English is both fascinating and challenging to teach and learn. While teaching basic letter sounds like /a/ and /b/ may seem straightforward, things quickly become complicated with vowel teams or diphthong vowel teams, where multiple letters combine to form a new sound. For instance, the letters OY in "boy" create the /oy/ sound, while the same letters make the /oi/ sound in "point." To help your students read and write words with diphthong vowel teams confidently, you need to employ effective and explicit teaching strategies. In this blog post, we'll explore some tips to make diphthong vowel teams easier for you and your students to master.


Why Should We Teach Diphthong Vowel Teams?

As a teacher, you may have come across words like "diphthong," "digraph," "trigraph," and "schwa" in your English language instruction, and perhaps felt a bit silly saying them. But the truth is, these terms are essential to understanding the English language's complex sound and spelling system. In the past, the "whole language approach" to reading education was prevalent, but it has since been replaced by the Science of Reading approach, which emphasizes teaching students the rules and patterns behind English words. Instead of memorizing words individually, students are taught to crack the code, leading to faster and more effective reading and writing skills. This is great news!

The Basics of Diphthong Vowel Teams

If you're a teacher who is just starting to teach your students about diphthong vowel teams, you may be wondering where to begin. First, let's define what a diphthong vowel team is - simply put, it's when two vowels come together as a team to create a new sound in a word. Common examples include EA, OW, OU, AU, AI, and more. 

Before diving into teaching diphthong vowel teams, your students should have a firm grasp of foundational skills, such as knowing the difference between a vowel and a consonant, understanding short and long vowel sounds, and mastering VCE syllables. By building a strong foundation, your students will be better equipped to tackle the complexities of diphthong vowel teams and improve their reading and writing skills.

What Teachers Need to Know About Diphthong Vowel Teams

Teaching your students about diphthong vowel teams can be a daunting task when you consider the sheer number of vowel sounds and vowel teams in English. There are 18 vowel sounds made by just 5 English vowels, and at least 25 different vowel teams. To add to the complexity, one English vowel sound can be spelled by as many as six different vowel teams - take the long O sound in boat, row, toe, hope, though, and sew as an example. But don't let this discourage you! With the right strategies and techniques, you can help your students master these vowel teams and improve their reading and writing skills. Here are some of the most common diphthong vowel teams and examples of each to get you started.


How to Teach Diphthong Vowel Teams

While there’s no set-in-stone order you must teach diphthong vowel teams, the key is to teach them with clear, explicit instruction, LOTS of practice, and opportunities to read and spell real words that include these spelling patterns. Here is the order taught in the Really Great Reading phonics curriculum, which is a Science of Reading based approach that has significant research backing it as an effective strategy to teach kids how to read and spell words:

LONG O vowel teams (oa, ow, oe, and ough)

LONG A vowel teams (ai, ay, eigh, and ea)

LONG I vowel teams (ie, igh)

LONG E vowel teams(ee, ea, ie, ey)

LONG U vowel teams (ue, ew)



4 Strategies for Teaching Diphthong Vowel Teams

  1. Make 5 vowel posters/anchor charts for your classroom that represent the 5 long vowels. Draw a large symbol picture that you will consistently use to represent this sound, like an acorn, eagle, ocean, ice, and unicorn. As you learn the various vowel team spellings that also make these sounds, add the spelling to the posters and keep them visible throughout the room.
  2. Create a Word Wall or graphic organizer for your students to add words they come across in authentic contexts that have the vowel teams you are currently teaching.
  3. Incorporate the teaching method of orthographic mapping when introducing new vowel teams, such as -IGH. One effective approach is to highlight these three letters in red and the remaining letters in black when writing the word. 
  4. Once you have introduced vowel teams to your students, reinforce what they have learned with repeated practice. Click here for printables designed to help your students practice vowel teams. 


And a Few Strategies to Avoid…

  1. Don’t teach your kids catchy rhymes like “when two vowels go walking, the first does the talking.” This is not always true and can just cause confusion down the road.
  2. Steer clear of calling these spelling RULES. A better term is spelling PATTERNS, as there are many exceptions to the “rules.”
  3. Avoid discouraging young learners by using positive language when teaching English spelling. Refrain from presenting them with tongue twisters that may confuse them, and avoid saying things like “English makes no sense sometimes!” Instead, create a positive and encouraging learning environment that helps children feel capable of being successful.

As teachers, it's our responsibility to ensure that our students have a solid foundation in phonics and phonetics, including the study of diphthong vowel teams. By teaching students the proper pronunciation and usage of diphthong vowel teams, we can help them become more confident and effective communicators in the English language.  For more resources on teaching diphthong vowel teams, click here.