Blends and digraphs are a very challenging concept for young readers and writers. It is not expected that students fully be able to read and write these sounds until second grade, however kindergarteners and first grade students should be exposed to these sounds, in order to progress their reading and writing abilities.
To introduce my students to blends, I start by talking about making chocolate milk – how when you make chocolate milk you blend together milk and chocolate and then it makes chocolate milk! The same is the case for sounds in English! Readers and writers can blend sounds together to help them solve tricky words.
After introducing blends, I then give a few examples and show students how they can stretch words out and listen really closely to hear the two sounds that make up blends. I use the example of stapler, smile, grass, and more. I also find some examples in books to practice reading the blends. When I finish, I remind students that letters can work as a pair to blend their sounds.
After introducing students to blends, I next introduce them to digraphs. I say that digraphs are two consonants that work together to make one, new sound. I say that, unlike blends, with digraphs, you can’t hear the individual letters no matter how hard you stretch out the sounds. Then, I introduce the four main digraphs to the students: sh, ch, wh, and th. I write these on the whiteboard and then hand out picture cards to my students. I have them sort the picture cards into the four categories.
When I introduce the four main digraph sounds, I love to use the story of the h-brothers to help the sounds stick with my students. I use this PowerPoint to help tell the story.
Practicing blends and digraphs
Introducing the sounds is not just enough. Students need practice identifying the sounds of blends and digraphs. I love to use my phonics PowerPoints to help practice phonics skills. As mentioned, I have one for digraphs that tells the story of the h-brothers and gives practice sounds. I also have one for identifying blends.
Another way I love to practice phonics sounds is with matching cards. I have puzzle pieces for each digraph and some beginning and a few ending blend sounds. These are great as a center, but they also are great to incorporate at morning meeting. The students can use the cards to find their partner and then greet that partner.
Young readers and writers need to be exposed to blends and digraphs. Understanding blends and digraphs will help them progress in their reading and writing. If you want to learn more about how I teach phonics, check out this introduction to phonics blog post!