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Vowel Digraphs

Guest Author - Heidi Shelton Jenck

Vowel digraphs are side-by-side vowels that make one sound, like ea in please. Sometimes the first vowel is long, and the next one is silent. However, young readers and writers quickly learn there are many exceptions to the old rhyme: When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking Ė it says itís name.

Some examples of vowel digraphs that follow this rule are: oa in coat, ea in feat, ay in play, and ai in pain. However, students canít count on this rule always working. For example, oa does say the long o sound in moan and cloak. But, the rule doesnít apply in words like soup and poem. Instead of simply teaching the old rhyme as a rule, it can be helpful to teach students to sort words, looking for common vowel digraph patterns and exceptions to the pattern.

Learning spelling patterns is an effective skill building strategy for beginning readers and writers. It is important to let students know there are a number of ways to spell and read long vowel sounds, and introduce them to the various options. Here are some examples of how long vowel sounds can be spelled using vowel digraphs:

Long A: ai, ay
Long E: ee, ea, ey
Long I: ie
Long O: oa, oe, ow
Long U: ue

Listed below are some examples of vowel digraphs used in words:

aid, braid, aim, brain, fail, chain, bait, wait, gain, drain, rain, fail, jail, snail, stain, train, raise

tray, gray, spray, play, pray, clay, may, pay, ray

wheat, beach, heave, leave, meal, wreath, meat, seat, heap, cheap, beak, sneak, heal, seal, steal, plea, sea

bleed, weed, week, geek, green, queen, beep, peep, feet, deem, feel, wheel, Greek, sheep, freeze, tweeze

key, grey, prey, they

die, pie, tie, niece, piece, brief, grief, shield, wieldy, thief

toad, road, oak, soak, goal, roar, oar, Joan, moan, coach, broach, foam, roam, boast, toast, throat, board

toe, doe, Joe, woe

blown, known, shown

blue, clue, glue

Here are three simple activities to practice reading and writing vowel digraphs:

Sorting: Give a small group of students a stack of cards with vowel digraphs written on them. Ask the students to work together to sort out the digraphs according to their spelling and sound. This activity requires students to identify the vowel digraph spelling and read the word accurately. Some vowel digraphs look the same, but sound different when read aloud. Provide an example of digraphs that will have to be separated based on sound such as: tea, meat | bread, head

Digraph Go Fish: The goal of the game is to collect the most digraph pairs. Make cards with vowel digraphs written them. You will need four of each digraph. Shuffle the cards, and pass five out to each player. Remaining cards stay in a pile in the center. Players take turns asking the person to their left if they have a card that matches a digraph they have in their hand. If the person says, No, the player draws from the pile. Play continues around the circle until all digraph pairs have been found. The player with the most matched pairs is the winner.

Dictation: After students have learned a new digraph, give them a short dictation exercise. Say two words. One will have the long vowel sound spelled with the targeted digraph, and the other will have a short vowel sound. For example, after you have taught ai, ask the children to write rain and ran. After writing each pair, discuss with the students how they made the long sound.

Domino tiles are a fun, multisensory way to reinforce long vowel spelling and reading. This set from includes vowel digraph combinations:

Froggy Phonics is a fun board game for students who need to practice reading words with vowel digraphs in them. I have this game in my classroom. Available on

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Content copyright © 2018 by Heidi Shelton Jenck. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Heidi Shelton Jenck. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Connie Mistler Davidson for details.


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