Tuesday 13 March 2012

Graphemes With Two Or More Letters

Once your child has become confident with single letter phonemes, they will start to learn sounds that are made up of two or more letters. At this stage I became a bit confused by all the different words I came across that were being used to describe different aspects of phonics. There were phonemes, graphemes, digraphs and trigraphs and I had no idea what the difference was, so I thought a definition of each would be useful.

A phoneme, as we have already discovered, is an individual sound. When phonemes are put together in the right order they will blend to make a word. For instance, the phonemes 'c', 'a' and 't' can be blended together to make the word cat. Phonemes can contain one, two or three letters. For instance, the sounds 'qu', 'ee' and 'n' are blended together to make the word queen, and the phonemes 'l', 'igh' and 't' are blended together to make the word light.

A grapheme is essentially a phoneme written down. That is, the letters and letter combinations that are used to spell a phoneme.

Although a grapheme refers to a phoneme with one, two or three letters, a grapheme with two letters is usually referred to as a digraph and a grapheme with three letters is usually referred to as a trigraph. Although digraphs and trigraphs are written down with more than one letter, the letters combine to make a single sound.

Below is a list of all the graphemes with more than one letter, in the order that your child is likely to learn them at school.

ck as in kick
ll as in hill
ff as in toffee
ss as in hiss

Children are often taught the above sounds with their single letter counterparts, so 'ck' is often taught at the same time as 'c' and 'k', 'll' at the same time as 'l', 'ff' at the same time as 'f'' and 'ss' at the same time as 's'. The remainder will be taught once your child is able to recognise all the single letter phonemes.

zz as in buzz
qu as in queen
ch as in chin
sh as in hush
th as in thing and that (the 'th' in 'thing' is slightly softer sounding than the 'th' in 'that' but your child will learn them both at the same time.)
ng as in song
ai as in rain
ee as in seen
igh as in light
oa as in boat 
oo as in boot and cook (this digraph can be sounded in either of these ways and your child will learn both at the same time.)
ar as in car
or as in corn
ur as in turn
ow as in cow
oi as in coin
ear as in clear
air as in fair
ure as in sure (This one threw me a little because I know that a lot of the words with this grapheme can be pronounced in different ways. The pronunciation is more like 'or'.)
er as in flower
ay as in day
ou as in shout
ie as in tie
ea as in eat
oy as in toy
ir as in bird
ue as in blue
aw as in crawl
wh as in when
ph as in phone
ew as in grew
oe as in toe
au as in caught
ey as in grey
If you are unsure how to pronounce any of these phonemes there is a brilliant tool on the Usborne Very First Reading website which lets you listen to some of these sounds. You will find it here. I really recommend listening to this so you can be confident you are helping your child learn the correct sounds.

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