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Tricky Words: Five Fun activities for your classroom

tricky words
A tricky word is those that feature different sounds to individual phonic blends...

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Tricky Words

When teaching phonics, it’s popular to bring out flashcards. Many of us often try different strategies to teach other elements of phonics, but when it comes to tricky words it seems as if we revert to basic methods. And it is true, flashcards are one of the best ways to teach basic words, especially the tricky ones as they must be memorised and recognised. However, there are many activities you and your class can engage with to make learning tricky words more exciting and stimulating.

What are tricky words in phonics?

A tricky word is those that have different sounds to individual phonic blends. Take for example the word “frog”, it cannot be classed as a tricky word as we can segment it into its phonic sounds:

F-r-o-g. However, if we try the word “go”, section it into g-o, this ultimately sounds like you’re sounding out g-o-h. it is important to stress that tricky words cannot be sounded out, which can cause difficulties in learning. But with the right approach and the right materials, you can successfully teach your class to understand and recognize tricky words.



These are also known as sight words, which are usually learned to be memorized by sight. Students are expected to retain this information and recognize them within 3 seconds without having to decode the word. Examples of high-frequency or sight words are: no, the, part, made…

Tricky Words

Phonetically irregular words are completely different to sight words, as students need a longer time to decode. These are words that simply cannot be sounded out in your head. Tricky words should be learnt thoroughly.

The order of Tricky Words

Tricky words are taught in order or phases. These are based upon a mixture of words, but ultimately, they start from easy to hard. There are many examples of these phases, look at our examples below.

tricky words
tricky words
tricky words

But simply, split your lists into phases, go through each phase with your class. Start with easy words and work your way up to the much harder words.

How to introduce tricky words to your class

The most known way of introducing tricky words to your classroom is by simply showing students tricky words and explaining why it is hard to sound them out. You could even pick a silly word so students can fully understand why tricky words are called what they are. It is always fun to choose a word and let children put a context to it, sounding the word out a few times which helps them remember. Go through phase two of your tricky word lists and then move on to engaging games and activities that get students thinking and practising.

Dyslexia and Tricky Words:

Not everyone can instantly recognize tricky words once memorized, some students might need more support to be able to retain them. Firstly, understand that tricky words are called tricky for a reason, and one’s ability to learn them does not reflect what type of person the student is. Dyslexic brains work incredibly different to those that do not have dyslexia. Studies have shown that approaching spelling, and phonetics with mental strategies, rather than phonetic decoding, can allow students to become better readers. Thus improving their relationship with tricky words — this is due to students relying heavily on the right hemisphere and frontal region of their brain. Source.

Some activities to engage your dyslexic students with are:

  • Using cutouts or magnetic letters to build words together, mix them up and re-build them.
  • Draw the words
  • Use mnemonics
  • The use of flashcards to play matching games, allowing students to see the word as many times as possible
  • Use highlighters, coloured pencils, and clean paper.

For more resources regarding dyslexia, check out the British Dyslexia Association.


Have a game of snap.

It is true, that although memory games can be seen as quite basic and simple, they can often have the best results!

This one is easy to carry out. Simply create cards with your tricky words and flip them upside down, get students to take turns in turning each card

Want to make it harder? Play snap but instead of having two matching cards, have the correct spelling and the wrong spelling, making students work on recognising those words.

Where is the tricky word?

Like finding Wally (or Waldo, if you know him by this name!), however, your goal is to find tricky words in books or magazines. Ask children to bring in a newspaper (these can be picked up for quite cheap) or an old magazine from home – students can also share – and sit in groups finding each tricky word you see. You can use pencils, highlighters, and coloured pens. Make a competition, and whoever gets the most words get a prize! (a sticker, allowed to go first in line, etc)

Phase two stories.

Again, in groups or alone, students can be asked to write a small story using the tricky words provided by the teacher. You could start writing with phase two words and make your way up. Have students swap stories and read them aloud to see if they recognise the words.

Trick Word Jenga.

Pull out the Jenga game and prepare for a fun and engaging activity. Write some keywords on the blocks and build the Jenga tower. Students are to play Jenga as they usually do – pulling the bricks in a way that the tower doesn’t fall – but when they pull a tricky word they must:

  1. Recognise that it is a tricky word, if it is not a trick word then they should say that.
  2. Read it aloud.

Source: Here.

Create a display with tricky words.

Sometimes it’s better to take a creative approach, therefore it is time to bring out the coloured pencils, papers, scissors, and glitter. For students to memorise tricky words, they should be exposed to them as much as possible. Therefore, why not create a classroom display together that has all the tricky words decorating the room. This way, students are constantly looking at tricky words meaning they are more likely to remember them.

Ratio and proportion super Emile

We hope these activities have inspired you to play some fun educational games in the classroom, bringing tricky words to life and helping students understand them better. Most of these games don’t require much preparation, therefore enjoy the games with your classroom and watch them flourish in their education.

For more phonetic practice, why don’t you check out Learning with Emile?

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