What’s the problem with digraphs, and how can Ten Minute Box help?

by | May 29, 2023

In every primary school classroom there are children who can decode the single sounds of English, yet struggle to read digraphs using conventional teaching methods. Without additional support, these children will begin to lose motivation and engagement with reading. Often, acquiring the ability to read digraphs can kick-start their reading fluency, and confidence.

Children are individuals, and so they need an adaptive approach. We have two multisensory support tools designed to teach synthetic phonics. The Five Minute Literacy Box gives children a solid foundation by teaching them the first sounds of the English language, while the Ten Minute Box teaches the next stage of phonics learning: digraphs.


Why are digraphs challenging for some learners?

Digraphs can be particularly challenging for younger children and can cause problems for older learners, especially if they have a specific learning difficulty or other additional needs. First, they need to recognise two letters (like ‘ch’) are a digraph, then they must remember that ‘ch’ stands for the sound /ch/. Finally, they must apply that knowledge to decoding words. Until digraphs are grasped, pupils’ ability to read accurately and fluently will be compromised, and their comprehension and vocabulary development impaired.


What is the Ten Minute Box?

The Ten Minute Box is a little orange suitcase with activities and resources to work individually with a child at their own pace. It is recommended that an intervention should have “structured resources and lesson plans, with clear objectives” (Education Endowment Foundation, 2020).  Ten Minute Box’s lesson plan follows a routine so you can efficiently focus on the objective, rather than the format. Each digraph is taught over two lessons, to reinforce learning and provide the opportunity to learn six words containing the digraph. Sentence level learning is built in to the Ten Minute Box to consolidate and use digraph knowledge in sentences. There are also strategies for teaching irregular words containing digraphs.


Who is it suitable for?

Any learner who has mastered single sound phonics but has difficulties recognising digraphs and blending sounds. This may include those showing signs of dyslexia, SLCN, dyspraxia or those with EAL, among other learning differences. Ten Minute Box is appropriate for any age of learner. Students who find it hard to memorise sounds are helped by learning through all the senses.


 What makes it an easy resource to implement?

The Ten Minute Box uses the same structure to teach digraphs as Letters and Sounds, so it sits well alongside class-based learning. Once purchased, there are no ongoing costs or subscriptions, making it reusable, great value and budget-friendly. Everything you need is in the box to maximise your teaching time. Sessions can be timetabled for individual learners on a regular basis. You don’t need the Five Minute Literacy Box to implement the Ten Minute Box. Lessons can be taught by TAs, teachers or SENCos.


How does Ten Minute Box engage and motivate learners?

Learners struggling with digraphs can become frustrated and lose self-esteem. Ten Minute Box eliminates frustration as the pupil controls the pace. Learning is cumulative, gradually increasing in difficulty. Students who find it hard to memorise sounds are helped by learning through all the senses. Children enjoy being a ‘Digraph Detective’ while they play a fun game at the end of every session to reinforce previous learning of a particular digraph.  The short sessions appeal to those who find it hard to focus, allowing them a sense of achievement and creating positive associations with learning. Children also enjoy being responsible for organising the box contents, setting up and tidying away at the end of a session. This gives them ownership over the intervention.


How can I track progress?

The Ten Minute Box allows you to record both qualitative and quantitative information on student progress. Detailed initial and summative assessments are included and these can be administered in sections, according to the learner’s attention and listening abilities. The assessments are easily adapted to the level of each student, ensuring no gaps in learning. A record of achievement allows professionals to monitor student progress in small increments on a session-by-session basis.

What do professionals say about the Ten Minute Box?


Iain Tolmie, Assistant Head/ Inclusion Lead, Shelf Primary School

“We have been using the Ten Minute Box for 3 months in years 3 and 4 with children who were identified as needing further support with phonics. It has already had a positive impact for these children and we plan to use the box with year 2 pupils too. The children have made notable improvements in their confidence with reading and willingness to ‘have a go’ in class. The experienced TA working with them enjoys sessions with the Ten Minute Box and so do the children. It does take just ten minutes, the planning is clear and there is no preparation needed. The activities are easy to use and flexible to adapt to children’s needs. For pupils that need support in addition to high quality teaching in whole class and group contexts, the Ten Minute Box fills the gap for individualised support for those who need it most. Having regular, targeted one-to-one support with the Ten Minute Box has made a big difference to these children.”

Karen, SENCO, Micklefield School (nasen product trial)

“After 4 weeks pupils knew 70% and 50% more digraphs respectively… I will continue to use the Ten Minute Box because as well as being effective, the short amount of time required means that it is an effective intervention to use with a number of children.”

Read the full Product Trial of the Ten Minute Box in nasen Connect magazine here.

See Teach Primary magazine’s review of the Ten Minute Box here.

This blog was sponsored by Five Minute Box, they have chosen to support SENCOs through our network. Fiona and the team have done a great job in supporting our SEN pupils for many years, so take a look at what they offer.

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