Phonological Awareness, Phonemic Awareness

Teaching Irregular Tricky Words

In this video, which is part of a series devoted to teaching literacy skills to young children, Dr. Maria S. Murray, Ph.D., describes many strategies to teach irregular words.
Teaching Irregular Tricky Words
The Reading League
October 4, 2022
Teaching Irregular Tricky Words

What are irregular words?

  • Irregular words are words that are spelled irregularly. They are often called tricky words because they tend to trip up our students. These words have letters that do not correspond with their typical sounds.

What should educators do before introducing their children to this concept of irregular words?

  • Educators should be mindful of words and what their learners already know. Are the letters representative of their most common sound? Does the student know the common conventions of letters and letter combinations?

Strategy 1: (08:06)

  • Highlight the part of the word that is irregular.
  • Notify the student that the letter/letter combination is breaking the rule.
  • The majority of irregular words typically only have one irregular sound.

Strategy 2: (12:24)

  • Help the student learn and remember irregular words by displaying the words by their sounds.
  • Draw attention to the sound structure of the words.
  • Sound walls are more effective than word walls. Word walls do not serve the most important purpose because they are typically displayed in alphabetical order, which promotes learning words as a visual approach. Students, in this case, memorize words rather than learning how to sound them out.
  • Science shows that irregular words require more sound analysis than regular words.

Strategy 3: (20:15)

  • Teach irregular words so that students can notice the pattern.
  • For example: the, he, she, we, be, me

Strategy 4: (20:48)

  • Use sound boxes.
  • The student has to map the spellings to the sounds in the word.
  • Have the student count how many sounds are in the word. That is how many boxes the student will have to fill out. Then, have the student fill in each box with the letter(s) that make each sound.

Irregular sight words do not have to be memorized. They can be learned with these strategies!


Original Sources:
Maria S. Murray, Ph.D., The Reading League, "Strategies for Teaching Irregular “Tricky” Words":

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