Step 3

Introduce irregular words


High frequency words: Regular and irregular words that appear often in printed text

Regular words: Can be decoded by sounding out (“went”, “go”)

Irregular words: Parts of these words cannot be decoded by sounding out and must be learned “by heart” (“the”, “was”).

How to explicitly teach irregular words

Use an Elkonin box to tap out the number of sounds in the irregular word.

Example: “The word ‘said’ has 3 sounds –  /s/ /e/ /d/.” 

Next, write the phonetically regular sounds in the corresponding boxes.

Example: Write ‘s’ and ‘d’.

Finally, write the phonetically irregular sounds in the corresponding box in red and explain that these letters do not follow the common sound-to-letter pattern.

Example: “In the word ‘said’, the /e/ sound is made by the letters ‘ai’. Because that’s not what we expect to see, we have to learn that part by heart so I’m going to put a heart on that part of the word.” 

Watch this video of a teacher candidate teaching a student to read the irregular word ‘through’.  


Regularly review known irregular words through games.

Check out these cards with Irregular “Heart” Words and other resources for teaching High Frequency words on the UFLI website.

Check out animations for heart words at Heart Word Magic.

Step 4

Play games