EdPlace's Y1 & Y2 Home Learning English Lesson: Digraphs and Split Digraphs

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Get them started on the lesson below and then jump into our teacher-created activities to practice what they've learnt. We've recommended five to ensure they feel secure in their knowledge - 5-a-day helps keeps the learning loss at bay (or so we think!).

Are they keen to start practising straight away? Head to the bottom of the page to find the activities. 

Now...onto the lesson!


Key Stage 1 statutory requirement for English 
Key Stage 1 students should be able to apply phonic knowledge and skills as a route to decode words and read accurately by blending sounds in unfamiliar words containing GPCs that have been taught.


What's the difference between a digraph and a split digraph?

“A what now?”... we hear you say! If you think the terminology used to teach phonics sounds like a totally different language, you're not alone.  But rest assured, although you may be surprised by the language your little ones confidently repeat at home, it IS all English and much more simple than it sounds.

We're sure that if you follow this article through, both you and your child will be able to:

1) Understand what is meant by the terms 'digraph' and 'trigraph'

2) Explain how to break down sounds in words 

3) Apply this understanding to examples


Why as rational adults do we experience the Phonics Panic?

For lots of us, the word 'phonics' is a concept we don't fully understand.  It's probably because we didn't learn to read and spell using phonics, and for those that did, we may not remember what it all meant. However, phonics make up the building blocks of all language that we use, and should not be feared!  From nursery to Year 2, your child will distinguish between different speech sounds, otherwise known as phonemes, and they will match sounds to letters which are also known as graphemes.

Regardless of how the word makes us feel, it's clear that phonics are here to stay, and that's because evidence shows the teaching of systematic synthetic phonics is the most effective way for developing confident young readers.  So, let's get up to speed with this approach and develop the tools to best support our children in this important learning milestone.  After all, phonics is the key to being able to access the rest of the school curriculum.


Step 1 - Learning the Phonics Lingo!

Before we get started it's really important that we understand the language of phonics. 

Grapheme-phoneme correspondence (GPC) — this sounds like a really technical concept.  Put simply, it's all about the relationship between sounds and the letters which represent those sounds.  It's the sort of thing that to us as adults is second nature, but, we only know this because someone taught us back in the day (although we often can't remember it)!

Digraph - Two letters which make one sound. A consonant digraph contains two consonants.  Here are some examples, sh ck th ll. If you think about the sounds these combinations of consonants make, your mouth only moves once to make these sounds, but we know that more than one letter is involved in the spelling.

A vowel digraph -  this is the same principle as outlined above for a digraph, but this just means that the one sound created by two letters contains at least one vowel. Some examples that you will be familiar with are ai ee ar oy.

Trigraph -  Same principle as a digraph, but this time three letters together make one sound.  For example, igh   dge

Split-digraph - Finally, the word that strikes fear in the hearts of adults when your little literacy genius spouts it after school... split digraph.  But, fear not... it just means a digraph in which the two letters making the sound are not adjacent (eg. make).  If you think about the sound that the makes in this word, it's pronounced as ae but the letters needed for the sound are split, they're either side of the letter k.  Simples!


Step 2 - Differentiating your digraphs!

Phonics is split into 6 phases that spread across nursery to year 2. In Key Stage 1, children will learn phase 3 sounds and will be introduced to digraphs. Digraphs are simply two letters (graphemes) that make one sound (phoneme). It can help if you explain to your child that they are a team of letters that work together to make one sound.

Let’s look at the word sweet. s-w-ee-t

When we break up the word into its different sounds, we find we have 4 sounds. Here's a top tip for working this out, each time we change the shape of our mouths that signals a new sound. The sound ‘ee’ is made using two letters but this counts as a single sound.  Try it?  We make the ‘ee’ sound without having to change the shape of our mouth. 

You may have heard of vowel digraphs and consonant digraphs?  Now, we're happy with the concept of a digraph, consonant and vowel digraphs are as logical as they sound.  They simply mean that these digraphs (two letters) make a vowel sound or not.  Vowel digraphs = ae, ie, oe, ee, ue  whereas, consonant digraphs = ch, th, ck, ph, ll.

A vowel digraph must have at least one letter that is a vowel.  Here it is in practice.  Look at the word 'slow’ 'ow' work together to make the 'o' sound.

When we teach phonics, we tend to look at one sound and then show children the different ways this can be made. For example, true, food and crew all have the same 'oo' sound, however, the sounds are made each time by a different digraph.


Tackling Trigraphs 

Ok, we've grasped the concept of a digraph so let's throw another piece of phonics terminology into the mix.  Ever heard of a trigraph?  It's the same concept as a digraph, but instead of two letters making the one sound, we now have three letters making the single sound (or three letters representing one sound).  Teachers often explain this concept as three best friends standing together to make one sound. Here are some examples of trigraphs in everyday English:

ear as in hear

igh as in night

air as in pair

ure as in pure


Step 3 - The world of split digraphs!

Hopefully, after reading through Step 1 and 2, we've cleared up a few misconceptions about the complexity of digraphs and trigraphs.  Now just when you thought you were starting to get the hang of it ... here come the split digraphs! 

A split digraph is the same as a digraph, however, the two ‘friends’ have been split by another letter. This occurs when a vowel digraph is split by a consonant. Some teachers may call this the ‘magic e’. It helps some children to imagine that ‘e’ in the split digraph actually makes the first vowel say its name.

Let's take the word 'make'.


The word has four sounds but as you can see the ‘ae’ sound has been split up by the consonant ‘k’. The ‘e’ at the end of the word is not said after the ‘k’ as this would change the word, so it works with the ‘a’ to make the ‘ae’ sound.

Examples of split digraphs

ie       i_e        nice

ae     a_e       same

oe     o_e       home

ue     u_e       cute


Let’s look at another example:


The word has 3 sounds but as you can see the ‘ie’ sound has been split up by the ‘t’. The ‘e’ makes the ‘i’ say its name. So, the long vowel sound is made rather than the short.


Step 4 - Putting it into practise

It seems like there's a lot to remember. But, we promise it sounds far more complicated than it is! The best way to test your understanding is to give it a go.  Why not try it out now with your child?  Remember every time you change the shape of your mouth that represents a new sound, try to hear this rather than read it!

Can you identify the digraph in these words?

  1. creep

  2. boat

  3. fell

  4. puff

  5. chick


Can you identify the trigraph or split digraph in these words?

  1. night

  2. pair

  3. cake

  4. note


Step 5 - Show what you know!

Hopefully, you're now feeling like you've improved your phonics knowledge enough to help your child to progress in reading and spelling. Now you've gone over this with your child, why not see how they do with the following activities? 

All activities are created by teachers and automatically marked. Plus, with an EdPlace subscription, we can automatically progress your child at a level that's right for them. Sending you progress reports along the way so you can track and measure progress, together - brilliant! 


Activity 1: Consonant Digraphs 2

Activity 2: Vowel Digraphs 2

Activity 3: Trigraph 'ore' and DIgraphs 'aw' and 'au' 2

Activity 4: Split Digraphs 2

Activity 5: Split Digraphs Vowel Sounds


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All English, maths and science from Year 1 - GCSE



  1. creep

  2. boat

  3. fell

  4. puff

  5. chick


  1. night

  2. pair

  3. cake

  4. note