Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

Chugga chugga, choo choo! The digraph train is pulling into the station. What is a digraph, you ask? It’s when two letters combine to make a brand new sound, like C and H making the sound /ch/ (as in change). 

Children learning to read encounter digraphs all over the place. Think of the words just in this sentence—think, the, and this all include the digraph TH. Other common ones include PH for /f/ and, of course, CH. Digraphs can be daunting for kids because they’ve already learned the most common sounds for each letter, and now the letters are making something brand new. But a bit of practice goes a long way. Make (and read) this cheese and chicken pasta recipe together, and your child will be on the road to reading CH like a champ! (Plus it’s a favorite with picky eaters!)

To begin, print out the recipe. Then, before you start cooking, demonstrate the /ch/ sound in cheese and chicken for your child and practice making it together. Have some fun! You can point out that it’s the same sound in chew and chomp—anything that helps them remember will add to the learning. Explain that the sound is made by the letters C and H next to each other. I suggest handing them a pencil and encouraging them to circle all the CH digraphs. 

Our Read with Me Recipe series features printable recipes that are easy for kids to make and read. Simple words and short sentences in an easy font set your little one up for reading success. Just print the recipe and read it together as you cook. (Scroll down for tips on reading it together and maximizing the learning.) The idea is to make it easy for you to mix reading and writing into everyday life with your kids. This kind of “everyday literacy” is key to raising thriving readers. 

What dishes do you and your kids love? Submit your favorite recipe, or request a recipe you’d love to read and make with your kids, through the Contact Maya Form! We’ll do our best to add them to our upcoming Read with Me Recipes.

Tips for teaching kids to read with recipes:

  • Introduce your child to how recipes work. If you’re not sure they know them already, be sure to explain vocabulary like “ingredients” and other cooking terms, such as “boil” in this recipe. One of the biggest challenges for beginning readers—and most important underpinnings of literacy—is just knowing and understanding the vocabulary they’ll encounter in books.
  • Watch out for specific words in the recipe they may not be familiar with, and give a simple definition.
  • Keep an eye out for tricky-to-read words, such as “boil” and “oil.” Point out letter combinations that might be new or less familiar to your child.
  • For little ones who aren’t reading much yet, just pointing out what you’re reading and emphasizing a few key words or letters is enough. If you make the recipe again, you can help them find the words you pointed out before.
  • Use this as an opportunity to show them punctuation, as well as words and letters. Point to the commas, periods, or other punctuation marks, and explain what they mean. 
  • If they can’t read the recipe on their own, give them chances for success by asking them about what they do know, gently underscoring key knowledge. E.g., ask, Can you find the letters CH? or How many words do you see with CH?
  • For kids who are reading already, encourage them to read the recipe themselves. If they have trouble, just calmly help them with any words they can’t quite get. E.g., if they have trouble with the word “chicken,” try covering “en” and helping them read just the first part of the word before you uncover the rest.
  • Bring your patience. Give your child space to read a word (or identify a letter) before you jump in, but be prepared to help if they’re showing signs of frustration.

Easy Recipe for Picky Eaters: Cheese and Chicken Pasta

  • Oil (1 tablespoon)
  • Chicken (1 ½  cups)
  • Cheese (1 ½ cups)
  • Pasta (2 cups)
  • Optional: Butter (1 tablespoon)

Step 1

Chop the chicken.

Step 2

Put the oil in a pan. Turn on the stove.

Step 3

Cook the chicken in the pan.

Step 4

Chop the cheese.

Step 5

Fill a pot with water and let it boil.

Step 6

Add pasta and let it cook.

Step 7

Drain the pasta.

Step 8

Add the chunks of chicken and cheese to the pasta.

Step 9

Mix. (If the cheese needs to melt more, add butter.)

Step 10

Munch your food!

Submit your and your child’s favorite recipe via the Contact Maya Form to get it featured in our Read with Me Recipe series, or comment with a recipe request!