How to Teach Digraphs in Kindergarten, First, and Second Grade
May 10, 2022
Looking for ideas and activities for how to teach digraphs in your kindergarten, first grade, or second-grade classroom? In this post, I share 5 steps and activities sharing how I teach digraphs in my classroom! Before I begin, I wanted to let you know you can watch or listen to all this information in video format below:
To read the tips, just keep scrolling.
Step 1: Start with the Sound
Whenever I teach a phonics skill, I always start with phonemic awareness to make sure students are really listening to the sound(s) that they hear when saying different words. Sometimes I will show a picture of different words with the target skill we are going to focus on, other times I will simply say different words aloud and have students listen to and segment the sounds they hear.
Another way I like to start with the sound is through concept attainment. Concept attainment is an instructional strategy where you would show your students examples and non-examples of a specific skill without explaining what the skill is. For example, in the What’s the rule? slide below, the objects on the thumbs-up side follow the rule and the objects on the thumbs-down side do not follow the rule. However, you would not explicitly tell your students what the rule is – they will have to figure out what the objects have in common and how they differ.
In this case, students will sound out all the words on both sides of the chart, and eventually, they will realize that all the objects on the left have the /ch/ sound. This is a great intro to have students hear the sound you want to focus on for the day and it will give you some practice words to begin with.
Step 2: Explicitly Teach Skill
In this example, we are teaching the /ch/ digraph so we will want to explain to students what a digraph is (two letters that when put together make one, new sound) and what sound our focus digraph makes. I find anchor charts to be extremely helpful when explicitly teaching any new skill. If you use Fundations, they use the image on the left below for “ch”:
You can also create your own anchor chart – just be sure to include the grapheme, the sound/phoneme, and a focus image for students to use as a reference.
Step 3: Practice Decoding Words
Once you’ve practiced the sound and explicitly taught the skill, it’s time to try reading words with /ch/ in them!
You want to be aware of the words that you choose for this lesson – don’t pick words that have a bunch of other patterns that would make decoding more of a challenge. You want the digraph that you are working on to be the focus. You also want to make sure you use words that have the digraph at the beginning of the word and the end of the word so they can see it used both ways.
Here is a sample list of simple words with short vowels and the /ch/ sound for students to begin decoding:
When teaching students to blend together the graphemes, I often like to use successive blending for decoding, especially when doing this as a whole group exercise. With successive blending of a word, “chip” for example, you would start at the beginning of the word and have your students say the first sound: “/ch/”. Then, they would say the first two sounds together: “/ch/” + “/i/” or “/chi/”. Finally, they would continue and say the whole word together: “/ch/” + “/i/ + “/p/” = “chip”.
Step 4: Independent and Partner Practice
After students have learned the new sound, explicitly learned the graphemes, and practiced decoding words with that skill, it’s time to practice either with a partner or by themselves. There are many different activities you can use to have students practice decoding words with digraphs, but today I made a little freebie for you!
I like this activity because it gets kids up and moving around the room and they also will need to look for that /ch/ sound in words and also in pictures!
This activity is called Read the Room:
To play, just cut out the word and image cards (there are 18) and tape them around the room. These cards are for the /ch/ digraph, however, you will notice that not all of the cards have /ch/ in them. Students will walk around the room, find each card, and determine whether or not it has the /ch/ sound. If it does, they will color in the thumbs up and if it does not, they will color in the thumbs down.
If you think your students will like this, I have the /ch/ version for FREE by clicking below:
I also have this activity available for many other phonics skills! You can see those below:
Step 5: Independent Extension
I always like to have review activities ready for students if they have downtime or finish another activity (like the read the room above) early. Some of my favorite extensions that students can complete independently are as follows:
I created a few 1-page decodable intervention sheets that are great for students to work on independently and get some more practice with the /ch/ digraph. You can see that first students will review sounds, then they will decode single words with /ch/ before moving onto sentences. There are also places for students to practice encoding and comprehension! Here is a closer look at an example page for /ch/:
You can find well over 100+ intervention sheets like this one for many different phonics skills here: 1-page Decodable Interventions
Another fun independent extension activity is my Phonics Find Its!
At the top of the page are a few /ch/ words that students will need to decode and find in the box of images. Once they find the word, they can color or circle the image. There is also an extension at the bottom of the page where students can choose one of the words and write a sentence! You can find these over on TPT with a bunch of other skills here: Phonics Find its!
Lastly, another great review activity is this independent (or partner) game, Read and Color:
This game has students rolling around the board to decode different words with digraphs and then finding the matching image in the center to color in. I don’t have these available in my store, but if you are a member of the SJT Literacy Club you will find a bunch of these available along with tons of other games, lessons, and activities for teaching literacy to K-2 students! You can see more about The SJT Literacy Club here: SJT LITERACY CLUB
So there are 5 of the steps I take when teaching my students all about digraphs! To recap we (1) start with the sound, (2) explicitly teach the new skill, (3) decode words with the new skill, (4) practice, practice, practice through games and activities, and (5) have students apply the skill independently!
These types of activities I shared in this post are just examples of ones you may want to use with your own students! If you liked this post on digraphs, here are some others I think you will enjoy:
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