Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Phonics: How to Teach your Child "Tricky Words" - A Multisensory Approach

If you have a child in Reception or Year 1, you may have been thrown into the world of Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) or Phonics for short. Not only are there 44 sounds (phonemes) to learn, there are also "tricky words" to get your head around too!



For first time parents, supporting your child on this learning journey may seem like a daunting prospect. So I'm hoping this post will explain things in an easy to digest way, and give you some ideas to help your child learn to spell tricky words in a multisensory way.


What is Phonics?


Phonics is a systematic approach to learning to read and spell. Children are taught approximately 5 sounds (phonemes) a week in an explicit, rapid way. Most schools will have a daily phonics lesson (approximately 20 minutes), and each day follows the same format - Introduce, Revisit, Teach, Practise, Apply, Assess. 


There are 44 phonemes to learn that can be used to blend and segment into words. Phonemes can be single letters that make a sound, eg. /s/ or /t/, or groups of letters that make up a sound, e.g. /ee/, /ow/ or /igh/. Children are usually taught these in successive phases, so they will be able to read more simple words to start with such as CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) words like c-a-t  or p-i-n,  where each letter represents its own phoneme. They will then move on to words using phonemes made up of multiple letters, such as cow ( /c/ /ow/ ) and tree ( /t/ /r/ /ee/ ). 



As they move through the phases, children are made aware of alternative spellings (graphemes - how it looks) for different sounds (phonemes - how it sounds). A good example is the /igh/ sound - it can be spelt using different graphemes that sound the same - /y/ as in 'my', /ie/ as in 'pie', split digraph i_e as in bike, plus more! They are also taught that some graphemes sound differently in some words, like /ow/ in cow and bow (for royalty), and snow and bow (tie)These are all words than can be built and blended together to read or spell. 

By the end of Year 1, children are given a Phonics Screening Check to assess whether they have mastered the basic phonics system, which allows them to: read and spell words up to 3 syllables using their phonic knowledge, say the sound for each grapheme, write common graphemes for a given sound, read 100 high frequency words (the 100 most common words in the English language) and form all their letters correctly!

The final phase is taught in Year 2. This is when children are taught more complex spelling rules, about word endings (suffixes) and beginnings (prefixes), use of apostrophes and the past tense.


So what is a Tricky Word?


Tricky Words or Common Exception Words are the words that are harder to read and spell because they don't often follow the taught rules for certain graphemes or phonemes! Tricky words are drip fed throughout the phases. They are only "tricky" at the beginning of a learner's journey or until a particular phase which covers the sound is taught. 

To say they can't be "sounded out" (to read) or segmented (to spell out) is not always true, as certain letters/letter strings can often be pronounced in different ways, and certain sounds can be written with different letters/letterstrings! 

For example - tricky word 'my' is taught in phase 3. At this point /igh/ is the only way they know to spell the sound the grapheme y makes. Alternative spellings for the /igh/ sound aren't taught until later phases, so at this point, 'my' is a tricky word to read and spell! A lot of children will spell it as 'migh' which, at their stage of learning, is phonetically correct!

So as a learner following a systematic synthetic approach, these common words will be taught as tricky words to ensure they can be written and read at an earlier stage. So it's perfectly okay for your child to refer to these words as ones they can't blend to read or segment to spell: at that time in their phonic journey, they can't be sounded out as they haven't been taught the grapheme-phoneme correspondence yet! Sounds more confusing than it is, trust me!


So how can I help my child learn Tricky Words?


Tricky words need to be taught in different ways to other words. Some parts of the words can be sounded out using their phonics, so these are important for the child to point out. The part of the word which uses spelling patterns not yet taught, need to be learned. 

Take 'was' for example. /w/ can be sounded out, but the 'a' sounds like /o/ and the 's' sounds like /z/. Once shown, the reader can then blend all the sounds to say the word 'was'. Other words like 'one' and 'people' have unusual spellings that don't fit the phonic code easily! Reading a word by sight only (using visual memory) can only be achieved when the learner knows the word and the brain can access it accurately.

There are many ways in which you can help your child learn these tricky word spellings and commit them to the brain's memory. There's the usual flashcards, look-cover-write-check, post-it on the wall approaches... However, if you like to take a multisensory approach to learning spellings, here is a list of fun ways to excite young children to learn their tricky words:


A multisensory approach to spelling


  • Cover the surface of a tray or large plate with sand or flour. Use your finger to write the word in the tray. Shake to clear, then repeat as many times as you like!
  • Use magnetic letters to spell the words on the fridge or radiator (make sure it's not hot!).
  • Use wooden blocks with letters on to build word towers. Have fun knocking them back down and rebuilding them!
  • Buy some mouldable bath foam (Asda sell it or find it cheaply in the Internet) and use it to spell words in the bath.
  • Use buttons to spell out tricky words. Glue them down to make a nice button picture for your wall.
  • Make up a cheese straw recipe and instead of cutting straight shapes, bend and mould the pastry into letters to spell your tricky word.
  • Cut the letters you need out of magazines or newspapers to make ransom style tricky word pictures.
  • Use pasta shapes (the spirals are good for this) and print the words into play dough.
  • Write the word in large bubble writing and paint each letter a different colour.
  • Play "Roll It!" You need this FREE download and a dice. Pop a tricky word under each number, and each time it is rolled, write the tricky word in the column underneath. 
  • Rainbow write your word using 3 or 4 different coloured pens or pencils. Simply hold them all at the same time and write the word, or use them one after the other to trace over the word.
  • Make words using play dough.  
  • Paint words on rocks or write them on using permanent markers. Varnish them and ask someone to hide them in your garden. Go on a rock hunt to find all your tricky words!
  • Use seasonal items such as conkers and pine cones to spell the words outside in the garden!
  • If you're allowed to play with your food (for learning purposes of course!) try to spell your words with Alphabites or Alphabetti Spaghetti! 
  • Make bunting for your bedroom or playroom with a different tricky word on each flag.
  • Use a glue stick to write out your tricky word. Cover the page on glitter, then tip the excess on to a tray. Watch your tricky word appear before your eyes!
  • Write the word in bath crayon on your bathroom tiles. Fill a water pistol up with your bath water and have fun squirting each letter, tracing the shape of each one! 

I would LOVE to know if you use any of these ideas, or if you have any others we can add to the list! All you need is a little imagination and learning words needn't be a bore or a chore! Have fun teaching tricky words to your child, and watching them enjoy their learning!


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Finding joy in the little things: I love the enthusiasm my son (he's in Year 1) shows each time I find a new way to help him learn his spellings. In fact, the other day he came up with his own - he wrote his word out using toy cars! I wish I had taken a photo! 

Click me to pin!



I'm linking up this post with these fabulous blogs:

Confessions of a New Mummy    JakiJellz    Cuddle Fairy   Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
I’m also taking part in the Mummy Monday linky with Becca from Becca Blogs It Out

34 comments:

  1. My twins are 2 and I'm dreading phonics! It wasn't a thing when I was at school 🙈 thanks for the great tips!

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    1. I can't even remember how I was taught to read at school! Apart from having hundreds of words in a tin! :)

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  2. Brilliant article. I will be using these with my son who is in year 1

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    1. Thank you for your lovely comment Claire. Hope the ideas help make learning fun! :)

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  3. As one teacher to another, this is a perfect post! Love the pictures.

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  4. Wow, you've made this so easy to understand. I think there is a lot of pressure on little ones nowadays but, the ideas you've included at the end are brilliant and bring learning into play. I'm definitely going to give most of these a try at home.

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    1. Thank you so much for your wonderful feedback Emma. I wanted to write a post to dispel some of the "fear" faced by parents. I'm so glad to have helped you along the way. I'd love to know how you get on with some of the multisensory ideas! :)

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  5. Fridge letters is a great way to help learn and try different things x I’m learning phonics and spelling out words and sounding them when reading in year 1 x

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    1. We love our fridge letters too! So do the puppies apparently... Not to self: Don't let the kids make words at the bottom of the door as the pups will try to knock them off and eat them! :)

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  6. Oh, Popping over from #TwinklyTuesday x

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  7. When my kids were little we did the letters to form words. We also wrote sight words on popsicle sticks for them to learn and then to form sentences #TwinklyTuesday

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    1. Yes, we love lollipop sticks for learning words too! :)

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  8. I was a little baffled a year ago when the little man came home with his tricky words sheet, but I soon grasped it. He is now in Year 1 and it truly fascinates me watching him learn. We read his reading book daily and it makes me so proud to see how he improves on a daily basis. These are some great fun ways to learn. Thank you for sharing with #TriumphantTales

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    1. It's totally crazy watching them learn to read - I still think it's a bit like magic! :)

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  9. Some lovely creative ideas, we have so many silly words that don't follow the rules. #KCACOLS

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  10. As a teacher, I LOVE THIS POST!! Great ideas! Wonderful photos! I am going to pin this on my Education board!! Thanks! #KCACOLS.

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  11. This was really helpful and informative. I feel like I'm learning so much more now I've got a child. My son isn't in school yet, but I'm going to keep this information for next year as I think we'll be needing it by then. #KCACOLS

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    1. I'm glad it's prepared you a little for what's to come! Thanks for commenting! :)

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  12. This is brilliant, especially the tricky word explanation. I've heard it mentioned at our school and didn't have a clue what it was about! Thanks for linking up #twinklytuesday x

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  13. We just started year 1 and it's all about the tricky words isn't it! my son is a very reluctant reader so these tips are awesome. i like the idea of cutting them out of magazines. Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next time!

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  14. Initially this post overwhelmed me, but thank you for breaking it down throughout the post. X

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    1. Oh gosh, sorry! I have a tendency to get carried away! I was going to break it down into 2 posts - maybe I should have done! I hope you found some of it useful. :)

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  15. Some really great ideas here we are all about the multi sensory approach x

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  16. Our daughter is now 8 and this brought back many memories! We loved learning phonics and she grasped it really well. It's such a clever system. #kcacols

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  17. We've always broken them down into phonics, but I guess being welsh which is phonetic language anyway it comes naturally to us! Loved the advice thank you #KCACOLS

    Shan x

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  18. I don't know what happened to my last comment but I had a look beneath the box and it seems its a Gplus problem :D We are Welsh so phonics is part of learning a language for us - great advice! Thank you for sharing #KCACOLS

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  19. I love this post so much! And your other multisensory learning posts too, obvs. Thanks again for the inspiration, and also, with me being Swedish, it’s really useful and interesting for me to learn about how phonics is tought in English schools x
    #KCACOLS

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  20. I’ve just noticed that you’ve asked us below not to use Google+ when commenting, which I’d just done. Bugger. Well, what I said was essentially that I love this post, just as your other posts on multisensory learning activities, plus that it’s useful for me (being Swedish) to learn about English phonics and how it is being tought in schools here (nowadays) x
    #KCACOLS

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  21. These ideas are brilliant! My eldest is in Y1 so I will definitely try some of them out. We've done a pairs game of tricky words before #KCACOLS

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