Simple Tricky Words Activities for Home Learning

Tricky Words – also called irregular, high-frequency words – are hard-to-read words which often occur in early children’s books. Try sounding out these words with the standard basic sounds and you won’t get: ‘the’ and ‘was’ and ‘are’. If you want to further understand the science behind them, you can read more about their explicit, systematic teaching.

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At home, my daughter and I use Phonics Hero’s tricky words games (parents can grab a free 7-day trial) but we’ve also invented lots of multi-sensory tricky word activities to practice them. In this blog post, I am going to share my top tips and favourite tricky words activities for teaching children to read these irregular words at home.

Tip 1: Make sure the adult knows them first!

If you’ve signed up for a 7-day trial and are in Australia or Hong Kong use this list; for the rest of the world, use this one. You need to do a mini assessment: show the sheet to your child and have them read the tricky words, stop when you have a ‘bank’ of 3-6 unknown tricky words.

My daughter didn’t know five, so I wrote them out on cards and we use them to play games and reinforce through the day.

the tricky words my daughter didn't know

Tip 2: Pepper Tricky Words Activities Throughout the Day

There isn’t a silver bullet to learning these words but exposure and repetition is key. You need to pepper them through your day – it helps your child instantly identify them. Some ideas:

Find them in books

As you read stories, point out the tricky words then progress to pausing and having your child read them.

Look for them in junk mail or magazines

searching in junk mail for tricky words

Decorate your house with them

A teacher friend of mine sticks them all around the house so she can quiz her little boy throughout the day.

tricky words stuck to cupboard
tricky words stuck to washing machine

Tricky (Pass)words

My daughter’s love of passwords and, in particular, the password to my iPhone (cue her unlocking it to send random texts to people!) inspired one of her new favourite tricky words activities.

Here’s how it works: Instead of numbers, we wrote tricky words into our passcode template and stuck it to the inside of the living room door. In order to open the door, she has to ‘key in’ our passcode, or series of tricky words. Three days later, she still loves it (and scolds me for opening the door without putting in the passcode!) and has learned the tricky words ‘all’ and ‘her’.

Here’s a printable Tricky Word Passcode sheet for you to insert the target words into and fill up with known words for extra practice.

password template
iphone password
child playing password game

Supersoaker Phonics

Bath-time is great for a no-mess reading activity!

YouTube video

Before running the bath, write tricky words or phonemes on the tiles with a whiteboard marker and grab a water blaster (or large syringe from any pharmacy). Little ones say each word or sound aloud as they ‘shoot’ their target!

Play Phonics Hero

Practice tricky word reading and spelling with Phonics Hero. Each level will teach between 3-6 words and there are more than 130 games over 12 levels to practice with. The reading and spelling tricky words games are indicated by these icons:

camera read icon camera spell icon

Tip 3: Use Everyday Games With an Added Tricky Word Element

We’ve started using tricky words in games such as Noughts and Crosses (AKA Tic-Tac-Toe) or Hangman.

noughts and crosses

You can also double the sets of tricky words and play ‘Pairs’ or ‘Snap’.

Tip 4: Make Your Tricky Word Activities Multi-sensory!

Make some noise!

We broke out the pots and pans and my daughter started composing with the tricky words. If your ears can bear it, here’s a video:

YouTube video

Get your hands dirty (as you wash up)!

As you cook, clean or garden, you might use the bubbles, mud or flour to trace, land on or erase the words.

writing tricky words in flour and water

Tip 5: Play Teacher and Student

Kids love pointing out when the grown-ups have got it wrong and it’s a great test to see if they’ve learned the tricky words. As my teacher friend shows here, she and her son take turns reading the words and he awards them each a point for the correct answer (of course, mummy gets it wrong all the time – so your child gets double the practice).

playing student and teacher

Do you have a great tip or trick for teaching tricky words that you don’t see here? Share it in the comments!

Author: Katherine Wood

Katherine is the CEO and co-founder of Phonics Hero. She has worked in phonics for over 15 years, working with hundreds of schools across the globe to support them in their implementation of synthetic phonics.

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