Siiiiiigh…..t words: what to do?!

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In my last post on sight words, I looked at their history; where DO they come from??:

History of Sight Words

In this post, I look at how learners can be taught to read and spell them.

The acts of reading (decoding) and spelling (encoding) are different. They require different skills but in my view are best taught together, along with handwriting, so that integration occurs.

How to tackle these ‘tricky words’? Given that they make up around 75% of what we read and write, this is worthy of careful consideration.

  • Using Phonics

Look out for those words which are phonically regular: like, home,

teach these for what they are: split digraphs. The vowel digraphs are: ae, ee, ie, oe, ue. These pairs are split by a consonant, which is why the ‘e’ is silent.


  • Say it funny!

Some words do not follow a spelling pattern but if said as written, it can be a useful memory aid: people, Wednesday.

  • Draw a picture

Homophones. Some of these words sound the same and have different meanings: to, two, too and children will continue to get these wrong throughout school, embedding the incorrect motor memory.

Try incorporating a picture!

HFW homophones

  • Words that follow a pattern

Some words follow a pattern and are not unusual in isolation, an example might be ‘was’. The rule: ‘a’ after ‘w’ makes /o/ and we can see this in water, wash, war, waddle. Better to teach this in context and a word web might work nicely here.

Another example is the group of question words, ‘wh’

  • Look for narrative/story to connect words

I’m constantly seeking to tie narrative and humour into learning. Examples here might be the words ‘where’, ‘there’ and ‘here’. All direction words, teach ‘here’ first, ‘here’ is in where and there. This is introducing the child to morphology.

Make ‘here’ out of playdoh – have it move around – here is lost – is it over there? (have it join ‘t’, where is it?

video on Facebook

  • Teach open and closed syllables

Some of the words on the list follow the open and closed syllable pattern. When a vowel is not ‘closed’ in by a consonant, it makes a long sound eg pa_per.

He, me, be, we are examples of this. We can say the vowel is ‘open’, it can shout its name – hence it’s making the long sound.

Cut up words

  • Teach y as a semi-vowel

The letter ‘y’ can make a long or short /i/. In why and try (words of one syllable) it makes the long sound, in happy, the short sound.

By broadening the context of sight words, we can start to encourage children to apply spelling rules and to look for patterns, to integrate these words. The spelling difficulties around these words tend to persist.

They are written often, each time they are spelt incorrectly, the wrong pattern is being reinforced via motor memory. Better to nip this in the bud straight away. Simply copying the word out three times may not be enough.

Have them keep their own journal of tricky words and when they are misspelled, add to the journal and look for a different method. Give them time to check and change work after every write.

What works for the child?

It’s worth spending some time on getting this right. Consider interleaving: incorporate these words into phonics, handwriting practice and use games interspersed throughout the day.

For ideas on how to teach contractions, look here: teaching contractions

For more on spelling, look here:

Previous blog on spelling







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