A Surefire way to Teach Students to Read and Spell Tricky Words

Do your students get stuck when reading and spelling tricky words?  My students got hung up on those rule breaker words ALL THE TIME.  What if I could show you a way to make sure those words were always spelled right?  Continue reading to learn how I introduce my words each week and more about how I use a Word Jail or Doghouse to establish dedicated practice for rule breaker words.

This is Part 2 in my Word Wall series.  If you have not read Part 1 - Getting Started with the Word Wall -  you can find it by clicking {HERE}

Introducing the Words

On Monday, I always introduce 5 new words - 4 of the words are sight words and one word is a Word Family word with a chunk we will work on throughout the week.  You can read about how I teach word families {HERE}.  The words for the week are added to my popcorn bucket, which is hanging at my carpet area.  The words of the week stay in this bucket all week long so we can practice reading them anytime we have a free moment while on the carpet. The idea behind putting words in a popcorn bucket is that I want my students to learn the words so well that they just "pop" into their heads like popcorn.  It's all about automaticity!

I like to show them the words one at a time and have them whisper what they think the word is into their hand.  This gives the kids who need it time to think and it also helps control those "blurters" we all have.  After a few seconds of think time, I count to 3 and they open their hand and let the word out. This strategy has really helped my impulsive kids.   As each one is read it is placed in the popcorn bucket.

Rule breakers - The Word Jail and The Doghouse

The next step is to look at each word carefully and determine if it follows the rules we know for sounding out words.  

This is where they may be differences of opinions - my first graders do not know many spelling rules yet so a lot of words will go into the Word Jail or Doghouse.  They may not know the long vowel rules or sneaky silent e rules, but a Second grade or Third grade student would know these and a completely different set of words would be in the Word Jail.  Teachers will need to consider this and differentiate for their own students.  

Now back to putting words in the Word Jail or Doghouse.  If a student can give a valid reason why a word is a rule breaker then I place it our Doghouse and Word Jail.  

So what is the Word Jail and why do I swear by it?  The Word Jail is another place to put those words that don't follow the rules when they are sounded out.  These are your rulebreaker words.  We place these words on the Word Wall and also in the Word Jail so there are two places they can be found.  Why two places?  It is because these are the trickiest to learn and need extra attention and teaching. 

I have had feedback from a number of teachers about the idea of a "jail" for words and it's negative connotation for students.  I totally understand and respect where they are coming from.  In an effort to provide a resource that is more friendly in terms of the language for our youngest learners, I created the Doghouse.  When words aren't following the rules they get put "in the doghouse".  I think this is an idea that many kids can relate to.  It is the exact same idea as the Word Jail but just a different format.  You can check out the Doghouse Rulebreaker Word Display by clicking {HERE} or on the image below.

Currently, I am using both the Doghouse and the Word Jail in my classroom. I have the doghouse hanging beside my popcorn bucket and we put the rule breaker words in there each week.  We are reviewing all of our words but paying close attention to our rule breaker words.  At the end of the week I take those words out, but they will remain on my Word Jail throughout the year, so it can get pretty full.  You can remove words from the jail once students have mastered a spelling rule that helps them to decode that word if you choose.  

I use the Word Jail as a means to draw attention to hard to read/hard to spell words. We need students to learn these words by simple memorization.  We spend a lot of time teaching decoding but with Jail words decoding is not effective, or at least not helpful until you have learned all of the rules for different letters and combinations of letters. By giving them their own special place you can easily practice these words and draw the student's attention to them. Another bonus is that those difficult to read and spell words are easier to find.   Students can come up and locate a word in the Word Jail more quickly than scanning the Word Wall and they often do just that.  When we are reading students will often point out the Word Jail words with a cry of excitement.  You can check out the full resource by clicking {HERE} or clicking the image below.  

One last step.  Now that we have sorted our words and have put them in the Word Jail, if they belong there, we need to get them onto the Word Wall too. We work together to place the words on the Word Wall.  I ask a volunteer to tell me what letter to put a word under and that person comes up and shows me just where to put it.  This is another means of having the students take ownership over the Word Wall because they are actively participating in putting the words onto the Word Wall.  I think this also helps them when they are looking for the word at another time because they were actively engaged in putting the words there.  

Additional Practice for those Rulebreakers! 

We do lots of practice orally but there is a place for some independent practice as well.  I created these worksheets to use with the Word Jail words.  Each of the Word Jail words I teach has it's own worksheet where students can practice finding the correct spelling, fixing the spelling in a sentence and using it in their own sentence.  All the pages follow a consistent format so once students are familiar with how to complete the sheet then they should be able to complete them independently. You can find the Word Jail Worksheets {HERE} or you can get check out the Word Jail and Worksheets bundle by clicking on the image below.   

I also have a set to of worksheets to coordinate with the Doghouse Rule breakers display.  Click on the image to check it out.  

Click on the graphic below to learn more about how I make time almost everyday to practice my Word Wall Words.  

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1 comment

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I am in school to become a kindergarten or first grade teacher and I love reading information from other teachers. I am so looking forward to getting my degree and getting started in the profession. I have wanted to teach this age since I was 5 and 6 years old. Such a fun life stage.

    Eliseo Weinstein @ JR's Bail Bonds