English is a confusing language!! However, like every language, the written form of English is a code for the spoken language. For many children to become proficient in reading and spelling they need direct explicit instruction in this language code. This in turn requires teachers and parents to have a good understanding of the ‘code’ themselves.
A ‘digraph’ refers to two letters representing one sound (e.g., ‘ee’ as in ‘tree’, ‘oa’ as in ‘boat’, ‘ir’ as in girl). The difficulty in English is these different sounds can often be represented in more than one way (e.g., /ee/ can be represented as ‘ee’ as in tree, ‘ea’, as in ‘leaf’, ‘ie’ as in chief to name a few) and often a particular letter or letter combination can represent more than one sound (e.g., ‘ow’ is read differently in ‘cow’, ‘blow’ and ‘bowl’).
Digraphs are not to be confused with blends. A ‘blend‘ is two or more consecutive consonants in which each consonant has its own distinct sound (e.g., ‘bl’ as in ‘blow’, ‘str’ as in ‘strap). I don’t see a lot of point in teaching blends as I believe it is more important for students to hear the individual sounds represented by each of these letters.
Sometimes the two letters in a digraph are separated by a consonant and these are referred to as ‘split digraphs’ (e.g., ‘a-e’ as in ‘cake’, ‘e-e’ as in ‘athlete’, ‘i-e’ as in ‘kite’, ‘o-e’ as in ‘bone’ and ‘u-e’ as in flute). Often the final ‘e’ in split digraphs is referred to as ‘magic’, ‘fairy’ or ‘bossy’ ‘e’ which changes the first vowel in the split digraphs from a short vowel sound (/a/-apple, /e/-egg, /i/-insect, /o/-orange, /u/-umbrella) to a long vowel sound (/ay/, /ee/, /ie/, /oa/, /ue/ – the ‘name of the letter’). Children who have been taught with an emphasis on letter names often find it difficult understanding the concept of split digraphs and you may find that you need to spend time revising the basic sound represented by the letters of the alphabet (/a/ as in ‘apple, /b/ as in ‘bat’, etc.) and in particular the vowels.
Most commonly two consecutive vowels represent one sound. However, in some words two consecutive vowels may represent two distinct sounds and these are referred to as ‘split vowels’ (e.g, lion, deodorant, altruistic). Usually the first vowel in split vowels is pronounced as the long vowel sound and the second vowel as a short vowel sound.
Activities to reinforce students understanding of split digraphs:
Make a list of words that change into another word when an ‘e’ is added.
Type the words on the left on a strip of paper. Write an ‘e’ on a small square of paper. Ask your child to read the words with and without the ‘e’.
Alternatively, write each word on a separate card and play games like fish or concentration. Children match the cards and read the words.
For some basic computer game on this topic go to: http://www.education.com/game/silent-e-bus-stop-spelling/ or http://www.starfall.com/n/make-a-word/silent-e/load.htm?f