Accelerate Reading Skills with Multi-Letter Phonograms

A phonogram is a letter or combination of letters, within a single syllable, that represents one or more sounds. For example, each letter in the alphabet is a phonogram. 15 letters of the alphabet (b,d,f,h,j,k,l,m,n,p,r,t,v,w,z) are single-letter phonograms that represent just one sound. 10 letters of the alphabet are single-letter phonograms that represent more than one sound. In addition to these single-letter phonograms, there are multi-letter phonograms. For example, q with u (qu) is a phonogram that represents just one sound, /kw/. What many don’t learn in school is that the English language contains many multi-letter phonograms. Learning all the phonograms in the English language can accelerate reading mastery. Here’s what reading teachers and tutors need to know about multi-letter phonograms.

Like the letters in the alphabet, multi-letter phonograms can represent one or more sounds. Multi-letter phonograms are often divided into two categories: primary and advanced. The reading and/or spelling programs that teach multi-letter phonograms have slight differences in what they count as primary multi-letter phonograms, ranging in count between 42 and 48 primary multi-letter phonograms. In the programs that teach advanced phonograms, there’s more variability in the count, ranging between 17 to 33 advanced phonograms. Each program may group the phonograms together for easier learning. There’s no standardization around how to group the phonograms or what order to teach them in.

In “Uncovering the Logic of English,” Denise Eide documents a large count of multi-letter phonograms, including 48 primary multi-letter phonograms and 33 advanced multi-letter phonograms. Here’s a snapshot of the differences and similarities among these 48 primary multi-letter phonograms, as taught by a range of programs. You’ll notice there are also variations in how many sounds some of the phonograms make and in whether or not a phonogram is primary or advanced.

Multi-Letter Phonogram, Number of Sounds it Represents* In “Spell to Write and Read?”, Primary or Advanced, Number of Sounds Taught? In “The Writing Road to Reading?”, Primary or Advanced, Number of Sounds Taught? In “The Great Saltmine & Hifwip Vertical Phonics Reading System?”, Primary or Advanced, Number of Sounds Taught? In “Wordy Worm Reading?”, Primary or Advanced, Number of Sounds Taught?
ai, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1
ar, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 n y, primary, 3
au, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1
augh, 2 y, advanced, 2 y, advanced, ? y, primary, ? y, primary, 1
aw, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1
ay, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1
bu, 1 n n n n
ch, 3 y, primary, 3 y, primary, 3 y, primary, 3 y, primary, 3
cei, 1 n n n n
ci, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 n y, primary, 1
ck, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 n
dge, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1
ea, 3 y, primary, 3 y, primary, 3 y, primary, 3 y, primary, 3
ear, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 2 y, primary, 1
ed, 3 y, primary, 3 y, primary, 3 y, primary, 3 y, primary, 3
ee, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 n y, primary, 1
ei, 3 y, primary, 3 y, primary, 3 y, primary, 2 y, primary, 2
eigh, 2 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1
er, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 2 y, primary, 1
ew, 2 y, primary, 2 y, primary, 2 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 2
ey, 2 y, primary, 3 y, primary, 3 y, primary, 2 y, primary, 2
gn, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1
gu, 2 y, advanced, 2 y, primary, 1 n n
ie, 1 y, primary, 3 y, primary, 3 y, primary, 2 y, primary, 2
igh, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1
ir, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1
kn, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1
ng, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1
oa, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1
oe, 2 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 n y, primary, 1
oi, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1
oo, 3 y, primary, 3 y, primary, 2 y, primary, 2 y, primary, 3
or, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 2
ou, 4 y, primary, 4 y, primary, 4 y, primary, 2 y, primary, 1
ough, 6 y, primary, 6 y, primary, 6 n y, primary, 6
ow, 2 y, primary, 2 y, primary, 2 y, primary, 2 y, primary, 2
oy, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 n
ph, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1
sh, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1
si, 2 y, primary, 2 y, primary, 2 n y, primary, 2
tch, 1 y, primary, 1 y, advanced, ? n y, primary, 1
th, 2 y, primary, 2 y, primary, 2 y, primary, 2 y, primary, 2
ti, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1
ui, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 2 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 2
ur, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 2 y, primary, 1
wh, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1
wor, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 n
wr, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1 y, primary, 1

* Multi-letter phonogram list as documented in Table 2, Chapter 3 of “Uncovering the Logic of English” by Denise Eide.

The first step to teaching these phonograms to a beginning reader is to fully understand this list and the sound or sounds that each phonogram in the list represents. Any of the reading programs listed in the chart above make a great place to start. Additionally, Story Hour Academy will be releasing a video lesson for each multi-letter phonogram in the future. For a sample of these lessons, check out the video introduction to consonant digraphs.