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Consonant Digraphs for Big Kids

Consonant Digraphs for RtI

Consonant Digraphs for Big Kids

Quite a few new teachers get confused about the difference between consonant digraphs and consonant blends. In a quick Google search, I found plenty of confusion among these “reading experts.” As an MA reading specialist, let me give you the definitions, a way to remember the difference, some examples, a few teaching tips, a FREE whole-class assessment with audio file, an instructional scope and sequence, and instructional management tips. Also, let’s throw in a FREE set of five consonant digraph lessons with a short formative assessment. Wahoo!

Consonant Digraphs

Definition: Consonant digraphs are two (or three) letters which form one sound. Consonant blends are two (or three) letters which make two (or three) sounds.

How to remember the difference: When we are dealing with phonics, we are creating sounds from letters. As you know, phon means sound; so does son (think sonar)You also know that di means two and graph means writing (letters for our purpose). Thus, a consonant digraph is one sound, two letters. Don’t forget we also have vowel digraphs: one vowel sound with two letters. 

And now for consonant blends… When you blend spices in your favorite chili recipe, you can still taste the chili powder, salt, cumin, and cayenne pepper. Each spice keeps its individual flavor. Thus, a consonant blend puts together two or three letters, each keeping its own sound. Note: Be careful not to think of a blender regarding consonant blends. My Vitamix® takes away every flavor from every ingredient in my daily protein drink. In other words, each consonant phoneme (speech sound) is retained when decoding the consonant blend spellings.

Consonant Digraph Examples: The “h” Brothers

Teaching Consonant Digraphs

Consonant Digraphs

Teaching Tips

Make sure to teach the breathy /w/ sound for the “wh” digraph. The Middle English pronunciation before the Great Vowel Shift (beginning in about 1350 A.D.) was actually two sounds before they evolved into one. Contrast the /w/ “wh” as in whale with the /w/ “w” as in wolf and you’ll hear the difference. Note: The sound-spelling cards I use in my Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program are all animals. Thankfully, there is a critter known as an “x-ray” fish. 

Make sure to teach the two sounds of the “th” spellings and “sh” spellings at some point. The differences are difficult to hear for most students (and many teachers). I suggest sticking with the voiced /th/ as in python and then moving to the unvoiced (the same with the “sh” consonant digraph). See the instructional sequence below for the blending sample words I use. Check out my article on “How to Teach the Voiced and Unvoiced ‘th'” if this confuses you.

Do not elongate the endings of consonant digraphs. I just got finished watching a video of a proud principal teaching a group of students the /sh/ consonant digraph. The principal was putting her index finger in front of pursed lips while she said (and had students repeat) “shhhhhhhhhh.” When the principal asked her students to blend the /sh/ + /ĕ/ + /d/, the students dutifully responded with “”shhhhhhhhhhed.” The perplexed principal wisely called on the teacher for help.

Lastly, I don’t teach the “ph” consonant blend until we get to silent letters. It’s a Greek sound-spelling, but then you knew that!

Assessment, Instructional Scope and Sequence, Forming Groups, Time, Instruction, and Practice

When to Introduce Consonant Digraphs

Consonant Digraphs Instructional Sequence

The first step is to determine what is missing from the your students’ knowledge of the consonant digraph phonics patterns. Teachers have used my FREE reading assessments for years to pinpoint phonemic awareness, phonics, and sight words deficits. For the purposes of this article, the Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment pinpoints which consonant digraph sound-spellings students have not yet mastered.

The second step is to follow a research-tested instructional scope and sequence. Most all explicit, systematic phonics programs begin with short vowels and layer on consonant sounds and consonant blends. Next, phonics programs begin with the long vowel sound-spellings or teach the silent final e sound-spellings. Following are the instructional sequence from the author’s reading intervention program and the silent final e animal sound-spelling cards used to introduce the names, sounds, and spellings.

The third step is to group students who have demonstrated that they have not yet achieved mastery with the consonant digraph sound-spellings. Teachers use a variety of small group formats. Literacy centers have become a popular option to provide remedial instruction within some centers (stations), while offering grade-level and/or accelerated instruction in other centers.

The fourth step is to set aside the necessary time to teach the consonant digraph sound-spellings. Initial instruction takes longer; however, remedial instruction can be accomplished quite quickly, because gap-filling builds upon some degree of prior knowledge, albeit a shaky foundation. Typically, five 20-minute workshops will facilitate mastery as indicated by formative assessments.

The fifth step is to provide effective instruction and practice for the consonant digraph sound-spellings and to use a formative assessment to determine mastery. Teachers need to have back-up lessons in case the student does not master the consonant digraphs on the formative assessment. A solid foundation will allow students to learn additional reading skills.

Get the Consonant Digraphs Phonics Lessons FREE Resource:

Teachers who would like to use my consonant digraphs phonics lessons and formative assessment are welcome to download this workshop from my Teaching Reading Strategies program:

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, the program features the 54 Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables for each lesson and 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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