Making Tricky Words Easy to Learn

By Laura Aulsberry

Term 1 Reception…  “Ok everyone! Today we are going to learn some tricky words. They are tricky because you can’t sound them out and we just have to learn to remember them.” 

I don’t know how many times I have used that phrase with various classes over the years and I know that I am not alone in saying that. The problem is, we all have lovely games and activities up our sleeve that we can play in our phonics sessions to try and help the children remember how to read these words. ALthough these strategies help many, they do not work for all. Often children require more meaning and reasoning behind why these words exist if they  can’t be sounded out. My class have looked at me like I’m crazy when I’ve given the correct pronunciation of the word ‘was’ when I have spent the first half term teaching them all their initial sounds and how to blend. 

“No Miss Aulsberry! That doesn’t make sense! You are wrong!” 

Well I am afraid not kids. If only there was an explanation that I could give to a 4 year old that would make some sort of sense.

Rewind nearly two years back to my discovery of Monster Phonics and the wonderful little lady that is ‘Tricky Witch.’ Who would have thought that a strange little character, with a hefty gold chain and a magic wand would suddenly help tricky words to make sense! This character, like all of the others in the Monster Phonics collection, has helped to keep the children engaged during the tough process of learning these words. She gives the children a fictional reason as to why these words are tricky to learn and makes the struggle of teaching high frequency and common exception words a thing of the past. Just by changing my approach to how I explained the context of these words to my class transformed their ability to understand and  to retain these words. By stating that ‘part of each of these words is tricky because that mischievous Tricky Witch cast a spell on some of the letters’ and fabricating a radical story that I had met tricky witch in ASDA last night and she thinks that you would never be able to identify her new set of tricky words, creates a perfect sense of understanding amongst my 4 and 5 year olds. The fact that they do not make sense and cannot be sounded out easily because Tricky Witch said so, is all the logic they need in order to remember how to read and use these strange words.

Many tricky words are also ‘tricky’ because they contain long vowels formed by just a single letter. For example, the long O in ‘no’, ‘go’ and ‘so’. Once children learn with Monster Phonics these words are not considered tricky at all! The pink monster Miss Oh No makes the O sound and colours the letters pink. It’s easy! So easy that children can learn several words at once.

Ever since we started to use Monster Phonics in our school, the love of learning phonics has blossomed for both the teaching staff and the children.

Everyone is so excited for that daily twenty minute slot, where the children love to show off their phonic decoding ability and their confidence to do so. The product has proven to work for all of the children in my classes. Those who still struggle to identify initial phonemes are given an aid in the form of the colour coded approach. This increases their confidence when independently attempting to decode unknown words. 


Children soaring through their understanding of phonics have enjoyed writing elaborate stories using a range of high level topic related vocabulary. By making use of the Monster Phonics phoneme chart during most daily teaching, their confidence has increased when attempting to write words with up to three and four syllables.

The programme has so many layers to it that help to make it such a fantastic resource for all. The website includes in-depth planning that can be adapted to suit your teaching style and cohort needs with lovely resources to go alongside your lessons. The fact that these have already been made for you saves so much time for the average busy teacher but also allows you to produce high quality teaching to suit the needs of all children. There is also the option to buy additional resources such as reading books, spelling books and posters to help embed the use of Monster Phonics further. These are fantastic resources to have and can be used to develop areas within your classroom or to support home learning.


In my class we have a whole area dedicated to the wonderful world of Monster Phonics where you can’t avoid the huge meter tall monsters hanging from the ceiling that my children love to talk to me about on a daily basis. Now they are creating their own in depth stories about how they went to Sainsbury’s and met Angry A who has now apparently challenged Miss Aulsberry to listing as many words with the ‘ai’ grapheme in them. I feel like the children have learnt how to play me at my own game very well. Touché Squirrels, touché! We also have that pesky Tricky Witch’s cauldron, spilling over with all those tricky words that my class now know well and burst with excitement when they have the opportunity to share them with any visitor that walks into the classroom. Who knew that a tricky word could be so exciting?


It is safe to say that mine and my children’s love for phonics has dramatically increased since finding Monster Phonics. We are now at a stage where we could not imagine life without it. The passion and pride when learning each new phoneme oozes from the children and even more so when they share their new words with their parents at home.

Thank you Monster Phonics and most importantly, thank you Tricky Witch!