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How to Teach the Digraph SH: 5 Best Tips for Teaching

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Learn all about how to teach consonant digraph SH. Below are five best tips for teaching SH so that kids quickly recognize, read, and spell the /sh/ sound in words. Plus, get a FREE Digraph SH poster that kids will love!

Graphic with words "Best Tips How To Teach Digraph SH" with images of school items.

What is a Consonant Digraph?

A consonant digraph is when two consonants come together to create one new sound. Common digraphs are sh, th, ch, wh, ck, and ph.

Teaching Digraph SH

When children can identify single letters and have a solid grasp of most letter sounds, then digraphs are introduced.

Now kids are ready to learn that these digraphs, sometimes referred to as buddy letters, will always represent one sound when they’re next to each other.

This is is an entirely new concept, so it’s important that teachers take the time to explain this concept, providing various examples and lots of practice as outlined below.

Digraph SH

The consonant digraph SH is one of the most common digraphs. It is found in many basic words, and one of the first digraphs that is taught.

Once kids understand that the letters s and h come together to represent one new sound, they can begin reading many new words. Words like fish, hush, ship, wish, she, and cash are now decodable!

Digraph SH Word Examples

Below are 1-3 syllable words that include the digraph SH. You can hear the /sh/ sound in each word.

sheshowshallfishshould
shadeshinshredmarshleash
ashorebanishmeshshortfinish
shineshackleshovelshameEnglish
establishshrubberyrefreshmentaccomplishpartnership

How to Teach Digraph SH

Follow the tips below for practical ways to teach digraph SH.

Start with simple, one-syllable words

Introduce this concept using a word that may be a sight word for many of your students: fish. You can tap it and map it, showing that it only has three sounds but four letters.

Why is this? Because SH is a digraph. This is a great way to teach the academic term digraph. Then, practice reading and spelling one-syllable words with Digraph SH.

Use closed syllable words with short vowel sounds, since other patterns like long vowels or blends usually arent taught until after students have been taught digraphs.

These include:

  • ship
  • fish
  • wish
  • shop
  • shot
  • shut
  • push
  • wash
  • rush
  • shin
  • shell
  • dish
A child using a sound box worksheet to map the word "brush."
Get our printable Elkonin Boxes (Sound Boxes) to practice orthographic mapping!

Use Elkonian Boxes

Using Elkonin boxes is one of the best ways for kids to visually connect the idea of two letters making one sound. Let’s use the word ‘wish’ to demonstrate.

  • Teacher says, “How many sounds do we hear in the word wish?”
  • Students tap the sounds they hear in the word, concluding that they hear 3 sounds.
  • Teacher draws three boxes on the board, one for each sound.
  • Teacher writes the letters that represents each sound.
  • Teacher models and says, “First we hear /w/, so I will write the letter w in the first box. Next, we hear /i/, so I will write the vowel i in the middle box. At the end I hear the sound /sh/, so I will write the letters s and h in the last box.
  • Teacher provides a clear explanation: “At the end I write two letters in one soundbox because the /sh/ sound is represented by the two letters s and h.”

Repeat this procedure, making sure to clearly model this concept with the digraph SH as the initial sound and SH as the final sound.

A graphic of three sound boxes with the letters w, i, sh to spell wish.
Elkonin Boxes are great to teach digraphs to visual learners so they can see how two letters make one sound!

SH Emoji 🤫

Linking the sound to a known word or concept is so important to really make it stick. Digraph SH is a favorite for this because the kids LOVE this visual.

Use the emoji that has his finger over his mouth. All kids are familiar with this sign as it represents the ‘be quiet’ or the ‘shhhhh’ sound. The emoji can be used on a sound wall, and kids will always remember it.

An emoji with his finger over his mouth with digraph SH for /sh/.

I love observing my student as they begin exploring digraph SH in text. I’ll watch them whisper reading their decodable reading passages, and when they come to the digraph SH they’ll put their fingers over their lips to say the sound. That’s when you know your instruction is sticking!

👉 Download the FREE Emjoi Poster at the bottom of this post!

Use a Blending Board

Using a blending board for reading words with digraph SH is great for reinforcing the concept as well.

Photograph of a blending board with phonograph cards sh, i, p to spell the word ship.

The SH is included on one sound card, ensuring that the kids recognize the one sound the digraph makes. Make sure to use real and nonsense words!

Use Manipulatives

A hands-on approach to reading and spelling engages multiple senses, which gives children more than one opportunity to connect with concepts and information.

It also deepens learning and helps the brain to make meaningful connections.

Photograph with toys that begin with sh like sheep, shark, ship, shell, shoe, sharpie.
Toys from the Digraphs Teaching Tubs from Lakeshore

Use things like magnetic letters to build and manipulate sounds in words. Use toys for sorting based on the /sh/ sounds you hear in words.

If you’d prefer not to buy the pre-made sets, just take a look around your house to find items or visit Dollar Tree.

👉 Ideas include: shell, shaving cream, sharpie, shamrock, shampoo, shoelace, toy ship, shovel, pencil sharpener, shark tooth, brush, leash, toy fish, desktop trashcan, a packet of relish, nail polish.

Use Decodable Texts

After teaching and practicing digraph SH in isolation, move your students to text. Use digraph sentences and decodable texts with concepts specific to digraph SH.

Decodable texts require children to apply phonics concepts to connected text. See if kids are able to able to recognize digraphs in words when reading and carrying meaning.

If students are successful, you can move on and teach other digraphs like Digraph CH. If your students are struggling in text, continue practicing digraphs sh using the tips outlined above.

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Graphic with words "How To Teach Digraph SH" with images of school items.

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