4. “Tricky” Words

Transitional Spelling

Phonetic spelling transitions gradually to correct spelling. Many words just have to be memorized because they are not spelled according to their sounds. In fact, over half of our language is NOT phonetic. It often takes a child about 40 times of encountering a word before it’s remembered automatically.

“Tricky Words”

Along with learning “blend friends” and vowel combinations, children need to memorize words that have special combinations. Words with silent letters like “could” are often the hardest to remember for reading and spelling. so I’ve listed these and other  “tricky spellings” last.  For example, by first grade they are introduced to what I call that “ing” brothers” and the “er sisters.” I call them these names to help them remember what they say and ask them to think of words with “ing” endings, like thing, ring, sing, jumping,, etc. The “er sisters” are fond at the end of many words as well, like mother, father, sister, brother. As you’ll see below, there are three vowels with “r” that all say the same thing: er, ir, and ur. The different spellings need to be memorized, which can be done through “word sorts” as described under “Spelling Games and Activities.”

Listed below are words with silent letters like “night” where the “gh” is silent and “could,” where the “o” and the “l” are silent. <e,prozomg these is also helped by using the activities described earlier: word sorts, flip books, BINGO, Concentration, etc.

“Soft c” sounds like “s”  and “Soft g” sounds like “j”   

when e, i, or y follow them

George, giraffe, huge

center. receive, bicycle


-ng Combinations

”ing” as in ring, bring, thing?   (I sometimes call these the “ing” brothers, to make it

more memorable)

“ang” as in bang

“ong” as in song and wrong

”ung” as in stung

Vowels with “r”

Is it –

“er,” “ir,” or “ur” as in mother, girl, or fur (which all have the same sound, so the various spellings of the most common words just have to be memorized)

er  as in her, mother, father

ir as in girl, bird

ur as in fur, curl

ar always says “r” as in car, star, start, far, farm

or always says “or” as in for, more, store

Words with Silent Letters

Prompt when your child doesn’t know these words That’s a word with a silent letter(s), do you know what it says (without the silent letters)?

You can cover the silent letter with your finger to make it clear.

wr  the “w” is silent as in write, wrist

kn  the “k” is silent as in knife, know, knew


-igh the “gh” is silent and makes the “i” say its own name as in light, sigh

-ould – the “l” is silent as in could, would, should


soft c as in cent, face, ice (rhyming words with ace: race, trace, grace, lace rhyming words with ice: nice, mice, dice, rice, twice)

soft g as in giant, George, dodge


Correct Spelling

Words that your child often misspells can be written on index cards and put on a binder ring. If there’s a particular pattern, like “could, would, should,” the words can be written together on one card. If illustrating the words help your child to remember them, have him add a drawing.


If your child has spelling homework, help him to sort out the spelling patterns he’s working on. For example, “er,” “ir,” and “ur” are all pronounced the same. Use a word sort for collecting the words that have the same spelling in that column. It will make it easier to memorize.

Have him write the spelling words he didn’t already know several times to reinforce the correct spelling. Spelling homework is helpful up to a certain point, but by fourth grade and higher, it’s a matter of practice through editing writing. As a parent, you can encourage and support your child along the way as he learns to spell and to correct misspellings.

How important is spelling?

Spelling helps children learn to read in the early grades. They need to learn the spelling patterns, rules, and exceptions to the rules. They need to memorize the spelling of many words. It is a huge task! Acknowledge your child’s progress along the way. Model writing  by talking out loud about your own process as your write notes, etc., including using a dictionary or spell check, and rereading what you wrote. You are your child’s first teacher and your encouragement makes a difference!

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