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Which Graphemes Should Be Taught First

I am sure many parents are not always confident when they need to help their children learn and understand graphemes.  I always found it daunting to teach my children to spell when hearing a different sound!  So, which graphemes are taught first?

Graphemes that should be taught first are the most common single-letter graphemes (t; a; s; n; p and i) and some digraph (two-letter) graphemes (ch; sh; th; wh and ck).  Graphemes are first taught in the first grade, but some simple sounds and letter graphemes may be first introduced in Kindergarten.

The list of graphemes is lengthy, with so many different phonemes.  Teaching graphemes is not always an easy task for the teacher to teach and for the student to learn and understand.  We will break down the suggested order and take a more detailed look at graphemes below.

What Are Graphemes

Graphemes are a way of recording sounds in writing and print.  The letter or group of letters that represent a phoneme (sound) is called a grapheme.  Children first notice graphemes that are common, meaningful, and useful to them, such as the letters representing the sounds of their name.  When they say the sound /t/, this is a phoneme, but this is a grapheme when they write the letter ‘t’.

Learning about the relationship between graphemes and phonemes will allow the child to transcribe what they hear into writing.  A few of the most common graphemes are (t; n; i; e; s; p). These are also usually the first graphemes to be introduced.  Children will learn which grapheme goes with which phoneme.

Which Graphemes Should Be Taught First

How Many Graphemes are There in the English Language.

There are 44 phonemes, 26 letters, and 250 graphemes that make up the English language. Most words are made of a group of graphemes or letters for example (cat = 3 letters) and pronounced c-a-t (each letter represents a single phoneme).  (shut = 4 letters, but 3 graphemes though) sh-u-t.

Graphemes are represented by one letter (t), two letters (ch), three letters (igh), or four letters (eigh), and each letter or group of letters has only one phoneme (sound).

Examples of Graphemes

  • A one-letter grapheme – e.g., the word ‘a’ (the grapheme is the ‘a’ letter) and (the phoneme is an /a/ sound).  This letter ‘a’ is the same as the sound which represents it. ( although it can be both a long or short sound.
  • A two-letter grapheme (digraph) – e.g., in the word ‘church’ (the grapheme is the ‘ch’ letters) and. The letters individually do are not pronounced the same are the grapheme. This word actulaly has 3 graphemes, 5 letters and 3 sounds (phonemes)
  • A three-letter grapheme (trigraph) – e.g in the word ‘light’, (the grapheme is the ‘igh’ letters) and (the phoneme is a /ie/ sound).  The letters are not written the same as the sound that represents them.
  • A four-letter grapheme – e.g., the word ‘drought’ (the grapheme is the ‘ough’ letters) and (the phoneme is a /ow/ sound).  The letters are not the same as the sound it represents.  Four letter graphemes can be presented by multiple phonemes with different pronunciations such as d-ough; c-ough). ( just to confuse matters more!)

Which Graphemes Are Taught First?

It is essential to teach children phonemic awareness (hearing the sound that represents a letter) and the awareness of graphemes (to accurately spell and write the word). 

Graphemes are taught when students see the letter (grapheme) in print or on a flashcard; the teacher says the sound (phoneme), and the students hear this.  They repeat or say the sounds aloud and write down the corresponding letters. (see/hear/say/write)

Here is a summary of when students are introduced to graphemes:

  • Kindergarten

Phonics lessons in the kindergarten start with the most common single-letter graphemes, e.g. (s, a, t, p, i, n, m, d) and digraphs (ch, sh, th, wh, and ck).  Students practice short vowel words first, e.g. (at, ten, sit, dog, cup), followed by learning trigraphs (tch, dge). Once students are proficient, you can teach the consonant blends (tr, cl, sp).

  • First Grade

In first grade the focus continues with children learning the letters and the single grapheme letter sounds.  Some lessons later on may include the common digraphs (ch; sh; th; wh and ck).  First grade children will not be expected to learn how these words are spelled to strictly at this level.

  • Second, Third Grade, and Onwards

Students will continue learning graphemes in the second, the third grade, and onwards with more complex letter blends.  There are numerous other alternate pronunciations and many different spelling patterns that they will still need to learn.

Below are tables of the most common single, digraph, and trigraph graphemes.

  • Simple Graphemes for Phonemes
Set NoLetters (phonemes)Words representing the sound (Graphemes)
1s;  a;  t;  ps  a  t  psat  pat  at  as
2i; n; m; di n m dsit  pip  is  it  tip nip  pin  in  nap  pan  on  tin mat  man  am  map dim  din  dip  did  dad  sad  
3g; o; c; kg o c kpig  dig  gap  gas got  dog  on  pot  pop  not  top cot  cat  can  cap  cod kid  kit
4ck (ending); e; u; rck e u rback  kick  pack  pick  sack  tick  sick ten  pen  peg  pet  den  get  neck mug  cup  duck  nut  mud  sum  up red  ran  rat  ram  run  rip  rug
5h; b; f; ff (ending); l; ll (ending); ss (ending)h b f ff l ll sshit  hug  hot  him  hid  his  hen  hat  has back  bad  bed  bin  big  hit  but  bus  bud  but if  fun  fat  fan  fed  of  fog off  puff cuff huff lap  let  luck  lot  log  lip  leg  lid hill  bell  fill  doll  fell  tell  ill  well fuss  boss  hiss  kiss  less  loss  mess  miss
  • Remaining Phonemes, Digraph and Tri-graph Graphemes
  Set No  Letters (phonemes)Words representing the sound (Graphemes)
1j; v; w; xj v w xjog  jet  jug  jam  job visit  vivid  van  vet cobweb  will  win  wag  wet exit  six  box  fix  fox  wax  mix
2y; z; zz; quy z zz quyell  yes  yap  yet zip  zigzag buzz  fizz liquid  quit  quiz  quick  quack
Consonant Digraphs  ch; sh; th (as in then); ng; th (as in thin)  ch sh th ng th  Rich  much  chat  check  chin  such  chip  chop shock  wish  shall  cash  fish  ship  shop  shell with  this  that  them  then song  wing  sing  ring  rang   long  king  bang  along thick  thin  thud  moth
Vowel Digraphsai; ee; oa;  oo(as in boot); oo (as in book)ai ee oa oo oopaid  tail  sail  main  wait  aim  nail  rain need  been  feel  feet  teeth  seen  meet  week  see soap  foam  boat  coat  loaf  road  load  coach rooftop  zoo  pool  moon  cool  boot  food  soon wood  took  foot  good  book  cook  look  hood
Vowel Digraphsar; or; ur; ow; oi; erar or ur ow oi erpark  hard  farm  dark  car jar  farmyard  bar  bark torn  worn  born  sort  for  fork  corn  short hurt  church  burn  turn  turnip  fur  curl owl  bow  cow  town  down  how  now boil  soil  join  oil  foil  coil summer  mixer   bigger  never  hotter better
Which Graphemes Should Be Taught First


Graphemes that are first taught are single and the most common (t; a; s; n; p and i).  These graphemes are first introduced in Kindergarten.  In the first grade, they are re-taught, but the written words are also learned. 

Graphemes are also represented by more than one letter, digraphs (two-letter), trigraphs (three letters), and on some occasions, four letters.

Children must learn phonemic awareness together with graphemes to correctly connect the sound of letters to the written word.




I have been a teacher of English for over 15 years, in that time i made hundreds and thousands of resources and learnt so much i think its worth sharing. Hopefully to help teachers and parents around the world.

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