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Diphthongs for Big Kids

Teaching Diphthongs

Diphthongs RtI

Response to intervention reading teachers know that phonics instruction is critically important to fill in the gaps for older readers. Teachers use a variety of approaches to determine which phonics skills are missing from older students’ reading strategies. Diphthongs are quite often among these phonics deficits. Some teachers favor an implicit approach to discover these gaps, such as guided reading running records. Other teachers favor an explicit approach to this data via phonics assessments. I tend to be a broad-brush, cover all the angles kind of reading specialist with a balanced approach to reading intervention. What works for some kids doesn’t necessarily work for all kids.


My Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books provide 54 custom running records and word fluency practice to allow teachers to discover reading deficits through reading, i.e. the implicit approach. My Vowel Sounds and Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessments provide the explicit approach to diagnose phonics deficits.

Instruction and Practice

The assessment-based instruction and practice in my comprehensive Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program uses the implicit and explicit approaches as well. With the modeled expository reading fluencies (129 YouTube videos a 3 speeds) and connected comprehension worksheets, there are plenty of learn to read by reading practice activities. Additionally, the systematic and explicit sound-spellings blending, syllabication worksheets, 102 spelling pattern worksheets, and phonics workshops ensure that the reading intervention is targeted to assessment-based, identified student needs. As a sample of this program, a full set of five diphthong workshop lessons with a formative assessment is provided absolutely FREE at the end of this article.

A Balanced Approach to Reading Intervention

Older kids who didn’t get (or never got) phonics instruction the first time around deserve the assessments and practice that will ensure mastery this time. And, as an aside, my assessments and practice for word identification and recognition are balanced as well. In addition to five phonemic awareness assessments (and corresponding activities), the program also includes sight word, rimes (word families), and word part (syllable), assessments and activities.

Again, a multi-pronged approach is needed for the diverse student populations in any reading intervention class at any age. I’ve taught remedial reading and supervised reading programs for elementary, middle school, high school and community college. I’m here to say that reading intervention teachers have to be equipped to teach how students learn and that different approaches are necessary. As a further aside, I’m not talking about learning styles, multiple intelligences, or different modalities; I’m simply talking about varied approaches to reading instruction.

Following is the explicit, systematic approach to phonics acquisition via small group workshops from my reading intervention program. Download the entire set of diphthong lessons and assessment at the end of the article.

How to Teach Diphthongs

Introductory Definition: Unlike vowel digraphs, which say one sound, such as with “ai” as in train, a diphthong says two sounds, such as with “aw” in hawk.

On our animal sound-spelling cards, the names of each card: rooster, woodpecker, cow, koi, and hawk each use two vowel sounds. The diphthongs are written in purple on the cards with slashes (/) before and after to remind us that the diphthongs are sounds, not letters.

Each diphthong has more than one spelling. The most common spellings are listed below the names of the cards. A blank means that a consonant must go in there. A consonant is a different sound than a vowel and can be spelled with one or more letters.

Teaching Tips

To teach phonics to big kids and adults, we have to teach differently than when we teach phonics to beginning readers. Your big kids and adults are smarter and have more life experience than pre-K, kinder, or first graders. They can catch on quickly if taught properly. Intervention students have “heard it all before.” They just haven’t learned all of it.

I suggest a four-pronged approach to teaching diphthongs to your reading intervention students:

1. Use the animal sound-spelling cards (provided for you in a FREE five-lesson long vowels download at the end of this article) to teach the names, sounds, and spellings in isolation.

2. Teach whole-class sound-by-sound spelling blending for all of the diphthong spellings. Use a hurried pace, but blend every day until each has been mastered. Reinforce with games, using the diphthong cards to blend with the consonant and consonant blend cards.

3. Diagnose and gap-fill. If we use effective, comprehensive diagnostic assessments to determine what students know and don’t know and target instruction accordingly, students will much more likely buy-in to this individualized instruction (even when you use groups). Want my FREE 13 reading assessments, used by hundreds (or more) teachers to teach assessment-based gap-filling? BTW… the two phonics tests have audio files dictated by Yours Truly!

4. Use targeted practice to do the gap-filling and make sure your students have mastered the diphthongs through formative assessment. The FREE five-lesson download includes a short formative assessment. Be willing and able to re-teach if they don’t get it. After all, reading intervention is all about learning, not teaching.

Get the Diphthongs Phonics Workshop FREE Resource:

Or… why not buy all the phonics lessons and more?

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable and evidence-based, featuring the Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables designed for older students. The digital and print word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program. Both programs include the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities.


Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

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