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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I’m also taking part in the Mummy Monday linky with Becca from Becca Blogs It Out