26 Ways to Practice Spelling Tricky Words

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Learning to Spell Tricky Words is Challenging!

Using a systematic phonics program, we teach the children how to read and spell using letter-sound correspondence. Learning the code for the English Language starts with the 42-44 fundamental sounds. (What the Science Says About How Kids Learn.) However, as children learn to read, there are words that we need to create phrases and sentences that use irregular spellings. They need to spell tricky words!

How Do We Teach Learners to Read and Spell Tricky Words?

Because English combines many languages, some tricky words remain “rule breakers” and cannot be sounded out (e.g., one, eye, two). Most irregular words are tricky until the children learn the opaque alphabet. Readers are introduced to alternative spellings after learning the transparent alphabet with 42-44 sounds. Children are taught things like the CVCe or the ‘magic e’ rule (e.g., make, here, like), the schwa sound, double letters, soft ‘c’ and soft ‘g,’ about silent letters, and alternative spellings for consonants, words endings, and digraphs. English is a complicated, opaque language! These alternative spellings are introduced as the children are ready… or as the words arise in writing or reading.

The /ai/ Sound

One example of alternative spellings is the /ai/ sound.

<a>   - apron, angle, change
<ay> - play, day, away   (<i> does not like to be at the end of a word, so <y> helps out!)
<ei>  - feint, vein, veil
<ey> - they, grey, obey
<eigh> - eight, neigh, sleigh
<et> - ballet, sorbet, buffet   (French influence) 
<ea> - great, break, steak
<aigh> - straight   (One word uses the <aigh> spelling! Origin: adjectival use of Old English streht.)

Read Tricky Words and then Write Them!

In the meantime, early readers need to identify these words with irregular spelling to read sentences! Therefore, Tricky Words are taught with a look-and-say approach. The children should learn to read tricky words before they learn to spell them. (24 Ways to Make Learning to Read Sight Words Fun.) They are mostly irregular keywords that are difficult to blend or write by listening to the sounds. It helps children learn each tricky word if they look at the spelling and determine what is irregular or different.

For example; 
'was' does not have an /a/ sound in the middle, it has the /o/ sound! 
'she' uses the <e> spelling of /ee/
'they'  uses the <ey> spelling of /ai/ 
Tricky words with the irregular parts of the word marked in red.

Identifying the sounds in a word that are not part of the transparent alphabet seems to jog the memory, and they learn to say the words correctly. Mark those parts of the word in a different color. Eventually, they learn to recognize the word immediately.

It is a good idea to associate similar tricky words as kids are learning to spell them. (e.g., he, she, me, be, we; come, some; could. should, would)


The main aim is for the children to learn to read and spell automatically and fluently. AND… I believe MOTIVATION is the key! Have fun learning to spell tricky words! Everyone is different. If one approach doesn’t work, try another!

Airwriting is a great way to practice tricky words. Talk about letter formation and avoid stick-and-stone letters! Say, “Let’s spell ‘go,’ g-o, ‘go.’ (Optional: You may provide letter printing directions as each letter is created.)

Say the word ‘one.’ Print the letters o-n-e. (Remember to say each letter as the students print them. Say the finished word, “one.”)

Use a whiteboard. “Let’s spell ‘the.’ The teacher will spell the word on the whiteboard. BUT the word may be misspelled (i.e., the). Is it correct? Why? Why not? Get the kids thinking about their thinking! With enough knowledge, children can sound out tricky words. Remember to look at the parts of the word you know. Variation: The teacher prints two words on the whiteboard and states the word is ‘the,’ then asks, “Which is the correct spelling?” (teh, the)

A detective is looking for words that are misspelled.

Use sound cards, a whiteboard, or a chalkboard. Print a tricky word. Turn the board away and then erase a letter. What’s missing? Who can fill in the missing letter or letter combination?

Find a partner. Partner A will use a flashcard as a model to make a tricky word from magnetic letters, tiles, or Can Do Cubes. Partner B will check the word against the model, then mix it up for Partner A to re-create. Does partner A want to do it without the flashcard? Remember to offer support. Scaffold the learning in a safe, confidence-building manner. Use the flashcard to help if needed. Do three words, then switch partners. Some partners will get 2 or 3 sets completed. Some groups will only do one set. That’s ok… because they are learning.

Use letters from a magazine or newspaper, letter tiles, magnetic letters, stamps, play-dough, or Wiki sticks to spell tricky words. Print the words in shaving foam, rice, or flour. Try stringing letter beads. You might want to use flashcards, letter-sound cards, or playing cards. Try printing the letters on clothes pegs and ask the children to Peg the Word on a short classroom clothesline.

media for creating sight words

Use the Sight Word cards at the literacy or craft center. Paint words. Use Q-tips, markers, pencil crayons, crayons, pens, glitter, and glue to make a word collage!

Print as many tricky words as you can on the blacktop with sidewalk chalk.

creating sight words with magnetic letters and chalk

Guess my word before it goes! Use a wet paintbrush to spell a tricky word. Option: Chalk a large patch on the chalkboard. Take the wet paintbrush and have the kids paint the tricky word over the chalk.

Everyone prints as many tricky words as possible throughout the day… on a table, door, or floor covered with a large sheet of paper. Duplicates are welcome! Talk about the board at the end of the day. What words do you know? Can you find two that are the same?

Print a tricky word with colored markers on a coffee filter. Check the word to make sure that it is correct. Read the word. Then, spray the filter with water and create word art!

sight word art

Print (or trace) sight words with a white crayon on blank paper. Add a watercolor or a paint-wash design to the page. Watch the words magically appear. Or…print one or more tricky words onto a napkin with a colored crayon. Fold the napkin over. Place the napkin in water and watch the tricky word appear!

The teacher leads the cheer. A sight word is printed where everyone can see it. Say the word ‘your.’ Cheer the word. Say, “Give me a y” – y! “Give me an ‘o’ – o!” Then, “Give me a ‘u’ – u!” “Give me an ‘r’ – r! “Spell it… y-o-u-r” ” What did you spell?” Your! Use the Big Letter Flashcards!

cheering sight words

A tricky word is printed where everyone can see it. Let’s chant the word ‘one.’ As the students and teacher spell one o-n-e, different actions are taken. After spelling the word, everyone cheers by raising their fist into the air and says the tricky word “one”!

Options as you spell the word:

  • Be a Chorus Line and kick forward across your body, alternating feet with each letter name.
  • Push it to the ceiling – both palms face upwards and move up with each letter’s name.
  • Jump It! Jump up with each letter name.
  • Salt and Pepper Your Fries. Shape your hand like a saltshaker. Pretend to shake salt and pepper on your fries with one hand as a letter is spoken, then use the other hand. Don’t forget to raise your arm and cheer the word after you spell it!
  • Punch it Out! Hold your arms at your side with elbows bent and fists clenched. Punch out the word. Push your arm across your body as each letter is called out – alternate arms.
  • Bounce a Word – Bounce a ball for each letter as you spell the word. Throw the ball into the air and catch it as you say the word.

Here is a center activity or simply an egg hunt. This time, the children find a tricky word printed on a sticky note, cut it into its component letters, and place it into a dollar-store plastic egg. The student’s task is to determine what tricky word is created with the letters! (They may reference a word wall or personal word wall as needed.)

tricky word spelling for kids

Use a magnetic board. Provide letters needed to make 3-5 words. Using a list of tricky words, spell the words with the magnetic letters and then read them. Find a list of words in Sight Word Printing & Word Sort Cards.

17. 🖱️Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check

  • Preparation: Photocopy the activity sheet
  • Cut a file folder into three sections from the side to the crease.
  • Place the folder in front of you with the crease at the top.
  • Place the activity card into the folder.
    • Lift the first section. Look at the word. Read it. Then, study the spelling of the word.
    • Cover the first section and lift the second column.
    • Next, try to print the word as you say it.
    • Open the first section. Check your work. Did you spell it correctly?
    • If it is spelled correctly… check it! Then, close the flap and move on to the next word.
    • If it is misspelled, put a line through it. Cover the second flap. Study the word and then try again.
    • After the student has practiced the words, dictate the sentence(s).
learning to spell sight words

18. 🖱️My Sight Words Printing Book

No lines are required! Print the dictated word in 3 sizes! The teacher calls out a word. The class says the word. The teacher and class spell the word as the teacher writes it on a chart. Students are invited to say the word and then spell it out loud as they print it. First, print the word as small as you can. Then, print the tricky word in a normal size. Last, print the word as BIG as you can. Read each word after you print it.

printing sight words

19. 🖱️Sight Word Partner BINGO

There are several Game Board variations for 3 in a row, 4 in a row, or 5 in a row BINGO games. Choose the one that suits your students.

Getting Ready
  • Use one colored set of Sight Word Cards.
  • Play as a class or divide into small groups.
  • Sight Word Partner Bingo is a game in which students create a Bingo Card and share it with a friend to play.
  • The teacher pulls a sight word card from the deck selected for this game and says the word.
  • Then, the reader/teacher spells the word. The teacher and the class say the word and then spell it as the teacher prints it on a chart.
  • The students repeat the word and then print it anywhere on their Bingo card. If needed, a student may copy from the teacher’s word.
  • After the Bingo card spaces are filled, the card is shared with a fellow student who must be able to read the words as printed by the creator.
  • Play continues as a BINGO game. The caller puts the deck of cards face-down, turns the top card over, and calls out the sight word. When a player has the sight word… a Bingo chip is placed on the word. Play continues until a player gets 3, 4, or 5 in a row. (Depending on the game board.)
  • The winner of the game may choose to be the caller of the next game.

Note: A bingo chip may be a coin, a small block, a counter, or a piece of paper. You can also use a bingo dabber or a crayon to mark the card.

a partner bingo sight word game

20. 🖱️90 High-Frequency Sight Words Dictionary

Use a personal dictionary. Mark the words that you know. Don’t forget to add words that you want to learn. Look up color words, number words, and choose from 84 common nouns that you may need to write a story.

a sight word dicitonary for kids

Find the tricky words in a word search puzzle. Check out PuzzleMaker.

Check out WordWall. You may be able to find or create interactive puzzles like Word Search & Crossword Puzzles.

A message to parents may be printed on a label and placed on each envelope, e.g., Dear Families… I am learning to read tricky words. These words are often used when I write a story. I see most of them in stories we read, but they don’t always follow the rules… so they can be tricky! Please use this envelope to store my new words. Let’s learn one word at a time, practice them, and see how many I can remember for grade one! I will try to use them when I write a story! Use the tricky words from the Jolly Phonics Handbook. Optional: You can create your own word list or use the word cards from Sight Word Printing Practice & 99 Sight Words for Sorting Activities.

sight words in an envelop

23. 🖱️Practice CVCe / Magic ‘e’ Words

Print the CVCe or Magic ‘e’ words on a page of cover stock. Cut the final <e> off of the words. Next, add velcro to the back of each piece. Place the word on a rug (or piece of carpet) about 2 feet x 3 feet in size. Put the CVC words on the rug. Read the word. Add the <e>. What happens? The magic <e> jumps over the single consonant and makes the vowel say its name. (e.g., /o/ becomes /oa/, /i/ becomes /ie/, etc.) What happens when you remove the <e>? Check out Spell and Print: Matic /e/ Words!

magic e worksheets

24. Box With Words – Say It. Spell It. Write It.

The box is held high. The student picks a word from the box. The player reads the word. (If help is required, the word goes back into the box after the activity.) Spell the word. (The player who picked the word may spell it aloud first, then all players spell the word.) Everyone Prints the Word using the card to jog the memory, if needed… or from memory! Play moves to the next player. The player with the most cards wins the game.

a box with tricky words inside.

25. 🖱️Spelling Tricky Words with Big Letters

Using the tricky words that have been taught, create a list of about five tricky words to spell. Hand out the Big Letter Alphabet Cards needed to spell the words to the students. (You will re-use some of the letters after the children spell one of the words on the list.) Then, say the first tricky word. The students repeat it. Spell the tricky word. The kids repeat it. Say, “If you have the letters we need in this word, come to the front of the class.”

Option 1. Ask the kids to organize themselves to spell the word. Option 2. Ask one or two children to help organize the students holding the letters to create the tricky word. Repeat saying the word and spelling the word altogether. Then, create the rest of the words following the same pattern. Try to make certain each child has had an opportunity to participate. Cheer the Word!

making sight words with big letters

26. 🖱️Tracing Tricky Words for Spelling Practice

Trace the hollow letters for each sight word. Say the word. Say the letter names as you trace them. Then, cut the tricky words along the dotted lines. Fold the legal paper into three sections. And finally, use the words you know to create a sentence or phrase! You can draw the nouns or print them!

sight word hollow letters
Ways to Practice Spelling Tricky Words

Thank you to the many people who have shared ideas on Pinterest and other media over the years. At the time, I used ideas in the classroom and did not consider that I would write a blog post one day based on my years of experience!

Are you learning to identify tricky words? Check out 24 Ways to Learn to Read Sight Words.

Need more hands-on games and activities?

GET this Sight Word Bundle!

learn to read sight words

All ideas are welcome! Before you go, I invite YOU to share an idea for learning how to spell tricky words in the comments. We all continue to learn from each other. Thank you!

Wishing you a most amazing day!


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