Get Mixed, Blends & Digraphs

In my last post of the VCCCV syllable division pattern, or Ostrich words, I talked about blends and digraphs, and I said I would make my next post on these concepts so that Ostrich words will make more sense. That was three Mondays ago – I was out of town in Florida visiting my mom for the past two weeks. Even though I had good intentions of posting, it didn’t happen. But, now I’m back and ready to talk about Blends and Digraphs.

First, let’s cover blends.

Blends are consonants that when put together we can hear the pronunciation of each letter sound. For example, BL is “b,” “l” as in BLack. Or LM, is “l,” “m” as in caLM. There are even three letter blends. An example is SPL, “s,” “p,” “l” as in SPLash.

Pronunciation of these blends is important when teaching or learning blends. According to the class I took, there is a tendency to mispronounce “r-blends” and “l-blends.” For example, if the blend tr is pronounced “ter,” the word train would sound like “ter rain” with two syllables.  There is a similar problem with “l-blends” if gl is pronounced as “gul” and you have a word like glee. It can sound like “gull y” with two syllables.

Because it can be difficult to pronounce the letters in blends together, Gillingham did not teach blends as blends. She taught them as consonants that are blended together so that each sound is heard. This is the purpose of starting in OG teaching and learning to pronounce each letter sound and make sure it is correctly pronounced. When blends are taught, the correct individual sounds are already known and it is easier to understand how blends are just combinations of the two consonant letter sounds.

In my class, they taught blends with both real and nonsense words. Our teacher said words out loud and we had to spell them. This taught us to listen carefully to what was being said.

Some blends can be used in both the initial and final positions of words and others are limited to one location within a word. Three-letter blends are harder to learn than two-letter blends. Initial blends are easier to learn than final blends. It is recommended to start with two letter initial blends and move on from there.


Digraphs are different than blends in that we do not hear each letter sound. A consonant digraph is two written letters that do not say their usual sounds. A student must learn the “new” sound that each digraph makes and that it is considered to be one sound.

A little ditty I learned in class was called “The H Brothers.” It is to help with learning digraphs. It is meant for younger children – I use it to tutor second graders and I would use it on older children if I thought it would help.

The H Brothers Story

Shelby was saving money to buy gifts for his brothers.

For Whitney he bought a whistle.

For Charles he bought a cherry red choo choo train.

For Phinneas he bought a phone.

For Thaddeus who was taking sewing in school, he bought a thimble.

Whitney enjoyed blowing his whistle.

Charles pushed his train around saying the three sounds for ch, “ch,” “k” “sh,” “ch,” “k,” “sh”

Phinneas got on his phone and called his friend Phil.

Thaddeus did not like his thimble, stuck his tongue out and said “thhhhhhhhh.”

What do you think Shelby said? “Shhhhhhhhhh.”

Digraphs and Key Words:

Ch                           Chair/Christmas/Chef    “ch”/”k”/”sh      The chair of the Christmas chef.

Gh                          laugh                                     “f”

Ph                           phone                                   “f”

Sh                           shoe                                      “sh”

Th                           mother/thimble               “th” (voiced)/”th” (unvoiced)

Wh                         whistle                                 “hw”

It is important to often re-tell the meaning of a digraph and blend to students. It can be a difficult concept to remember.

Want more? Check out the Workbook Store. This information plus worksheets are in the workbook store.

(5) Comments

  1. I have trouble with the voiced and unvoiced “th” my ear doesn’t hear the difference in your examples

    1. Hi Beth, It can be easier to feel the difference. If you put your hand on your throat and say the word, “mother” — you can feel your throat vibrate. Now, do the same but say the word, “thimble.” There is no vibration in the throat (or less).
      Other examples of voiced are this and the (listen for the harder sound you use) and unvoiced, thin and think (it has a softer sound).
      Please let me know if you still have trouble with it and I am happy to give more examples and make sure you can tell the difference.

  2. Thank you for addressing this question. I thought maybe I had missed something about this in class, but what you said about Anna Gillingham’s approach makes perfect sense given her philosophy.

  3. I am having trouble in reading the quiz attachments. They are so small. How can I print from a Mac and make the print legible? Thanks, Cheryl

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