect both a digraph sound (1) (“ow” as in okapi) or diphthong sounds (2) (“ow” as in cow). To get technical, the “ow” is a long /o/ spelling and may appear anywhere in a syllable, but the “ow” is a /ow/ diphthong spelling only at the end of a syllable (hence the space before the “_ow” spelling).

I, like most teachers, am always looking for a way to simplify our language of instruction for our students. However, in a recent revision of my Animal Sound-Spelling Cards, I’ve decided to drop the “vowel teams” and classify as the more precise “vowel digraphs” and “diphthongs.” I know… I hate those term names, too. But…

When we simplify instruction, we create confusion for students later on. After all, phonics is all about sound-spellings. To be able to properly blend sounds and words, readers have to be able to hear, break apart, and write the sounds. And students have to know that the “ow” spelling reflects different sound options. How cool is it, when a teacher writes “ow” on the board and a precocious (or well-taught) kiddo asks, “Which one, Ms. Gomez, ‘a red card or a purple card’?’ Or even better, “Is it the ‘okapi or cow’?” Or even better, “Is it a ‘digraph or diphthong.’?” Or be still my beating hear… “Does that ‘ow’ have a space after it? Where does it appear in the syllable?”

These insightful questions and problem-solving can only take place when the proper academic language is learned. Teaching the term, “vowel teams” would probably not elicit those same questions. We’re not talking about distinctions without differences here; the academic language matters.

BTW, I see the same issue in grammar instruction. When we try to use kid-friendly terms in place of academic language, we create more problems than we solve. For example, I used to struggle with using the term, modify. I used “talk about” for my fourth-graders or “describe or explain” for my seventh-graders. However, these terms certainly did not mesh with the other language of instruction I used for modifiers: Adjectives (How Many? Which One? or What Kind?) or Adverbs (How? When? Where? or What Degree?). In other words, scaffolding the meaning of the term, modifier, is much easier (and more accurate) in the long run, than using “kid-friendly” terms.

So, with respect to the good question of this post, I would not go with “vowel teams.” My two cents (or really four cents… this was a long response, sorry!). I suggest using the BIG WORDS and layering in meaning as needed.

Get the Animal Sound-Spelling Cards FREE Resource:

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading StrategiesDesigned to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use–a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instruction. The program provides multiple-choice diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files), phonemic awareness activities, blending and syllabication activitiesphonics workshops with formative assessments, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards, posters, activities, and games.

Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable eBooks (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each book introduces focus sight words and phonics sound-spellings aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Plus, each book has a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns, five higher-level comprehension questions, and an easy-to-use running record. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Or why not get both programs as a discounted BUNDLE? Everything teachers need to teach an assessment-based reading intervention program for struggling readers is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program.

What do teachers have to say about the program?

“This is just what I need! I have been searching for a resource to help my middle school SPED kiddos catch up to their peers and I can’t wait to implement this incredible product in my classroom!!!” Rating: 4.0


Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , ,

W Vowels and Y, L, H, M, R, and N While We’re At It

The W is a Vowel Sometimes

Save the W!

Save the w! (As a vowel, that is)

Wow, it’s rare for me to disagree with Grammar Girl… As a reading specialist, we love rules. If a word doesn’t fit, we figure a way to make it do so:) My speech therapist colleagues will back me up on this generalization.
In a related article, Grammar Girl reminds us that a vowel is a sound, not a letter. Nicely done! We form these sounds into two ways. 1. Some vowel sounds are made with the mouth in one position and with one sound. These vowel sounds are called monophthongs. Examples: got, go, know 2. Other vowel sounds start with the mouth in one formation as one vowel sound and slide into another formation as two vowel sounds. These vowel sounds are called diphthongs. Examples: coin, joy, out, and cow.
Grammar Girl states that “you could argue that W does indeed represent a vowel.” She cites the diphthong /ow/ as her example. But then she continues, “maybe to you the word ‘cow’ sounds like it ends with the consonant ‘wuh’ instead of the vowel ‘oo.’” Just as with the diphthong ‘oy,’ phoneticians disagree.”
Yikes! Houston, we’ve got a problem. In fact, we have a few. To be picky, it’s not the consonant, “wuh.” All consonants have clipped sounds. When we teach students, we blend /w/ /e/ /s/ /t/ (four sounds), not “wuh” est. Also, the vowel “oo” does not have the /ow/ sound, it has the /oo/ as in rooster or /oo/ as in foot sound.
Now the to meat of the matter regarding the w vowel sound. Okay, vegetables for my vegan friends.
To say that “…phoneticians disagree that the w is not a vowel, but may indeed be a consonant” is news to me. If so, these phoneticians are certainly making exceptions to our cherished rules. In fact, they have now added a new sound-spelling for the /ow/ sound: the _o or o_ as in /c/ /o/ /w/. They also have violated our CVC syllable rule, because their new /o/ is certainly not a short vowel sound.
Furthermore, Grammar Girls offers this solution to the problem of identifying a w as a vowel at the end of the diphthong: “So my recommendation is just to say that the combination O-W represents the diphthong “ow,” and stop there, just like we did for the O-Y and the diphthong ‘oy.’”
This solution seems an “easy out” to the argument as to whether or not the w can serve as a vowel, but in the real world of teaching students to read, this solution is counterproductive.
Somehow, Grammar Girl took us back to letters, not sounds, for vowels. Grammar Girl recommends saying, “The O-W represents the dipthong ‘ow’ …the O-Y… the diphthong ‘oy.'” No. We’ve already established that vowels are sounds and that the diphthong /ow/ has two distinct sounds. It really does matter that the w is a vowel.
Practically speaking, beginning readers, remedial readers, students with auditory processing challenges, and ESL, EL, and ELD students need to learn not only the a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y monophthongs, but also the diphthongs as well. Again, a vowel sound may actually have two sounds and students have to practice their mouth formations, sounds, and the sound-spelling options.
When students read cow, we want to hear three separate sounds: one consonant /c/ and two vowel sounds distinctly pronounced as /ow/. Without all the mumbo-jumbo, we teach students that cow has two vowel sounds spelled as a vowel team.
Now that we’ve saved the w as a vowel sound, let’s stir stir up the pot a bit more. Other letters (in addition to our cherished w) may also serve as vowels. Examples: h and y as in rhy/thm, l as in bu/gle, r as in mur/der, ar/mor, mir/ror, m as in bottom, and n as in mutton.
Linda Farrell has a nice article on the difference between digraphs and diphthongs with plenty of examples HERE.

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the Teaching Reading Strategies intervention program and the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books.

Get the Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books, Diagnostic Assessments, and Running Records FREE Resource:

Guided Reading Phonics Books Literacy Center

Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Reading Strategies

Teaching Reading Strategies





Grammar/Mechanics, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Vowel Team Spelling Games

Developing spellers often struggle in the “Within Word” stage of spelling development. The key challenge for spellers within this spelling stage involves the vowel sound-spellings. The vowel combinations are especially challenging. Both vowel digraphs (two vowel spellings producing one sound), such as “aw” as in hawk, and vowel diphthongs (two or more vowel spellings producing more than one sound, such as “ow” as in towel, are frequently called vowel teams.

The following three spelling games will help your developing spellers both recognize and practice these vowel team spellings. First, learn which vowel sound-spellings that your students don’t know with an effective diagnostic spelling assessment. The games should not be played until the vowel team spelling pattern has been introduced with plenty of examples. Students should also have some practice in spelling the vowel team spelling pattern in the context of dictations and sentence writing before play because the games are designed as reinforcement and practice. The games will help your remedial readers discriminate among similar vowel sound-spelling patterns. Oh, by the way… the games are fun!

Word Jumbles

-Overview/Object of the Game

Each vowel team sound-spelling pattern has a multi-syllabic word jumble. The jumble is a word that includes the vowel sound-spelling with all the letters re-arranged. The object of the game is to make as many words as possible out of the word jumble and then to try and guess the entire word.


Write out the unscrambled word on one side of a 3 X 5 card and the jumbled word on the other. All students need to play is a sheet of binder paper and a pencil.

Divide your spellers up into small groups of three or four students, clustered around a desk or table. The students must be seated, in order to write.


Place the card on the desk or table, jumbled side facing up. Give a three minute time limit for students to write down as many words as they can find within the word jumble. Instruct the players to turn over the card.

Students take turns sharing their list, spelling each out loud. Award ten points for the whole unscrambled word, if spelled correctly. Additionally, add on one point for each correctly spelled word and  two points for a word that no one else in the group finds. Students total their points to see who is the winner.

For example, for the “_ay” vowel team long a spelling, the word payment has the word jumble, APETNYM. The jumble includes these words:

ape              ten            tap       yet       map     man     pay      pat       many   mane    meant  tape

Word Jumble List

Sound-Spelling   Word              Word Jumble

Long a Sound

“a__e”                         carefully          yluflarec

“ai__”                          straining          ginianrts

“__ay”                         betrayal           tylaaebr

“ei”                               freighter          hefrgiret

Long e Sound

“__ee”                         meetings          mtsgniee

“ea”                            teachers           srehcaet

“__y”                           leisurely           ylurelies

“i__e”                          tambourine      neuriboamt

“[c]ei”                          ceiling              ginclie

Long i Sound

“i__e”                          provided          dideprvo

“__igh”                        frightened       tndeehgirf

“__y”                           beautify           fyiauetb

“__ie”                          untied              teunde

Long o Sound

“o__e”                         hopeful            plefuoh

“__oe”                         mistletoe         stelimeot

“oa__”                         groaned           anodegr

“ow”                            ownership        phisernow

Long u Sound

“u”                               musical            csualim

“u__e”                         usefulness       uefessflns

“__ew”                        curfew             furcwe

“_ue”                           fueling             inufegn

oo as in food Sound

“oo”                             toothache        eooatthch

“u”                               cruising            rciuisgn

“u__e”                         attitude            tttiadeu

“__ew”                        unscrewed       dweenuscr

“_ue”                           barbecued        ecduberab

oo as in foot Sound

“oo”                             understood      ouorsdtden

“__u__”                       sugarless          ragulsses

oy Sound

“oi__”                          poisonous        oponsiuos

“__oy”                         enjoyment       nemtnojey

aw Sound

“aw”                            awesome         ewaosme

“au”                             auditorium       tduaoiumir

“al”                              almost              malsto

“all”                             smallest           lamsselt

ow Sound

“__ow”                        downtown       wnownotd

“ou__”                         doubtful          tbduoluf

ur Sound

“er”                              partnership     ntphrapresi

“ir”                              birthday           hdyabitr

“ur”                             urgency           nygceur

ar Sound

“ar”                              calendar          leacnrda

or Sound

“or”                             thunderstorm   rmostdrenuht

The next two spelling games help your students review a targetted vowel sound-spelling pattern, alongside other spelling patterns. Both The Quick Picks Game and Vowel Concentration are small group games that use the Spelling Sort Cards.

The Quick Picks Game

-Overview/Object of the Game

This spelling game is designed to help your students review a targetted vowel team spelling pattern, alongside other spelling patterns. The object of the game is to pick up the most number of cards that have words that use the designated vowel team spelling.


Click the link to download these Spelling Sort Cards from the Pennington Publishing website. These cards are formatted to cut into individual cards for word sort games. Simply run off the pages on tag board and laminate for each group.


Divide your spellers up into two groups, clustered around two desks or tables, and spread out some, or all, of the vowel team spelling cards that you have already introduced (the same set to each group). Have the two groups spread out their cards spelling side up and then race to pick up the cards that have words that use the designated vowel team spelling.

For example, pass out the long a and long e cards. Then, announce “Find  ‘a__e’ cards.” After picking up all of the “a__e” cards, tell students to take turns, saying each of their words and their spellings. The speller from each group with the most word cards that match the vowel team spelling that you announced is the winner.

Vowel Team Concentration

-Overview/Object of the Game

This spelling game is designed to help your students review  targetted vowel team spelling patterns. The object of the game is to pick up the most two-word matches  of the same vowel team spelling.


Click the link to download these Spelling Sort Cards from the Pennington Publishing website. These cards are formatted to cut into individual cards for word sort games. Simply run off the pages on tag board and laminate two sets for each group of students.


Pass out some, or all, of the vowel team spelling cards that you have already introduced from one set of the laminated cards face up.  Pass out some, or all, of the second set of vowel team spelling cards face down. Have the students spread them out, being careful not to turn any over.

Students take turns turning over two cards at a time to find a vowel sound-spelling match. For instance, the boat card would match the oak card. If the student finds a match, he or she picks up the cards and gets another turn. The winner is the student who collects the most cards.

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , ,