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Tricky Words

Posted by in Literacy

Teaching infants to read Tricky Words can be difficult once they have become so familiar with decoding words. Teaching them to break that habit and realise that, unfortunately, not all words are decodable can be a challenge, one I have realised can only be overcome with plenty of repetition and patience. Many, if not all, of the activities I do surrounding tricky words are the same activities presented slightly differently; the children rarely notice of course!

I generally have a focus of 5 tricky words each week, and I move on to a new focus of tricky words each week regardless of the attainment of the children. This is because we will be constantly going back over the words regardless. You need to try to keep the children interested. If you succeed, the children will get the words eventually. My aim for Junior infants is that they will be able to read tricky words 1-30 and comfortably recognise them in their reading. However, for senior infants I would expect them to be able to read all 60 tricky words, and I would be also expecting them to be comfortable using tricky words in their writing.

Each week I will introduce my 5 new tricky words (and a quick revision of the older ones). We will look at each word and spell it. It is important to remember to spell the tricky words using the letter names and not sounds so as to try and keep as clear a division as possible between decodable words and tricky words. We will orally put each tricky word into a sentence – for context – to be sure that the children comprehend the meaning of each tricky word. We will then write it using the look, cover, write check method.

Tricky Words

I make sure that there are constant visual aids relating to tricky words around the classroom so the children are exposed to them as much as possible. Each child has a name tag on their desk and around this there are number lines, letters and tricky words. I also have a tricky word display which is usually either one of two displays – a tricky word garden or a tricky word wall. Both displays are working walls meaning that they start off blank and we work on building them up as we learn our words.

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Half Column

Each child also brings home a few tricky words each week to learn as part of their homework. To coincide with this, and their class work on tricky words, each child has a tricky word wall which we build over time. Once they are confident with their tricky words they can colour them in and eventually they will complete the whole wall. Once it is complete I laminate it and it becomes a certificate to take home. You can download the certificate here


Learning tricky words really is all about how fun you can make it!  Some of the following activities and ideas might help you to bring some variety to the way in which you teach your tricky words.

Tricky Word Dance

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This game is similar to musical statues. Tricky words are printed on pieces of card/paper and scattered all over the floor, preferably face down. Play some music and let the children burn off some energy. When the music stops they must pick up a card. After this you can do whatever you like. Sometimes I pick a few children to read out their word and sometimes they read their word to their friend – you could have them find someone who has the same word as them or even put their word into a sentence.

Tricky Word Search 


With small finger lights we have some quiet time searching for tricky words in library books. The children can simply search for them on their own or you can vary the task. Give the children a specific set of words to find and have them cross off each word as they find it – they could create a list of the words that they find or they can work in pairs or groups to see who can find a particular tricky word the fastest. The same activities can easily be done with a magnifying glass – the children love being tricky word detectives!


Tricky Word Pass The Parcel

Similar to the traditional party game, for this game place whatever tricky words you wish inside an envelope. While some music is playing the children must ‘pass the parcel’. When the music stops the child who is holding the envelope needs to take out a tricky word and read it. Sometimes I will award each team 2 points if their player can read their word independently and 1 point if their friends need to help. It adds a bit of competition and there’s the motivation to be awarded a winning sticker at the end!



Roll, Read, Colour, Win

It’s not a terribly inventive name but it does exactly what it says on the tin! There are 6 columns, each with a set of tricky words in it. Each player chooses a colour to play and they take it in turns to roll the dice. The player then reads a word, any word, in the corresponding column and if they can read one successfully they can claim it by colouring it in their colour. At the end of the game the player who has coloured the most spaces wins! Simple! Just roll, read, colour and win! You can download a full set of games covering all the tricky words from here

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