What are Graphemes?
A grapheme is a written symbol that represents a single phoneme (sound). Graphemes can be a single letter, a pair of lettters (digraph), or three letters (trigraph). You can even use four letters, such as 'ough' in dough, which are called quadgraphs, which I think sounds goofy.
and so on...
We combine graphemes to spell words. There will be one grapheme for every phoneme in a word.
But What About Silent E Words?
'Silent E' words are using digraphs! The digraph is split up by another letter, but it is still just two letters that represent a single sound. For example, the digraph 'ie' represents a single sound in the word 'pie' (), and so does the split digraph 'i_e' in the word 'pine' ().
Teaching Kids Graphemes Can Be Tricky
Our brains are setup to know that when you look at objects from a different angle, it's still the same object. For example, look at this image of a chair.
If you flip the chair to face the other way (horizontally) or upside down (vertically) or both, then ask little three-year old Jenny, 'What is this?' Jenny would say it's a chair.
So what happens when Jenny looks at these letters?
Jenny will often mix up these letters because they're the same shape just flipped or rotated in a different direction. When teaching writing we need to tell Jenny that a 'b' flipped horizontally ('d') is actually a whole different letter. It represents a different sound!
Combine Graphemes and Phonemes to get Reading
Graphemes are half of the puzzle of reading. The other half is phonemes: the sounds that graphemes can represent.
However, the really sneaky thing is that graphemes can be used to represent different phonemes, such as how the letter 'a' has a short sound and a long sound . This is where correspondences come in. They bridge graphemes and phonemes. Learn more in our article about Correspondences!