Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

If your child is learning to read, one of the challenges they’ll encounter is something called a digraph. That’s the technical term for two letters that combine to make a brand new sound, like S and H in the word shell (and TH, CH, etc.).

Go back and read that first sentence again. Notice how many digraphs you have to understand to read it: the, they, child, challenges, and the word digraph itself! Digraphs can be tricky for children. They’ve learned the sounds for each letter, and now the letters are creating an entirely new sound that doesn’t match either letter. Yikes!

But don’t worry, a little practice goes a long way, and this activity will help. Just make this stuffed shell pasta recipe with your child, helping them read the instructions as you go. They’ll practice reading the SH digraph, and you’ll share a special moment together followed by a tasty meal.

Enter your email below to get the recipe formatted for easy printing. Then, before you start cooking, demonstrate the SH sound in shell for your child and practice making it together. You can point out that it’s the same sound people make when they want someone to be quiet. Demonstrate with a few words they’re familiar with, like shirt or ship—anything that helps them remember. Next, explain that the sound is made by the letters S and H next to each other. Make it fun by looking at the recipe together, asking them to find all the SH digraphs, and then pretending to shush those words very loudly—shhhhhhh!

Important: This recipe involves boiling water and baking, and it is not appropriate for children to make on their own. Parents should take charge of boiling water, draining pasta, and removing the baking dish from the oven.

Our Read with Me Recipe series features printable recipes that are optimized to help teach your child to read. Simple words and short sentences in an easy font set them 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.

Tips for teaching reading with this recipe:

  • 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. One of the biggest parts of reading is just knowing and understanding the meaning of all the words.
  • 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, foil, and sauce. 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 SH? or How many words do you see with SH?
  • 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 “pepper,” try covering “er” 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 Kids: Stuffed Shell Pasta

  • Large shell pasta (20 shells)
  • Ricotta cheese (2 cups)
  • Red sauce (2 cups)
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Step 1:

Turn on the oven to 425 degrees.

Step 2:

Spoon the red sauce into a baking dish.

Step 3:

Boil a pot of water.

Step 4:

Cook the shells, then take them out of the water.

Step 5:

Put the cheese in a bowl. Shake in some salt and pepper.

Step 6:

Fill the shells with the cheese mix. Put them in the dish.

Step 7:

Cover the dish with foil.

Step 8:

Bake the shells for 20 minutes. Then share the shells with your family!

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