Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

English Is Hard


Chelsee Wilson, Adam Yeargin, Susan McHale | Published: May 26th, 2022 by K20 Center


This lesson uses the book "P Is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever" by Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter to teach digraphs and nuances of phonetics in the English language. Students will brainstorm to identify other digraph words in their vocabularies, write and draw their own pages for a sequel to "P Is for Pterodactyl," and create Anchor Charts to teach the class how to pronounce difficult sounds in words.   This lesson includes optional modifications for distance learning. Resources for use in Google Classroom are included.

Essential Question(s)

How do language patterns affect word knowledge?  Why might learning proper pronunciation be important?



The teacher engages students with a short script. Then, the class reads "P Is For Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever."


Using the ABC Graffiti strategy, students brainstorm words that do not start with the sound associated with their first letter (like "pterodactyl").


Students learn the definition of a digraph and create pages for a class sequel to "P Is For Pterodactyl" using ideas from the Explore phase.


In groups, students choose digraphs and create anchor charts to explain their pronunciations to the class.


Students' anchor charts and book pages are used to assess their understanding.


  • Engage Activity Script (attached)

  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • Digraph Mini-Posters (attached)

  • Anchor Chart Rubric (attached; one per student)

  • Digraph Book Page Rubric (attached, optional)

  • P Is For Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever (physical copy or read-along video; embedded and linked below)

  • Tablet paper, chart paper, or similar

  • Markers

  • Computer paper

  • Colored pencils, crayons, other art supplies

  • Book Creator application (optional)


To begin the lesson, read the attached Engage Activity Script. After you finish, pause to give the class time to think. Ask students to share their thoughts. Now use the attached Lesson Slides to guide the lesson. Explain that the lesson's title, "English is Hard" refers to the fact that our English language rules have many exceptions. While English can be a challenging language to learn, linguists generally agree that it is not the most difficult. Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Russian, and Finnish are all thought to be more difficult. In this lesson, students will be learning about one of those exceptions, digraphs, so they can recognize them and understand how they function within the language.

Display slide three and read this lesson's guiding questions: How do language patterns affect word knowledge? Why might learning proper pronunciation be important? Ask for volunteers to share ideas in a brief class discussion.

After the discussion, read aloud to the class "P is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever." If you do not have access to a physical copy of the book, use a read-along like the one embedded below (also linked here and on slide four).


Move to slide five. Use these prompts (shown below) to begin a class discussion on the book:

  • Were there any words that surprised you?

  • Did seeing the spelling of a word and then hearing the pronunciation surprise you?

  • How do you know how to pronounce new words? Do you sound them out?

  • What would happen if you sounded out any of the words from the book?

  • How do you learn how to pronounce words that do not follow phonetic rules?

Sort the class into groups of 3–4 students. Facilitate a brief group brainstorm with the prompt on slide six: What words start with a letter that does not use the letter’s sound? If necessary, provide examples like mnemonic for M or pneumonia for P. After allowing 1–2 minutes for groups to think about the question, pass out tablet paper (or similar) and markers to each group.

Move to slide seven. Ask each group to create a graffiti poster similar to the one pictured on the slide, with the letters A through Z listed in 2–3 columns. Then, use the ABC Graffiti strategy and ask each group to brainstorm words beginning with a letter that does not use that letter's sound, writing down each word next to the appropriate letter on the poster.

Give students 4–5 minutes to brainstorm. Once time is up, ask groups to rotate clockwise to the next graffiti poster. Groups rotate to the next group's poster; give each group 1-2 minutes add any additional digraphs they might know. Then, rotate again. Repeat this process until all groups have rotated back to their own poster.

Ask students to return to their seats. Discuss the graffiti posters with the class by pointing out unique words beyond what the class read in "P for Pterodactyl."


Move to slide eight. Let students read the definition of a digraph: a combination of two letters representing one sound, as in ph and ey. Ask the class if the words they brainstormed were digraphs. Let students look over their charts and briefly check the words on their poster.

Move to slide nine. Pass out blank computer paper and colored pencils or crayons. Tell students the class will be writing a sequel to "P is for Pterodactyl." Each student is responsible for creating one page in this new book. Pass out the Digraph Book Rubric and review the expectations for the book page.

Assign a letter to each student. Note: If your class is larger than the number of alphabet letters, you can assign multiple students to the same letter. Following the directions on slide nine, ask each student to think of a digraph word for their letter—using the ABC graffiti charts as inspiration—and develop a page with an illustration and a sentence showing how the word is used in context. Complete this activity by asking students to read their pages aloud, per the instructions on slide 10.


Print and hang the attached Digraph Mini-Posters around the room. Hang up these mini-posters around the room. Ask students to stand next to the digraph they would want to teach to the class.

Once students have selected their digraphs, pass out a copy of the attached Anchor Chart Rubric to each student, along with markers and tablet paper (or similar). Invite each group to create an Anchor Chart on their selected digraph, including a rule for the digraph's pronunciation, an example sentence, and an illustration. The rubric functions as a guide for each group to follow, as they must incorporate the "Required Elements" column of the rubric into their Anchor Chart.


Students' Anchor Charts or book pages are suitable assessments for this lesson. The Anchor Chart Rubric and Digraph Book Page Rubric (if used) can be used as grading tools for these projects. You may also create your own rubrics based on the needs of your students.