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Teaching Diphthongs

Phonics, Science of Reading

Written by: Angie Olson

There are few phonics words that will elicit more giggles in the classroom than diphthongs. But what exactly is a diphthong, and why is it important for students to learn? Keep reading for resources and strategies to teach this essential phonics skill.

What are diphthongs?

Let’s dig into the word diphthong. Diphthong is Greek in origin and means “having two sounds.” The prefix “di” means double. Dipthongs can be two different vowels or a vowel-consonant team. Modern English spelling patterns have been influenced by many languages over time. To learn more about the origin of common spelling patterns, check out this informative post.

Examples of diphthongs:

  • au as in author
  • aw as in hawk
  • ew as in flew
  • oi as in oil
  • ou as in soup
  • ow as in cow
  • ow as in snow
  • oy as in boy
  • ue as is true

Find a diphthongs chart here.

Diphthongs are not to be confused with vowel teams, in which two vowels work together to make one sound (usually the long or short vowel sound of one of the vowels). If your students need a bit of review with vowel teams, check out this post on introducing vowel teams with our sound wall.

anchor chart to teach the difference between vowel teams and diphthongs

An easy way for students to remember the meaning of the word diphthong is to think of it like this: diphthong is an unusual word. A diphthong is a group of letters that makes an unusual sound that is not like either of the letters on their own. The letters can only make this sound when they work together!

a classroom sound wall can be a helpful tool for displaying spelling patterns and mouth positions

Introducing and Teaching Diphthongs

popular lucky little learners resources for teaching diphthongs

Whole Group Instruction:

When introducing a new diphthong, start with sound wall cards and phonics posters. Working as a group, have students identify the letters and the sound they make together. Make a class list of all the words that have this spelling pattern and sound. Check it against the illustrated phonics posters.

For a visual reminder of diphthong spelling patterns and examples, check out our illustrated phonics posters. These are great to post around the room, use during small groups, or print and bind in student writing notebooks for independent reference.

Small Group Instruction:

Our Decodable Phonics Passages are perfect for small-group instruction and reinforcement with diphthongs. Students will read the passage, identify words that match the diphthong or spelling pattern, write sound words, and answer comprehension questions. This activity can also be done independently.

Book Nook decodable phonics passage to practice reading diphthong spelling patterns in text

Independent Practice:

Phonics Day By Day: After students have been introduced to a new diphthong, have them demonstrate their understanding using our daily phonics spiral review. These worksheets provide support and reinforcement of phonics skills through quick and engaging activities. You can find Phonics Day by Day for Diphthongs here.

phonics day by day sheet to practice diphthongs in a quick way every day

For some extra fun, check out this video to get up and moving. You will have this song stuck in your head all day!

Practicing Diphthongs in the Classroom

As students get a little more comfortable with their diphthong practice, try these resources in your classroom to continue learning:

Phonics Centers for Diphthongs

Popsicle Puzzles: Students will chill out as they identify the correct diphthong for each popsicle picture.

Build a Train: Choo choo! Diphthong train coming through! Students will choose a diphthong “engine,” and pair it with the matching picture cards to create a train.

Shopping for Toys: a hands-on phonics center where students pick a sentence, find the word that contains a diphthongs OI and OY then find puzzle pieces that match.

For more diphthong phonics centers, check out our phonics center bundle here.

Diphthong Word Ladders

phonics ladders to practice a variety of diphthongs

These word ladders are so versatile. They can be used for while group, small group, one-on-one, independent work, or group centers. See what all the buzz is about with these diphthong word ladders.

Phonics Toothy

Toothy is a teacher and student favorite. Practice diphthongs with this well-loved review format, and see who can fill Toothy’s mouth first! With printable and digital formats, Toothy is sure to bring a smile to your face!

We hope these diphthong resources are helpful to you! Which activity will you try first?

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

Diphthongs YOU ARE HERE

Inflected Endings

Syllable Patterns/Multisyllabic Words

How to Introduce the 6 Syllable Types


New & Fun Ways to Teach Contractions

1 Comment

  1. Kaelee

    I’ve never heard that ow as in flow is a dipthong! I’ve been told that it’s a sound of long o. The mouth doesn’t move to two positions either like a traditional dipthong. Otherwise I found this helpful!! Thank you!


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Hey there!  I’m Angie, owner of Lucky Little Learners. Our #1 goal is to support K-2 teachers.  We provide unlimited access to over 15,000 printables that are aligned to your standards.