Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Letter Blends, digraphs, trigraphs, diphthongs…

Once children have mastered most of the common sounds we use for single letters, and can blend them together to make words or ‘chunks’, we need to introduce sounds made by more complex letter patterns.

Some sounds are written with 2 letters (digraphs), e.g. consonant sounds th, sh, ch, ph, ck, ng, and vowel sounds:  ee, oo, ay, ar etc. Some will use 3 letters (trigraphs) or more, e.g. igh, ore, tch, thr; also ough as in bough or brought.  As the original meaning of graph was written (and di was two, tri was three), it’s easy to work out what the words digraph and trigraph represent.

The word diphthong refers to a vowel sound (phthong) where two sounds are blended together. It’s easy to think of ‘ay’, ‘ow’ or even ‘or’ as only one sound, but if you think carefully as you say them (even put your fingers next to your mouth), you will realise that your mouth is actually making one sound then 'gliding' to another sound. 

Children enjoy exaggerating the diphthongs so they can hear the two sounds – and it can even help them to spell some, such as ‘ay’ and ‘ow’, when they can hear the /y/ or /w/ sound at the end. 

Here is a worksheet to use with children learning ay/ai:

I don’t worry about using the terminology of digraph, trigraph, diphthong etc. with my intervention children and their parents who have enough to cope with, so I just use the loose terms ‘vowel blends’, ‘letter blends’, ‘letter patterns’ etc.

Note - Letter ‘blends’ is also the term commonly used for consonant blends such as bl, cr, st, nt.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Whether you are teaching one child to read or working with a whole class of students, it's handy to have a checklist to assess the skills they have mastered and what they have yet to work on.

Reading is a very complex skill, involving not just the recognition of symbols (letters), but the range of sounds and combinations of the letters, the arrangement of the letters into syllables and meaningful words, the formation of phrases and sentences, the recognition and use of punctuation, and the ability to read with understanding of the context and meaning.

Here is a checklist you can download to use for assessing pre-reading and early reading skills:

                                                        "Early Reading Skills" Checklist

There are some blank lines for you to add any extra aspects that you wish to assess.

Most of the terminology should be self-explanatory, but here is an explanation of some of the terms used in the list:

'Voiced' letters use the voice box: e.g. b, d, g, v, z;
'non-voiced' letters don't use the voice box: e.g. p, t, k, f, s

Directional confusion - e.g. reading from left to right, missing parts of text

Digraphs -  2 letters forming one sound – they can be consonants or vowels; e.g. vowel digraphs ay, ai, ee, ea; consonant digraphs sh, th, ch, ck, ng

"1st, medial, last sound in cvc word": a 'cvc' word is one formed from a consonant, a vowel and a consonant, e.g. c-a-t, d-o-g. Children need to be able to identify the sounds they hear in the word - the 1st sound, medial (middle) sound and last sound.

'short vowels' are: a as in at, e as in egg, i as in it, o as in off, u as in up

"talking" segments in text refers to speech segments, usually indicated by quotation or "talking" marks

Alliterating is forming phrases or sentences where most or all of the words begin with the same sound, e.g. "four fun frogs", messy Millie", "six silly snails sailed on six slippery sausages"

"Hearing incorrect/odd structure in sentence"- children need to be able to hear if they have made a mistake resulting in an incorrect sentence, e.g. if they read "the cat sat in mat", they should realise it's incorrect and go back to re-read the sentence

Varying volume and pitch - refers to using expression when talking and reading aloud, making the voice softer or louder, making it go up and down rather than just a monotone.

Non-word - refers to a 'word' that is not an actual real word, e.g. 'nonsense' words like fip, rog, lin, semp; these can be very useful (and fun) in helping children to decode words.

"own vocab" refers to a basic collection of words that  child can read, and will vary with each child: usually the child's name, possibly other family names, plus simple, familiar words such as zoo, cat, a, the, I, Mum, Dad...

"weird words" refers to words that don't follow normal spelling rules or patterns; children need to be able to remember these by sight. Examples are: the, they, you, come, some, one, two

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Learning letters and words: "Smack" game

"SMACK!" is a fun game for children of any age, but it's especially useful for Grade 1-2 children as it practises spelling short words and also letter formation.

Each player needs pencil and paper, and you also need a blackboard or whiteboard.

The game needs at least 3 players. One player is the "Letter Writer"; the others write a 5-letter word (or a 4-letter word if the players are younger) on their paper.

The Letter Writer begins writing letters of the alphabet on the board. The others cross off any letter that appears in their word.

When a player has crossed off all his letters, he hits the table and calls out "Smack!" This player now has a turn to be the Letter Writer.

Note- if a player's word has a repeated letter, he can only cross off one at a time... so he may need to wait quite a while before the Letter Writer repeats that letter!

You can vary the number of letters in the words for each round if you like - especially for older players. You could also let each child in turn be the Letter Writer if you prefer.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Learning Letter Patterns: /oo/ as in foot, fool

This is a game I made a few years ago to help my Reading Intervention students.

The /oo/ pattern in words can be confusing for beginner readers.

The long oo sound as in boot is learnt relatively easily, as zoo and too are words that children learn early on.

Then they come across words such as look and good or pool and tool, in which /oo/ can have different sounds.

The pronunciation can depend on your accent, of course, e.g. 'look' or 'good' with a Scottish accent can have a long oo sound (- it can be fun and quite enlightening to play around with different accents when teaching children to read!)

You can download the game board and word cards to print onto light card, then laminate for best results before cutting out the cards. You will also need a die (dice) and some tokens or 'movers' (e.g. counters, buttons).

Look Look game board

Look Look game - word cards

This game will be available for free download during July 2015; you are welcome to use it for personal, non-commercial educational purposes.