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Tricky Words, Simple Activities

What's so tricky about tricky words?


Tricky words are also known as common exception or irregular words. They're used often in reading and writing but contain letter-sound correspondences which children have yet to learn. For example, in ‘was’ the ‘a’ corresponds to the phoneme /o/, which children who are just beginning to learn to read would not be familiar with. Let's have a look at how we can make tricky words a little less tricky...


Using magnetic letters to make phonics tricky words
Make tricky words using magnetic letters.

How do I teach tricky words?

  • With tricky words, you need to focus on the sounds which children know first and then look carefully at the tricky part.

  • Highlight the tricky part of the word using a different coloured pen or a highlighter. Alternatively, you could underline the tricky part.

  • If there are other words with the same tricky pattern, then it makes sense to teach these at the same time, e.g. he, she, we, be or would, should, could.

  • You could encourage the child to draw a picture in the tricky part of the word, to make it easier to remember.


Using lego blocks to make tricky words in phonics
Tricky word building blocks.

Tricky word activities

Here's a selection of phonics activities to help children to learn to read and spell the tricky words. Use them as independent or group activities, or set them up in your continuous provision.


Tricky word making

Children can build tricky words using visuals such as:

  • Alphabet stickers on colourful paper

  • By cutting letters out of comics and assembling them to make tricky word collages

  • By typing them out on a real or cardboard keyboard

  • With blocks that have graphemes written on them




fTricky word art

Make tricky word art by:

  • Doing rainbow writing – use felt pens or crayons to write over the word in lots of different colours

  • Writing the tricky word in white crayon and then using watercolour paints to reveal it

  • Writing the tricky word on a big piece of paper and decorating with feathers, felt and other collage materials

  • Painting tricky words on foil




Tricky word writing

Make writing tricky words more fun by:

  • Making a spinner using a circle of card, a split pin and a paper clip. Write tricky words on the spinner and then spell the word which you land on

  • Seeing how many times you can write the tricky word before a sand timer runs out

  • Using a wooden stylus to write them on scratchy notes (matte black surface which scratches off to reveal a rainbow background)

  • Using chalk to write them on the ground




What next?

1. If you would like to find out more information about phonics, then check out these blog posts:


2. Shop phonics resources and more:


3. The following phonics books are available to buy from the shop:










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