Top tips for learning ‘tricky’ words and keeping it fun!

One area of phonics that the rules do not apply is ‘tricky’ words or ‘high frequency words’. We nickname them ‘tricky’ because they cannot be sounded out and just need to be learnt. Schools do this in a variety of different ways, a lot of the time your child will be given a set list of words to learn at home in order to consolidate the learning at school. There is no getting away from the fact that these words just need to be learnt and repetition is the best way of doing this. The more your child sees the word and reads it the more likely they will remember it and eventually be able to read by sight. However this does not always have to be tedious and boring. I have listed my favourite ways to make learning tricky words fun.

  1. Water Pistols! A great one for the garden. All you need is an old squirty bottle filled with water and some chalk. Write 8 of the tricky words on the floor ensure they are well spaced out. If your child is able to and keen encourage them to write the words for you (you will probably need to spell them). Once you have the words written down shout out a word and your child needs to find it and squirt it with water. You could add an element of challenge and join in yourself and give a point to the person who squirts the word first. Whenever we play this game it ends up in a mini water fight so be prepared to get wet!!!
  2. Word Bingo You will need paper, pencils, the tricky word list cut up into individual words and counters. Draw a grid on paper with either 6 or 9 spaces. Fill those spaces with the tricky words. Make a board for yourself and a board for your child using a mixture of the same and different words. Place your word cards face down on the table. Take it in turns to turn over a card and read it. If you have that word on your board then cover it with a counter. The first person to fill their card says bingo and wins. Isabel loves playing this game. We tend to do her reading book and word cards in the mornings before school as she is just too tired when she gets home and she often requests word bingo to play while eating cereal!

3.    Buried Treasure You will need a tray (I use an ikea drawer which is the perfect size), some sand/flour/lentils depending upon your available resources and how messy you want to get, word cards and a paintbrush. Fill the tray with your chosen material then hide the word cards inside. Give your child the paintbrush and ask them to gently brush away the sand/flour etc until they find some buried word treasure. When they uncover a word read it and place it next to them until all the words have been found. Again it can be made into a challenge with a sibling or adult and the challenge is to find and read correctly as many words as possible.

4.   Treasure hunt You will need some gold coins (either plastic or chocolate), sticky labels and a pen. Write a tricky word on the sticky label and stick the label to the gold coin (maximum of 8-10 words). Then hide the coins around the house or garden (weather dependent). To add to the fun you could give your child an eye patch or a pirate hat, they then have to find all the hidden treasure. Give them a time limit of five minutes to find as many words as they can and once found they need to read correctly or they are hidden again. Isabel loves playing pirates and finding hidden treasure, she also loves making treasure maps so this game is perfect for her and also helps to learn those words.

5.   Going fishing You will need some plastic balls, a sharpie marker, a fishing net, either the bath or a paddling pool (weather dependent). Write tricky words on the plastic balls with the sharpie marker. Put them in the bath or paddling pool. Your child then has fun by using the net to catch the balls. Once they have caught the ball they must read the word correctly. If they get it wrong then it goes back in the water to try again. If it is correct then they put it in a container. How many can they catch and read correctly in five minutes? Can they beat their score a second time? This game is great not only for reading tricky words but for hand and eye co ordination when catching the balls which in turn supports writing. We do enjoy this game, Megan likes to join in catching the balls and we count how many she has in her container so she practices her counting and Charlie just enjoys throwing the balls around. Everyone gets to join in and have fun at their own level.

While these games are fun, they are more time consuming and I don’t expect anyone has the time to do something like this everyday (we certainly don’t). They are ideas for making learning those words a bit more fun and breaking up the monotony of reading lists of words every day. I recommend reading those tricky words as much as possible as repetition really does help. There are some words that for some reason never seem to stay in their heads, so I stick them up in various places around the house. Isabel kept reading ‘so’ as ‘Sue’ so I stuck the word to her favourite cereal packet. She thought it was funny and every day looked at it and said the word. By the time we got to the bottom of the cereal packet she read the word correctly.

I hope these ideas have been useful,  if anyone has any other games or ideas they have found useful or successful in helping to read ‘tricky’ words then please feel free to share.

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