Learning To Read With Trigraphs

What is a Trigraph?

So if a digraph is two letters that make one sound, I'm sure you will be able to work out easily that a the definition of trigraph is a group of three letters representing a single sound.  Some good examples of this are the "igh" in "high" or "ear" in "dear".
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Phase 1 and 2 Phonics don't have any trigraphs; trigraphs start in Phonics Phase 3.

The main trigraphs that are learnt early on, in Phonics Phase 3 are igh as in right, air as in hair, ure as sure and ear as in hear; there are used in many words and are important to students.  

How to Teach Trigraphs

Trigraphs are taught in the same ways as digraphs or letters - you learn that particular combination of letters makes a specific sound.
Where does the word Trigraph come from?
Trigraph comes from Greek - tri meaning three or three times (think "thrice") and graph meaning letter / writing.
My suggestion is to tackle some digraphs first and when your child has got to grips with that, slip in the "igh" digraph.  Flashcards are great for this as you can sort them into piles: mastered, learning, to be learnt.

Once they've mastered the trigraph introduce it in words.  Again Flashcards are useful as they can indicate on the flash card the trigraph.  

Trigraph examples

igh words
Is "eye" a trigraph?
Since it is literally a combination of three letters that makes a sound, in a way it is.  However, since it isn't something that occurs as a pattern in words in a reusable way, it is normally just taught as a tricky word.
It's helpful to have some examples of words with the igh sound, these include words ending in igh, but also words with igh in the middle::
  • right
  • high
  • higher
  • bright
  • light
In all these cases the important thing to realise is that the igh makes one sound.
Tripods also come from the Greek and mean 3 ("Tri")  Footed ("Pod").  Always remember - the "tri" means 3 (letters in the case of a trigraph)
Tripods also come from the Greek and mean 3 ("Tri") Footed ("Pod"). Always remember - the "tri" means 3 (letters in the case of a trigraph)

air words
I find air word phonics to be one of the easiest since "air" itself is a word and a trigraph phonic so teach the word and you get a trigraph for free!  Other examples of words with the air sound are:
  • lair
  • chair
  • hairy
  • airy
  • hair
ear words
Of course, again, "ear" itself is both a word and a trigraph..  Other examples include:
  • hear
  • dear
  • gear
  • beard
  • fear
  • shear
Words like "bear" don't quite have a consistent pronunciation of "ear" so its best to treat them as tricky words.
ure words
"ure" is the trigraph I've seen the least of when reading, but still needs to be learnt, some example include:
  • lure
  • sure
  • manure
  • treasure
  • endure
  • pure

Honorable Mention: Tretragraphs

Digraphs and Trigraphs
Remember a digraph is a group of two letters that makes one sound and a trigraph is a group of three letters that makes one sound.   So of course a tetra graph is four letters that makes one sound.
Incidentally, just as I don't believe "diagraph" can be a correct spelling of digraph, I also believe that "triagraph" would be an incorrect spelling of trigraph.
Tetra comes from the greek and means 4 and so (just like a tetrahedron has 4 faces) a tetragraph has 4 letters for one sound.  These aren't very common, and perhaps the most common is ough as in "though".  However you shouldn't really try to teach your children tetragraphs;  "ough" is problematic because the sound changes so much (think bought, through, tough - the last not being a tetragraph but still the same combination of letters).  Generally it's better to teach them as tricky words.  Think about place names with "ough" - if you've never seen them before would you know how to pronounce them (for example: Loughton, Woughton, Broughton all have different pronunciations for the "ough"!)


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