Developing Phonics Knowledge: Blends, Digraphs, and Diphthongs

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on May 1, 2014


Phonics knowledge is defined as having an association between a letter and the sound it represents. In this text the focus is on associations between blends, digraphs, and diphthongs and the sounds they represent.

Recognized By

The student is unable to give the correct sounds of the blends, digraphs, or diphthongs (see Appendix ), is unable to use these phonic elements to decode, or both.


As with the consonant and vowel sounds, it is important that the student knows the consonant blends and consonant digraphs to analyze certain words. The vowel digraphs and diphthong sounds, however, are much less important. If the student has mastered phonics in the areas of single consonants, consonant blends, consonant digraphs, and long and short vowels, then it may not be necessary to teach the vowel digraphs and diphthongs. Instead, remediation efforts to assist decoding might more wisely be spent on the areas of structural analysis, context clues, and basic sight words.

Assessing Phonics Knowledge

A Phonics Assessment  will help you determine which phonics areas are causing the most difficulty for the student. Administer the test before beginning a program of help in this area. If you wish to know if a specific blend, digraph, or diphthong phonic element is in a reader’s store of knowledge, you can have the reader attempt to read an unfamiliar word that contains that phonic element. If the reader correctly pronounces the word, then you can assume he knows the phonic element contained in that word.

Teaching Phonics Knowledge

The information provided in the Recommendations section can be used to design instruction to assist students to acquire blend, digraph, and diphthong associations. Much of the information can also be used when teaching other phonic elements.

ELL Students and Phonics Knowledge

ELL students may have confusion that can be traced to differences between the phonemes used in English and their first language. The instances of certain letter combinations in English standing for more than one sound can also be confusing to second-language learners. For example, knowing that the consonant digraph ch can represent three different sounds (the ch in chair, the ch in character, and the ch in chef) might confuse a learner who is used to a language that has a more consistent symbol-sound association.


  1. As with the initial consonant sounds, if a student does not know a number of consonant blends, use a phonogram list. You are likely to find that the student learns most of these in a relatively short time. You can then retest the student and teach those that are still not mastered.
  2. For teaching vowel digraphs and diphthongs, use the phonogram lists to find words with the digraphs or diphthongs not mastered. Use the tape recorder to provide practice with those combinations. For example, give students who do not know the /ai/ (long a) sound words such as aid, braid, laid, maid, and paid, as well as ail, hail, nail, pail, quail.
  3. Construct flash cards in which the blend, digraph, or diphthong is shown along with a picture that illustrates a word using that letter combination. On the opposite side of the card, print only the blend, digraph, or diphthong to be used as the student progresses in ability. When using this method with a large group of students, you can substitute 2 × 2 slides or transparencies for the overhead projector instead of flash cards.
  4. Record the letter combinations with their sounds and let students hear these as many times as necessary to learn them. They should, however, have a chart they can follow to see the letter combinations as they hear the sounds. Ask each student to point to the letters as he hears them on the tape.
  5. Put diphthongs, digraphs, and blends on 3 × 3 cards. Divide these cards into groups of 10 each. Lay out separate groups of diphthongs, digraphs, and blends and allow the student to see all 10 at once. As you call the sounds of these various letter combinations, or as they are played from a tape recording, have the student pick up the correct card to match the sound of the letter combinations.
  6. Use the same system described in item 5, only tape-record words and have the student pick up the letter combinations he hears in these words.
  7. Use charts that are commercially available for teaching various letter combinations. Recordings to accompany these sounds are also available.
  8. Use commercially prepared games or computer software designed for teaching blends, digraphs, and diphthongs. Often students can use such materials either individually or in small groups.
  9. Immediately after using any of these procedures to teach the symbol- sound correspondences (phonics) for blends, digraphs, or diphthongs, it is extremely important that students be provided with sentences, passages, or stories that enable them to apply the newly learned phonics skills in the act of reading contextual materials. Many commercially prepared materials are available for this purpose. Also, the teacher, or the teacher and student, may create sentences or stories, including silly ones, that emphasize the blends, digraphs, or diphthongs just taught.
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