Blends and Digraphs

What, you may wonder, is the difference between “blends” and “digraphs”?

Blends are certain combinations of two or more consonant letters that appear at the beginning or the end of words and together create specific sounds. In blends, you can hear the sound of each letter, but blended together.  Some examples of common blends are bl, cr, st, sm, thr, squ.

Digraphs are a combination of two letters that, when placed together, represent a new sound. Examples are ph, gh, ch, sh, ng, th, or wh. In digraphs, you don’t hear the sound of each letter as you do in blends.

If your child is having difficulty learning to read “blends” and “digraphs,” a fun activity is to get an old catalogue or a collection of flyers with common household items and groceries, that is okay to cut up. In a scrapbook, at the top of each page, write a blend or digraph you want your child to learn, and then have her go through the catalogue or flyers and clip out pictures of all kinds of different items she likes or knows the words for. You may want to discuss each picture before cutting, in order to decide whether the word contains a blend and/or digraph. If it does, your child can clip it out. If not, your child can just leave the picture or can still clip it out but put it in an ordinary alphabet scrapbook. Examples of blend and digraph pictures a child might clip are: telephone (ph), whale (wh), stuffy (st), squash (squ), blanket (bl), chair (ch), swing (ng), etc.

Then give the child a glue stick, and have her glue each picture on the correct page. You can start with items that have the blend or digraph at the beginning, and later, as the child becomes more familiar with the different blends/digraphs, include items that have those blends/digraphs in the middle or end of the word. The child can show her personal “blends and digraphs” book to visitors, and say the words on each page. You can label each picture, and highlight the digraph or blend in the word.

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Teaching Word Endings


dance dancing-words

Simple words to complex words with added  endings:

Some children have difficulty extending their reading from a simple word, to its more complex forms, such as adding -ing or -ed, changing tenses, and adding prefixes or suffixes.

  • Simply list the different forms one under the other, and “box” the core part of the word, so the child sees the connection, and then goes on to practice reading and using the different forms (dance, danced, dancing, dancer, dances, etc.).
  • Print some words on a piece of paper (for example: dance, run, dog, dancing, flap, dancer). Then write the “keyword” (dance) in large letters, and have the child circle the words that have that root word in them. Together, make up sentences that use the circled words (you may need to provide examples at first, but encourage your child to also try to make sentences using each circled word).
  • Use a single basic sentence (for example: I like to dance.) and then rewrite it using the other forms (I like dancing; I danced and liked it; I like that dancer; I like going to dances; etc.). Then have the child read each sentence; she will likely be able to easily recognize and read the form of the word by its context.
  • Write the base word on a piece of paper, with the root word slightly separated from the rest of the word (eg. start ed; laugh ing; teach er; un wrap etc.). Have your child read the word he knows, and then read the extra “chunk.” Then have him put them together.
  • You can also make lists words, categorized by their extra endings, and practice them together until your child becomes comfortable with reading the added word part from each list.

Note: You can do similar exercises with words that have prefixes such as re- or un- or de- added to them.

Tips for -ed endings:

When a child is learning to add the “-ed” ending to a word to make it past tense, it is important to point out that the ending sound can be “ed” or “d” or “t.” This is something that confuses many children. What can you do?

  • Create a sheet with 3 columns. Put each of the 3 “sounds” at the top of a separate column, and then as your child reads or listens, have her write down the “-ed” words she comes across that have each sound. After there are at least half a dozen words in each list, you can together compare the words in each column, and come up with a “rule” for each set.
  • While it is fine to “teach rules” about spelling, or any other literacy skill, if the child is involved in “figuring out the rule,” she will actually learn and remember it even better. (Of course, being English, not all words will follow the rule…).
  • Some examples of -ed words with different sounds:
    • ed: started, ended, wanted, hunted (words that end with the hard consonant sounds of d/t–the same sounds as the -ed ending makes)
    • t: hopped, jumped, laughed, wished (“short vowel” words)
    • d: raised, peered, sailed (“long vowel words”)
    • Oh! You may also wish to make a fourth column for all those “oddball” past tense words: wrote, read, sang, etc.

-ing or -ong word endings:

Children are often taught the “ing” word ending early on, because it is so useful, but then they have difficulty when the “ong” ending is introduced. Fortunately, there are some great “ing/ong” combinations that children find very amusing, and really help them see the difference between the two sounds:

  • sing-song, ding-dong, King-Kong, ping-pong
  • fun “ong” words like “Hong Kong”
  • common words like “strong, wrong, and long.” Children can create very amusing sentences or poems using these words!

I hope these tips have been helpful. Do you have other tips for teaching word endings? Please feel free to add them in the comments below. Thank you!


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Creative Memory Tricks for Sounds & Letters

letter-and-sound-tricksUse creative memory tricks–and have your child help you think them up. He will remember a lot better if the trick is his own! Here are a few tricks some of my students have come up with, or we have come up with together:

  • For the “soft c” (instead of “s”) in “face,” draw a pair of eyes and a mouth in the “c” (which is shaped more like a face than “s” is).
  • To remember the “a” in the middle of “whale,” draw a fat whale, and put a small “wh” by the whale’s mouth, and a small “le” in the tail–and a great big “a” in the whale’s big faaaat tummy!
  • For the “double s” at the end of “grass,” draw a picture of a snake slithering through grass and saying “ss.” Once “grass” is learned, it is easy to extend this to other “ss” words (glass, mass, bass, class, dress, etc.).
  • For a child who often writes her “s” backwards, draw a picture of a snake standing up on its tail (in an “s” curve) with its head facing to the right as if it is slithering across the page from left to right.
  • For a child having trouble with “h” at the beginning of words (quite a common problem!), start with the word “hand.” Break it into an equation: h+and=hand (the child will likely already know “and”). Have the child read the equation aloud, then read h-and, and then blend it together. You can also do this with other “h” words like “h+is=his” and “h+at=hat” and “h+all=hall.” After going through this process with several words, most children will “get” the initial “h” sound and be able to easily transfer the sound to more complex “h” words.
  • Some consonants have an alternative sound, such as the “soft g” which sounds like “j” and is thus often confused in spelling. Collect a list of “soft g” words and make up funny sentences that emphasize the use. For example: “Gentleman Gerry smeared gel on the page.” (Yes, there are some fairly complex words in the sentence, but when the child creates the sentence herself, she is likely to recognize the words she has used–and will not only learn the alternate sound for the target letter, but also be pleased to find herself reading “hard” words at the same time).
  • When teaching the “wh” question words (who, what, when, where, why), connect the “wh” with a big question mark (?). You can put a big “?” in a circle in the middle of the page, write the question words around the question mark, circle the “wh” in each word, and draw lines to connect the “?” with the “wh.” Also, until the child “gets” the “wh” on a regular basis, it may help to remind him of the “wh” if he spells it with just “w” by putting a circled “?” above the “w”–then it will be easy for him to remember the correct spelling and fix it.
  • Some children confuse “how” and “now” which look very similar. A simple trick which often works wonders is to write “How now, brown cow?” Children get a giggle from this common phrase, and enjoy copying it–and soon distinguish the two words, as well as “picking up” the “ow” sound in all four words. They may also like to illustrate it with a brown cow, and even “mooooo” after they say, write, and draw the phrase. The more ways of approaching the problem, the more likely the child is to “get it.”
  • Having trouble sorting out “b” and “d”? Draw a sketch of a bed, with a headboard and footboard. Write the word “bed” on the sketch!
  • What about sorting out “p” and “g”? Draw a sketch of a pig, and print the word pig in it. Use the “p” and “g” as legs and feet for the pig!
  • For “d” and “p,” write the word “dip,” and under it draw a sketch of land “dipping” down under the “p.”
  • For each letter of the alphabet, sketch an animal or other item around the letter, whose name starts with that letter.

What other creative memory tricks can you and your child come up with to help learn letters and sounds?

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Blended Sounds & Multi-Syllabic Words

syllablesThis post combines two topics: blended sounds and multi-syllabic words. How are they related? Well, in the case of blended sounds, children sometimes try to sound out the blended letters separately–and end up saying a single-syllable word as a multi-syllable word. On the other hand, in the case of multi-syllabic words, children sometimes try to blend the whole word into one syllable! Let’s take a look at each situation.

Blending letters/sounds together:

Many children have difficulty “sounding words” because they tend to sound each letter separately and distinctly–but that is not how we talk, and so it doesn’t sound like the words they hear people say. So the important thing is to stretch the sounds out and blend them into each other. This will help children understand how letters work together. And it will simply be easier for them to “read” — as, after all, they do not hear people say “c-a-t” but “caaat.” Initially stretch all the sounds, then stretch the vowels out longer that the consonants, and finally, say the word normally.

A related issue is when children try to read words which have blended consonant sounds, such as sh, ch, th, lk, nk, bl, cr, and so on. You can help your children learn to “blend” these consonants by presenting them with groups of frequently used words that use a particular combination. When they see and say these groups of words, they quickly learn the pattern for that blended sound, and will not have difficulty with other similar words they encounter in their reading. As an example, for “bl,” you could list words like “blue, black, blink, block, blend.” When the child is easily recognizing and correctly saying these blends, introduce a few other examples in which the blend is found part way through a word or at the end of a word: cobblestone, able. The sound of the blend may be slightly different in other positions but the concept of blending is the same.

Multi-syllabic words:

Sometimes with multi-syllabic words, a child is not sure where the syllable break (or word/chunk break) should come, or may even try to pronounce the entire word in one syllable.. For example, for “gather” a child might try “gat” and “her” (thinking of “her,” an already-known word), but it won’t make sense. Or if trying to say it in one syllable, it might sound like “gatr.” Here are some suggestions on how

  • Ask the child if he sees any sound chunks he already knows. Again with the example of “gather,” if he points out “th” in “gather,” say, “Yes! Now you know that you need to make the break after the “h” and not before it. Do you see another sound chunk you know?” “Er?” “Yes! Since these are both chunks, there is a good chance we divide the word between them. I am going to draw a line between ‘gath’ and ‘er.’ Can you figure out the word now?” “Gather!”
  • Ask the child if she sees any small words she already knows. Underline the “mini-words” she points out, or write the word on a piece of paper with the “mini-words” in capital letters. Then have the child say the word in separate syllables. For example, PENcil, oPEN, DENtist, RENTal, TENder, enCOUNTer, SEVEN/TEEN, GENTLE/MAN, ENTER/tain. You’ll notice that in words like “seventeen” or “entertain,” you might have to do further divisions, referring to sound chunks, prefixes and suffixes. Speaking of which…
  • Look for beginning prefixes (like re- or de-) and ending suffixes (like -ing or -ed or -ly). These word chunks are often very common, and it is a good idea to teach them in groups of words so the child easily recognizes them in other words. Learning prefixes can be a fun dictionary activity for the child; open the dictionary to a common prefix such as “re” and look together at the dozens of words that start with “re.” For suffixes, you’ll probably have to make up your own lists, or you can google “suffixes” and find lists like this one. You will also want to teach some common word endings such as: -ing, -ed, -es. Once you’ve taught your child a variety of prefixes, and suffixes and other word endings, it will be easy for the child to figure out how to divide words that contain them. Examples: openING, sensaTION/AL, tenderLY, ENjoyMENT, ENcountER, DImenTION. Note that sometimes there will both a prefix and a suffix (like ENcountER). Also, once prefixes and suffixes are found, you can see if there are any little words or sound chunks your knows (like enCOUNTer).
  • Look for double letters in words. Divide the words into syllables between the doubled letters (at/tached, syl/lables, suf/fix, hap/py, fuz/zy, med/dle, wed/ding, ched/dar, etc.).
  • Point out to the child that for words with suffixes like -ed or -ing, if the vowel in the main part of the word has the short sound, then the final consonant is doubled and the suffix is added: bed/ding, wed/ded). But if the vowel is long, then just add the suffix: bead/ed, weed/ed).
  • Compound words: look for little words you know, and divide the big word between the little words: red/head, under/fed, sun/shine, sail/boat.
  • When there is a vowel in the middle of a long word, it often has the short sound, and the word is divided before and after the vowel: ed/i/tor, med/i/tate, sed/a/tive, sed/i/tion, med/i/cal, ped/e/stal, ped/i/gree. If you are reading with your child and spot a word like this, tell the child that the vowel in the middle has the short sound and is sounded out by itself. Again, introducing the child to a group of these kinds of words is a great way to help the child learn the pattern and begin to recognize it in other words.
  • When a word ends with “ly,” leave off the ly and see if you recognize the rest of the word: friend/ly, happi/ly (from happy). You can do the same with other endings.

Obviously, you won’t sit down and teach all these “rules” at once. The best thing to do is keep an eye and ear out for multi-syllabic words your child is having difficulty with, and at that time determine the “rule” for that word, and then teach the pattern with a group of words, and/or teach the suffix, prefix, or other ending.

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful.

Looking for other useful tips on helping your child read and write? Check out the list of topics in the second half of our Tutoring Tips page.

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Long Vowel Sound Tips





“Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O!” Or is that “e – i – e – i – o”? Long sounds or short sounds? Vowels can be so confusing–especially the long vowel sounds!

One of the difficulties with “long vowel sounds” is that in English we have a variety of ways to “spell” those sounds. For example, the “long a” sound may be made with the “magic e” at the end of the word (as in “make”), with “two vowels walking; the first one doing the talking and says its name and the second is silent” (as in “mail” or “Donna Mae”), with “eigh” (as in “weight, eight”), with “ay” (as in “pay, say”), and if you’re a good Canadian … “eh!”

If your child is struggling with these differences, here are some tips you can try:

Create a chart with rows of the different combinations for a particular vowel. For example, create a chart with the “long a” combinations as above (magic e, ai, ae, eight, ay),  Then as your child reads and spots “long a” words, he can put them in the correct columns. Soon he will be easily seeing the patterns, and in future readings will recognize when he needs to sound “long a.”

Make rhyming word lists of all the words you can think of that have a particular vowel sound and spelling. As an example, for “long i” as in “igh”: bright, fight, light, might, night, plight, right, sight, slight, tight. (You’ll need to make  separate lists for other words that also rhyme with these, but are spelled with “eigh”: height, sleight; or with “magic e”: bite, kite, mite, quite, rite, site, trite, white).

Create interesting phrases or sentences that the child is likely to remember: “I saw lightning at night a mile in height.”). Underline the part of the word that makes the long vowel sound, and stress the “long vowel sound” as each word is said aloud.

Illustrate “magic e” word changes: Is your child having trouble with the “magic/silent e” rule for long vowels? Children love to write and illustrate the changes that occur when an “e” is added to the end of a simple word. If it is written as an “addition equation” they like it even better! First, write the “equation” with words; then under the words draw little sketches to illustrate the “before” and “after” words (and also again use the plus and equal sign). Be sure to have your child read the equation aloud, so she also “hears” the difference between the short and long vowel sounds.
– pin + e = pine
– kit + e = kite
– tap + e = tape
– cub + e = cube
– mop + e = mope (make a sad face emoticon)
– cap + e = cape

(If you’d like a print-out of these kinds of illustrations, here is a PDF: magic-e )

Your child may get really enthusiastic about this and start adding “magic e” to other words which don’t have “magic e” equivalents. For example, “cab + e = cabe.” This is alright–it simply shows that your child is understanding the “rule.” Use this “teachable moment” to have her read the equation aloud, then ask her, “Is ‘cabe’ a real word?” She’ll probably realize it isn’t, and you can discuss how the equation works for many words but not for all words–but congratulate her for understanding the vowel sound change that “magic e” makes.

Another thing that can happen is that she may write, for example, “ran + e = rane.” This is a great chance to explain that there are other ways to make the “long vowel” sound — such as using “ai” for “rain” — the “two vowels walking” rule. You can show her other examples of this (train, drain, afraid, hair, etc.).

Homonyms: One other thing that can happen is that your child comes up with a “homonym” word. For example, she may do “pan + e = pane.” Ask, “What does ‘pane’ mean?” If she says it means something hurts, you have another “teachable moment” in which you can explain that sometimes there are words that sound the same, but have different meanings and are spelled differently. You can show her that the “ai” in “pain” refers to something that hurts, while the “magic e” in “pane” refers to a “window pane.” Both have the “long a” sound but have different spellings and different meanings!

Summary of long vowel combinations:

If you would like a print-out of long-vowel combinations with sample words for each combination, click here: long-vowels

Looking for other useful tips on helping your child read and write? Check out the list of topics in the second half of our Tutoring Tips page.

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Ways to Read a Difficult Word in A Sentence

reading togetherIf your child is having trouble reading a particular word, but is able to read the rest of the sentence, here are some tips to help her figure out the difficult word:

  • Skip the word, and come back to it when she is finished reading the entire sentence. Then sound out the first couple letters, and “guess” the word through the combination of the beginning sound and the context (meaning) of the sentence.
  • Instead of just telling her to “sound it out,” take a look at the word. Are there “chunks” she is having trouble with? She may be trying to sound out the word letter by letter, and having no success because she runs into chunks like “th” or “ch” or “gh.” You may need to review (or teach) these kinds of chunk sounds and then have her try the word again. Similarly, long vowel sounds are often written in a variety of ways, and you may need to review or teach them (“long a” may be written as “a__e” or “eigh” or “ay” or “ae” or “ai”).
  • For multi-syllabic words, help your child divide them into syllables and sound out each part. If she has difficulty with this, write the word on a piece of paper, and use a pencil to try out different divisions. Remind her that every syllable must have at least one vowel. Have her look for “sound chunks” she recognizes. These may be sound chunks (“th,” “sh”), word endings (“ing,” “ed”), suffixes or prefixes, or words within words (compound words like “sunshine” or words that have a smaller word in them like “sunny”).
  •  Also, with multi-syllabic words, have your child look for “double consonants.” A fun way to teach that syllables often are broken at double consonants is to write the word “Mississippi” — and divide it: Mis/sis/sip/pi. Then watch for other (easier!) words with double consonants, and see how many have syllables divided that way. If your child continues to have difficulty with a particular word, you can first write the word with slashes or dashes between the syllables and have your child read them that way, then just with spaces between, and finally write the words normally. You can also use magnetic or foam letters, and have the child “feel” the different syllables and say them at the same time.
  • Look at the picture on the page to see if it provides a hint.
  • Find or recall other words she has already figured out that are very similar. The new word may be just a different form of the same word (for example: dance, dancer, dancing, danced).
  • If your child is getting frustrated, it doesn’t hurt to say the word for her, and then show her how you figured it out.

You can help your child avoid frustration with difficult words if you do a bit of preparation before having the child read. Look through the book (or other item to be read) before your child reads it, and pick out words you think he will have trouble with. Write them as individual words on a piece of paper or on index cards. Then do these kinds of activities with your child before reading the book:

  • Together, analyze the words (sound them out).
  • If the words are vocabulary your child does not know, be sure to discuss the meaning of the word, rather than just sound it out or whatever. You can together look up the word in the dictionary, or you can look at pictures in the book, or discuss the context (the sentence/paragraph in which the word is found) for hints about the word’s meaning.
  • List the words in groups of similar sounds (for example, “th” words, or “short vowel sound” words). Compare them to similar “sound” words your child already knows.
  • Or, if the book or other item to be read has a lot of words that are about a particular topic (animals, sports, etc.), divide the difficult words into sub-groups. For example, for sports, you could divide names of sports into sub-groups such as racquet sports, team sports, or other subdivisions. Learning words in groups like this often helps a child recognize and remember the words.
  • Use mnemonic (memory) tricks to help your child remember new words. If your child is involved in creating these tricks (rather than you creating them yourself), the memory will be even stronger. Here are some ideas:
    • Draw little sketches of “problem” words. The sketches do not have to even particularly “look like” the word. The child is simply making a visual connection.
    • Make up a funny little sentence or rhyme or riddle using the word
    • Write the word with magnetic letters, or finger paints, or in sand, or whatever helps your child. “Texture” writing can be very helpful for some children.
    • “Write” the word on your child’s back or on the palm of the child’s hand with your finger. “Feeling” the word can work well.
    • Find out lots more Memory and Learning Strategy Tips and Tricks from this booklet.

Once your child feels confident with the words, he can then read the book easily–and the confidence he has gained by knowing these “hard words” may well work wonders in overcoming anxiety.

What methods have you used that you’d like to share with other parents who are helping their children read difficult words? Be sure to share your tips in the comments below. Thanks!

Looking for other useful tips on helping your child read and write? Check out the list of topics in the second half of our Tutoring Tips page.

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Teaching sounds spelled in a variety of ways

grrrGrrrr! One of the frustrating aspects of English spelling is that similar or same sounds can be spelled in a variety of ways. On the other hand, the same spelling combination can make different sounds! This post will provide some teaching hints to help children with these spelling issues.


For sounds that are made in different ways, such as the “rrrr” sound, write the main sound in the middle of the paper (for example, rrrr). Then divide the page into halves, thirds, or however many sections you need. For the “rrrr” sound, you would need sections for rer, ir, and even or and ar (though those two can sound a bit different). Within each section, write a list of words that have the rrrr sound, and are spelled with the specific spelling combination.

Vowel sounds:

You can do the same with vowel sounds. For example, write an “a” in the middle of the sheet, in a square. Then divide the sheet into as many parts as you want to work on–“short a” words, and “long a” words with “ai“, with “silent/magic e“, with “eigh“, and with “ay“.


Spellings with alternate sounds:

Keep in mind that some chunks, blends, and digraphs have alternate sounds. You will also need to teach these alternate sounds, and again, the easiest way is to teach a group of words that have that same sound. Some examples:
– “ow” as in “cow” (cow, bow, how, crown, frown)
– “ow” as in “blow” (blow, crow, slow, snow, grow)
– “oy” as in “toy” and “oi” as in “boil”
– “ew” as in “blew” and “ue” as in “blue”
– “ow” as in “cow” and “ou” as in “thou” … and “ough” as in “plough”!

– “ed” endings that are pronounced as “-ed“: lifted, hunted, landed
– “ed” endings that are pronounced as “-t“: jumped, walked, asked
– “ed” endings that are pronounced as “-d“: happened, cared, soared

That tricky end-of-word “y”:

– “y” at the end of words when pronounced as “i“: sky, by, my, fly, cry, try, sly (note that these words are usually short single-syllable words)
– “y” at the end of words when pronounced as “e“: happy, marry, bunny (note that these are usually two syllables, and have a double consonant in the middle where the syllable break happens)

And then there are those multiple pronunciations of sounds like “ough”:

though and thorough … cough and trough … through  and slough … tough and rough and, yes, that’s enough!

What other tricky sound spellings can you think of? Add them in the comments! Thanks!

Looking for other useful tips on helping your child read and write? Check out the list of topics in the second half of our Tutoring Tips page.

Posted in Phonics, spelling, vowel sounds | Leave a comment