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What is a digraph?

What is a digraph?
Your child will be taught about digraphs as part of their phonics learning journey. We explain how teachers explain the concept to children and how you can help your child spot digraphs at home.

What is a digraph?

A digraph is two letters that make one sound. The digraph can be made up of vowels or consonants.

A trigraph is a single sound that is represented by three letters.

Consonant digraphs are taught in Reception. There is then a whole range of vowel digraphs that are taught in Year 1.

Consonant digraphs

Consonant digraphs are groups of two consonants that make a single sound. Examples of consonant digraphs are:

ch as in chat
sh as in ship
th as in thick
wh as in what
ph as in phone
ck as in sock

Vowel digraphs

These are groups of two letters – at least one of which is a vowel – that make a single sound, for example, the letters ow in the word 'slow.'

When teachers teach phonics, they tend to look at one sound and then show children the various ways this can be made and written down as a grapheme (a combination of letters).

For example: true, food, crew all have the same /oo/ sound, represented by a different digraph (highlighted in bold) each time.

Day, rain and they also all contain the same sound (/ai/), but are represented by a different digraph each time.

Teachers will also teach children about the split digraph. This is where a digraph, such as ae, ie, oe, ee, ue is 'split' by a consonant, for example:

  • In the word pie, you have a digraph made up of ie. 
  • in the word pine, the digraph has been split by the letter n to make a new word, 'pine'.

Split digraphs are represented like this: a_e, i_e, o_e, e_e, u_e.

Teachers may give children a group of words and then ask them to put them into groups according to the spelling of a certain sound, for example, they may give them the following word cards:

fair     mare     bear     care     tear

lair     stair     dare     hair     pear

and ask them to arrange them into the following groups according to the way their digraphs are spelled:

  • ai
  • a_e
    • ea

Teachers will tend to point out various digraphs to children as they read books. They may be given word cards to put into groups, according to their digraphs. They will also be given phonic activities that encourage them to write words containing certain digraphs. It is very important for children to be given the chance to practise writing words in order to learn the correct spelling.

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