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How to Teach Short Vowel Digraphs

Literacy, Phonics, Spelling & Word Work

Written by: Mary Kate Bolinder

Short vowel digraphs are a phonics skill that takes practice and exposure for students to master. Surely your students have come up with the question, “What’s the difference between the words read and read? ” The words look the same, but sound different given the context of the sentence. Let’s take a closer look at how to teach short vowel digraphs in the 2nd grade classroom.

What are short vowels digraphs?

Short vowel digraphs are when two vowels work together to produce one sound. In the case of a short vowel digraph, the two vowels make a short vowel sound. Examples of short vowel digraphs include:

  • ea (short e): bread, dead, read, ahead
  • ou (short u): double, trouble, touch

At this point, your students you might be thinking, “What’s the difference between a short vowel digraph and a vowel team?” or “What’s the difference between a short vowel digraph or a diphthong?”

A short vowel digraph and a vowel team differ in that a vowel team almost always says the long vowel sound of the given vowels. Also, a short vowel digraph differs from a diphthong because a diphthong is two letters that work together to make a unique vowel sound.

Here are tips for teaching vowel teams in the 2nd grade classroom. We’ve also got tricks for teaching diphthongs.

TIP: Having a sound wall in the classroom can help reinforce sounds and spelling patterns for young readers. Take a look at how teachers are using sound walls in their classrooms and in small reading groups.

Teaching Short Vowel Digraphs in 2nd Grade

Teaching short vowel rules is one of the first phonics skills taught and reviewed in first and second grade. Because the English Language has been influenced by so many other languages around the world, the spelling patterns of words with the same sounds may vary.

For example, the letters ou can be a short vowel digraph (short u), and a diphthong with two different sounds, like out and soup. No wonder young readers and English Language Learners may struggle with this concept! Word sorts and targeted reading passages can be helpful when identifying these words.

When introducing a new short vowel digraph, create an anchor chart with words that follow the spelling pattern. Use this anchor chart to do word sorts, sentences, and review throughout the week.

Short Vowel Digraphs Activity

Phonics is a crucial part of daily literacy instruction. In our Phonics Day by Day bundle, students will review previously taught concepts with a 5-day spiral review dedicated to a unique phonics skill. In the digital center (pictured below), students will identify, read, sort, and write short vowel digraphs.

digital phonics center to practice short vowel digraphs on a classroom device

2 Ways to Get This Resource

Sorting short vowel digraphs from vowel teams and diphthongs can be tricky, but with practice and repetition, your second grade readers will be able to work through this skill. What advice do you have for teaching short vowel digraphs? Tell us in the comments below!

How to Teach other 2nd Grade Phonics Concepts

Ready to teach another phonics skill? We’ve got a post for that!

Hard & Soft C/G

Multisensory Phonics Activities

Silent Letters

Short Vowels

Short Vowel Digraphs

Long Vowels

Vowel Teams

Teaching Vowel Teams


Inflected Endings

Syllable Patterns/Multisyllabic Words

How to Introduce the 6 Syllable Types


New & Fun Ways to Teach Contractions


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