What are Diphthongs and How Do I Teach Them?

What are diphthongs? How do you pronounce and spell them? And, most importantly, how do you teach diphthongs to students?

What are Diphthongs?

Prior to teaching diphthongs, we need to know what they are! Let’s start by breaking down the word diphthong. The prefix “di” means two, and the root word “phthong” means sound. Diphthongs are a combination of two vowel sounds that glide together. While there are eight diphthongs in the English language, represented by different vowels and letters, here are examples of diphthongs we teach our students:

  • /oy/ as in “boy or “toy”
  • /ow/ as in “house” or “cow”
  • /aw/ as in “hawk,” “laundry,” or “cough” 
  • /oo/ as in “tooth,” “glue,” or “grew”

Pronouncing and Spelling Diphthongs

Keep in mind, diphthongs describe the pronunciation of vowel sounds, not the vowel letters being used. When pronouncing a diphthong, you will start with the first vowel sound and glide into the second vowel sound. When it comes to spelling, diphthongs can be represented by different combinations of vowels and letters.

Helping Students Read and Spell Using Diphthongs

Teaching students to read and spell using diphthongs can be interactive and fun! Here are some strategies I would suggest trying in your classroom:

  • Focus on Articulation – Have students use mirrors to pay close attention to how their tongue, lips, and jaws are positioned as they practice pronouncing words. 
  • Play a Game – “Roll + Read” is a fun game that allows students to identify and use diphthongs while collaborating and having fun! (Included in the resource below) 
  • Use Mystery Words – Use “word puzzles” to have students uncover a word. Start with a diphthong and add/remove or modify beginning and ending sounds to have students identify a new word at the end of the sequence of changes. (Included in the resource below)

M+M Resources to Practice Diphthongs

I have created a resource that provides targeted instruction for diphthongs. My Diphthong Activities and Practice Booklets use single and multisyllabic words to provide practice for each of the different vowel diphthong sounds. These are read-made and easy to add to your routine allowing students to practice through mini-lessons, independent practice, and partner games. You can check them out here.

Hi! I’m Toluca from Markers and Minions, where I help teachers feel more effective and confident with high-quality resources and an awesome teacher community!

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