Puzzle Words

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Puzzle Words
Language - Reading
LevelPrimary
PrerequisitesWord Lists
Digraph Word Lists
Materialscards with high frequency words with tricky spellings

In this activity the child reads cards with high frequency words that have tricky spellings. These words are sounded out as much as possible, and the unusual bit of the spelling is pointed out for the child to notice.
Be sure that you are never presenting any words as Puzzle Words that can be sounded out easily (see Why You Should Avoid the Dolch Sight Word Lists).

Presentations

Carry the folder of word cards to a mat or table. Place the it in the upper right corner.
Take out the stack of cards and place them in the center of the workspace.

a, I

  1. "These are two very short words that come up a lot in reading."
  2. "When we see them alone in a sentence, not part of a bigger word, we say their letter names instead of their regular sounds."
  3. "I."
  4. "A."
  5. Read an example of them in a sentence:
    "I had a cat."
  6. Point to the 'a.'
    "Sometimes we say this more like /uh/ than /ai/, but we always spell it the same way."
  7. Do a Three Period Lesson to be sure the child can read the words.

he, she, me, we, be, the

  1. "Today we're going to read six words that all follow the same rule."
  2. Point to the letter 'e' in one of the words.
    "They all use this letter to spell the sound /ee/. Let's sound them out."
  3. "/h/ /ee/, he."
  4. "/sh/ /ee/, she."
  5. "/m/ /ee/, me."
  6. "/w/ /ee/, we."
  7. "/b/ /ee/, be. This is the way we spell 'be' when we mean 'I'll be home soon.' If we mean bee like the insect that makes honey, we spell it with two Es."
  8. "/th/ /ee/, the. With this word, we sometimes say thee and sometimes we say thuh but we always spell it the same way."
  9. Do a Three Period Lesson to be sure the child can read the words. The child should be allowed to sound out the words during this time.

is, as, his, has

  1. "Today we're going to read four words that all follow the same rule."
  2. Point to the letter 's' in one of the words.
    "They all use this letter to spell the sound /z/. Let's sound them out."
  3. "/i/ /z/, is."
  4. "/a/ /z/, as."
  5. "/h/ /i/ /z/, his."
  6. "/h/ /a/ /z/, has."
  7. "The /s/ sound and the /z/ sound are very similar, so there are lots of words where these letters get switched like this. The same thing is happening with our lips and teeth and tongue when we say the sounds. The only difference is that with the /z/ sound, our vocal cords are vibrating."
  8. Place your fingertips lightly on the front of your throat. Direct the child to do the same.
  9. Switch back and forth between saying /z/ and /s/. Ask the child if they can feel their throat vibrating with one but not the other.
  10. Do a Three Period Lesson to be sure the child can read the words. The child should be allowed to sound out the words during this time.

from, other, nothing, mother, brother, son, month, front, of

This lesson could be divided into two parts if you think nine words is too many at once for the child.

  1. Be sure to set aside the word 'of' for last.
  2. "Today we're going to read nine words that all follow the same rule."
  3. Point to the letter 'o' in one of the words.
    "They all use this letter to spell the sound /u/. Let's sound them out."
  4. "/f/ /r/ /u/ /m/, from."
  5. Sound out the rest of the words in the same way, saving 'of' for last.
  6. Point to 'of' and say, "This word has an extra bit that is funny. Do remember how the sounds /z/ and /s/ get mixed up because they are so similar? The same thing happens with the sounds /v/ and /f/."
  7. Place your fingertips lightly on the front of your throat. Direct the child to do the same.
  8. Switch back and forth between saying /v/ and /f/. Ask the child if they can feel their throat vibrating with one but not the other.
  9. "This is the only word in the whole English language that uses the letter 'f' to spell the /v/ sound. Let's sound it out."
  10. "/u/ /v/, of."
  11. Do a Three Period Lesson to be sure the child can read the words. The child should be allowed to sound out the words during this time.

some, come, done, none, one

  1. Be sure to set aside the word 'one' for last.
  2. "Today we're going to read four words that all follow the same rule."
  3. Point to the letter 'o' and the letter 'e' in one of the words.
    "These are all like the last group we did. They use this letter to spell the sound /u/, but there's also what looks like a silent 'e' at the end. Let's sound them out."
  4. "/s/ /u/ /m/, some."
  5. Sound out the rest of the words in the same way, saving 'one' for last.
  6. Point to the word 'one'.
  7. "This is the word 'one'. It's missing a letter for the /w/ sound. Isn't that strange? Hundreds of years ago people used to say this word differently, then they changed the way they said it, but they kept the spelling the same."
  8. Do a Three Period Lesson to be sure the child can read the words. The child should be allowed to sound out the words during this time.

give, live, have, twelve, love

  1. Be sure to set aside the word 'love' for last.
  2. "Today we're going to read five words that all follow the same rule."
  3. Point to the letters 've'.
  4. "The letter 'v' doesn't go at the ends of English words. So if the /v/ sound comes at the end of a word, it will be spelled 'v-e' like this."
    (Maybe compare it to not liking to be the one standing at the end of the line: the "e" doesn't mind so it's there to keep the "v" company.)
    "Let's sound these out."
  5. "/g/ /i/ /v/, give."
  6. Sound out the rest of the words in the same way, saving 'love' for last.
  7. "This word also has the /u/ sound spelled with the letter 'o' like we did in the last couple of lessons."
    "Let's sound it out."
  8. "/l/ /u/ /v/, love."
  9. Do a Three Period Lesson to be sure the child can read the words. The child should be allowed to sound out the words during this time.

to, do, move, prove

  1. "Today we're going to read four words that all follow the same rule."
  2. Point to the letter 'o' in one of the words. "These all use this letter to spell the sound /ue/."
    "Let's sound these out."
  3. "/t/ /ue/, to."
  4. "/d/ /ue/, do."
  5. These next two words have the /v/ sound spelled 'v-e' like we learned in the last lesson."
  6. "/m/ /ue/ /v/, move."
  7. "/p/ /r/ /ue/ /v/, prove."
  8. Do a Three Period Lesson to be sure the child can read the words. The child should be allowed to sound out the words during this time.

could, should, would

  1. "Today we're going to read three words that all follow the same rule."
  2. Point to the 'oul' in one of the words. "They all use these letters to spell the /oo/ sound."
    "Let's sound these out."
  3. "/c/ /oo/ /d/, could."
  4. Sound out the other two words in the same way.
  5. Do a Three Period Lesson to be sure the child can read the words. The child should be allowed to sound out the words during this time.

Points of Interest

Control of Error

Variations and Extensions

  • Matching voiced and unvoiced consonants
    print out cards with these letters and have the child match the pairs:
    b, p; g, k; d, t; v, f; j, ch; z, s; th, th (only one spelling for these two sounds)
    (There is also the pair zh, and sh, but leave these out as there isn't a spelling that zh has all of its own.)
  • The words could be copied with the movable alphabet.
  • The words could be copied in the Sand Tray.

Material

The material consists of sets of word cards grouped in little folders. Each set has a consistent pattern that all the words in it follow.

Make Your Own

Printable Puzzle Word Cards (includes folders)

Where to Buy

There are no sets of Puzzle Words for sale that merit recommendation.

Further Reading

  • Sounding Out the Sight Words by Denise Eide & Cindy Kringelis