What is a grapheme?

What is a grapheme?
Your child will be taught about graphemes as part of their phonics learning journey. We explain what graphemes are and how you can help your child understand the concept at home.

What is a grapheme?

A grapheme is a written symbol that represents a sound (phoneme). This can be a single letter, or could be a sequence of letters, such as ai, sh, igh, tch etc. So when a child says the sound /t/ this is a phoneme, but when they write the letter 't' this is a grapheme.

These are all the phonemes in the English language (and some of the graphemes used to represent them):

Learing to encode words: handwriting foundations

By the end of Reception children should be able to write all the above graphemes (encoding). Children will learn the letters of the alphabet, saying each sound out loud and writing the letter, but they will also learn how to put letters together to make individual sounds.

The importance of carefully and thoroughly teaching children how to form letters cannot be underestimated (for lots more information about how children learn to write, and how you can support handwriting at home, see our Handwriting learning hub). Obviously, it is really important that children know the letters that go with each sound, but it is also important that they form these letters correctly. Usually letters 'start from the top' apart from d and e. Children need to know how to form letters correctly, as when they come to join their letters, they will not be able to do this if they are forming them in the wrong way. 

Teachers teach children how to form their letters correctly by giving demonstrations on the board, or by writing letters large in the air (with their backs to the children). Children are sometimes given sheets with letters on them which are marked with start points and arrows, so that children are aware of where to start and which direction to go in.

Learning to spell: encoding

In English the sounds in words (phonemes) are represented by different combinations of letters when we write them down. In other words, one sound can be represented by a number of different graphemes according to the word it appears in and different graphemes can represent more than one sound. For example, in the words below, the letters 'ch' represent the /k/ sound in chemist, but the /sh/ sound in chef.


Find more information about what spelling patterns and words children are taught in each year of primary school in our parents' guides: