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Tricky Words and Phrases

'There are 100 common words that recur frequently in much of the written material young children read and that they need when they write. Most of these are decodable, by sounding and blending, assuming the grapheme–phoneme correspondences are known, but only 26 of the high-frequency words are decodable by the end of Phase Two. Reading a group of these words each day, by applying grapheme–phoneme knowledge as it is acquired, will help children recognise them quickly. However, in order to read simple captions it is necessary also to know some words that have unusual or untaught GPCs (‘tricky’ words) and these need to be learned.


High-frequency words have often been regarded in the past as needing to be taught as ‘sight words’ – words which need to be recognised as visual wholes without much attention to the grapheme–phoneme correspondences in them, even when those correspondences are straightforward. Research has shown, however, that even when words are recognised apparently at sight, this recognition is most efficient when it is underpinned by grapheme–phoneme knowledge.


What counts as ‘decodable’ depends on the grapheme–phoneme correspondences that have been taught up to any given point. Letters and Sounds recognises this and aligns the introduction of high-frequency words as far as possible with this teaching. (See PDF below containing High Frequency Words by phase.)


Once children know letters and can blend VC and CVC words, by repeatedly sounding and blending words such as in, on, it and and, they begin to be able to read them without overt sounding and blending, thus starting to experience what it feels like to read some words automatically. About half of the 100 words are decodable by the end of Phase Four and the majority by the end of Phase Five. Even the core of high frequency words which are not transparently decodable using known grapheme–phoneme correspondences usually contain at least one GPC that is familiar. Rather than approach these words as though they were unique entities, it is advisable to start from what is known and register the ‘tricky bit’ in the word. Even the word yacht, often considered one of the most irregular of English words, has two of the three phonemes represented with regular graphemes.' (Letters and Sounds: Principles and Practice of High Quality Phonics, 2007, Primary National Strategy)