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Vowel Diagraphs for Struggling Spellers

written by: twhatley • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 9/11/2012

Vowel diagraphs add to teaching a child about sounds. In this article, we will learn how to incorporate vowel diagraphs into a spelling program designed for students struggling with spelling, or who have a diagnosed condition such as dyslexia.

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    Basic Vowel Sounds

    To learn how to correctly spell using the English language, you must understand the common sounds. Diagraphs are a combination of two letters to create those sound and are broken down into short, long and R-controlled groupings.

    Vowel sounds in the English language outnumbers the letters available. Vowels must be combined to represent them all. First we will go over the basic vowel sounds which should be introduced into the spelling program first, and the child should be able to master them before moving onto the diagraphs. Below you will find the basic 5 short, 6 long and 3 R-controlled vowel sounds.

    5 Short Vowel Sounds

    • Short a: and, as, after
    • Short e: send, pen, when
    • Short i: it, is, in
    • Short o: mop, top, flop
    • Short u: cup, upper, under

    6 Long Vowel Sounds

    • Long a: lake, wake, make
    • Long e: feet, meet, seek
    • Long i: tie, sigh, lie
    • Long o: moat, boat, toe
    • Long u: Rule, cruel
    • Long oo: few, blew, shoe

    R-controlled Vowel Sounds

    • Ur: blur, her, hurt
    • Ar: lark, dark
    • Or: pork, fork
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    Vowel Diagraphs

    Practice with the student the above vowels and the sounds they make. Move onto diagraphs when the student has confidently grasped the basic sound groups. Start off slow and don’t try to cover too much material at once. Only pick a couple of the below combinations at a time as to not overwhelm the child.

    • AI: train, mail, maid, aid, aim, fail, main, paid, pain, paint
    • AY: play, pray, say, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, ray, way
    • A-E: age, cake, pale, gate, game, frame, fame, whale, wake
    • EE: queen, agree, wheel, keep, weed, sheep, sheet, seen
    • EA: eat, lead, lean, mean, wheat, steal, easy, east
    • EY: valley, monkey, donkey, alley, key
    • E-E: here, mere, scene
    • IE: die, pie, lie, fries, fried, tried, tries
    • Y: by, deny, sky, shy, try, why
    • IGH: high, night, sight, fright, sigh, thigh
    • I-E: dime, bike, side, tide, pine, mine, wine, time
    • OA: road, load, goal, toad, goat, loan, moan, soap
    • OW: throw, bow, glow, crow, flow, snow
    • OE: woe, to, goes, hoe, toe, doe
    • O-E: bone, woke, hose, joke, nose, mole, rode
    • EW: few, view, stew, dew, grew, flew
    • UE: blue, sue, gruel, glue, flue, rue
    • U-E: cube, tune, tub, tube, sure, rude
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    Other Helpful Hints

    Make or buy some vowel diagraph flash cards. To ensure success with any part of a spelling program, start off with words that the child knows or is familiar with first. Continue to increase in difficulty as the child learns. When the child can effectively sound out diagraphs, give them unfamiliar words to read and encourage them to sound them out based on what they’ve already learned. Eventually, this technique will be the building blocks to improving reading and spelling skills in your child.