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How to Handle Spelling Rule Breakers

Learning how to spell words that don’t follow the rules can be…well…a bit boring. And we can’t have that! So the All About Spelling program has a fun and motivating way to teach these Rule Breakers.

We throw them in jail, of course!

That’s right, we put these words behind bars. Words like said, who, and once—they don’t follow the spelling rules, so they deserve to be locked in the slammer.

A jail is included in All About Spelling Levels 2 and 3, but if you don’t have one yet, you can download one here.

Download a jail for handling rule breakers

To prepare the jail for teaching, cut out the spaces between the bars so the Rule Breaker can peek through.

throwing a rule breaker word in jail

Then the fun begins.

Let’s say your child is learning to spell the word said.

All About Spelling Word Card - SAID

See the bad guy on the Word Card above? He’s a Rule Breaker. The letters “ai” almost always work together to say the long A sound, but in the word said, they say the short E sound. That’s breaking the law! So, here’s what you do:

Your child circles the “ai” (the letters that don’t say what we expect them to say). Next, he colors in the circle to highlight the problem, and then throws the Rule Breaker in jail. In the final step, he writes the word said on paper.

Here’s a silent film-style video straight out of the old West that shows our strategy in action.

Keep this strategy in mind even if you’re working with older learners, since older kids like this treatment of unruly words just as much as younger ones do. Try it and see how it sticks in their minds!

Two More Ways to Handle Rule Breakers

  1. Writing Intensive

    1. Look at the Word Card and then look at an empty spot on the table.
    2. Picture the word on the table and spell the word aloud three times.
    3. Using a finger, “write” the word on the table three times in VERY BIG LETTERS.
    4. Spell the word on paper three times.

    In the space of a minute or two, your child will have practiced the word nine times.

  2. Tactile Practice

    In this exercise, your child “writes” the Rule Breaker on a tactile surface, using his pointer finger instead of a pencil. Some surfaces to consider include:

    1. Sand in a shoe box lid
    2. A sheet of fine sandpaper
    3. “Feely” fabrics such as burlap, velvet, or corduroy
    4. Salt poured into a baking pan
    5. Plush carpet square

We treat Rule Breakers differently from other words to help kids learn them soon after they are introduced. Two effective ways to burn something into memory are frequency (repeated review) and intensity (different and surprising treatment), so keep these ideas in mind as you handle the Rule Breakers. Doing whatever it takes to enable your student to spell these words correctly right from the start will prevent problems later.

Most Words Do Follow the Rules

Thankfully, the vast majority of spelling words do follow consistent patterns. And when kids first start out, we are careful to work only with words that follow the rules. This helps kids internalize the fact that there are reliable rules and that they can make sense of spelling. They discover that they don’t need to resort to guessing or memorizing strings of letters.

So, before introducing the first Rule Breakers, make sure your child can spell hundreds of “law-abiding” words. Then–and only then–begin teaching the unruly ones.

Which spelling words cause your child the most difficulty? Let me know in the comments, and then download my free e-book called “Six Ways We Make Spelling Easy” below!

Six Ways We Make Spelling Easy Report

spelling rule breakers pinterest graphic

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Kriti

says:

Hi , I m extremely happy to see me m my child growing up so fast and happily.. I m in love with this pattern of teaching.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

What a lovely way to express this, Kriti! Thank you.

Debbie-Ann

says:

My child has issues with the irregular sound as in ‘measure’. I have worked with him in the b-d reversals and you can see him mentally check before he writes it so Thanks for that!!!

I love the irregular sounds being highlighted as law breakers and being put to jail. I will use this strategy with my students who read and write ESL.

Thanks

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Debbie-Ann,
The jail is very useful for rule breakers, but measure isn’t really a rule breaker. It’s an advanced word, but it follows predictable patterns. The phonogram EA says the short E sound in over 150 words. And a long U sometimes changes the sound of an S before it. S will say /sh/ or /zh/. In addition to measure, we have treasure, pleasure, sure, sugar, and usual. If you teach these words together and talk about the /sh/ or /zh/ sound before long U, these words become pretty easy and reduces the number of words students have to memorize as rule breakers.

Yusef

says:

I love the video! What program did you use for the video and the cool picture of the vulture in jail.

I have not yet purchased your program but i follow much of your principles. Could I show it to my students (via live e-learning)?
Thanks,
Y

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Yusef,
The program shown in this blog post is All About Spelling. The jail is a part of that, although there is a free download of it here.

As for using our materials with distance learning, please email us at support@allaboutlearningpress.com with details of what materials you want to use and how you want to use them.

Anna Avitzur

says:

What a great idea. I love that it is multisensory. Thanks!
Anna

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Anna! 😊

Fiona

says:

Thank you. I find your approach clear and so much fun. Perfect for my ESOL students.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Glad to hear that this is helpful for your students, Fiona! 😊

Nikki Harvey

says:

What an awesome resource! Thanks so much for the PDF.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re so welcome, Nikki! Let me know if you need anything else.

Tirupati shivappa Naik

says:

Very good for kids to easily to spell

Abubakar AbdurRahman Do

says:

This method is most useful for children of non native English speakers

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m pleased that you have found this helpful! Let me know if you have any questions or need anything.

Rita Wiesemann

says:

Why is the word been a rule breaker?(cf seek,heel,sleep etc)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Rita,
Been is a rule-breaker in the majority of North America. Here is it pronounced with a short E sound, ben. For most the rest of the English speaking world, it is not a rule-breaker because it is pronounced with the long E sound.

Sangita patel

says:

I have question that words start with vowel how does it pronunuced eg. About, as, engine,
Is that long or short

One more is what article does MICR word has?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sangita,
Whether a vowel is the first letter in word or not doesn’t affect how it is pronounced. What matters is what type of syllable the vowel is in. Check out our blog post on How to Teach Open and Closed Syllables. In addition, often when the letter A is the first letter of a word and the syllable it is in is not accented it can take on an “uh” sound. That is what is happening in the word about. Our article How to Teach Schwas explains this in more depth.

I hope this helps some. Let me know if you have further questions.

Ntebo

says:

I am definately going to use this technique for my grade 8 learners.
Thank you

Janet K

says:

I really think it’s about time for me to introduce AAS to my daughter. Thank you for your explanation.

Owen

says:

Comment…. I really need help in my spelling. Most especially the vowel and syllables, is nice having you around…

Julia Davenport

says:

so helpful!!!!!! Thank You.

salahuddin zia

says:

Excellent work out for the students who are from poorest of the poor. The school i am running is for children of less privileged areas. It is 80 Km fro Karachi Pakistan.

Karan Stovall

says:

As a first time home school teacher for a 2nd grader who struggles with reading and spelling. I love this idea and I will try it over the holidays and comment back.

Cara

says:

My girls (8 & 9) love the rule breakers and the jail!

I have a list of “common irregular words”. Are the following words considered “rule breakers” in AAS?

is, the, to, do, some, done, none, you, want, would, should, they, are, were, their, there, one, two, any, many

I am trying to put together a list of rule breakers. Do you happen to have such a list? Thank you so much for your help!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

RaShell,
Some of the words you listed are true rule breakers, but many are not. The jail download in this blog post includes most of the All About Spelling rule breakers. However, here is a link for a Sight Word (Leap Word) Assessment for All About Reading. It and other helpful forms are available on our 12 Reasons Teachers Love All About Reading and All About Spelling blog post.

The, you, would, should, were, one, two, any, and many are all true rule breakers. They all have one or more phonograms saying a sound we don’t expect them to say. However, to, do, some, done, and none are often taught as sight words (we call them Leap Words) because while all the phonograms say sounds we expect them to say, they are common words taught before those more uncommon sounds are usually taught. For example, the letter O can say short /ŏ/, long /ō/, long /ōo/, and short /ŭ/. You can hear the sounds of O and all the other phonograms with our free Phonograms Sounds app. The /ŭ/ sound of O in the words done and none isn’t really breaking the rules. In AAR, however, we teach them as Leap Words in level 2 because we don’t teach the fourth sound of O until level 3. Since the words are common, it is helpful for students to know them earlier.

Does this help? Please let me know if you have further questions.

That is extremely helpful! Thank you so much for the time you have taken to look at what I was saying and respond. One more reason I love AAS. Thank you again for your time and help.

Amanda Hunt

says:

My son breaks most rules, but these totally throw him! He sticks to the rules of phonics and gets so frustrated trying to understand rule-breakers.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Amanda,
Spelling rule breakers can be very troublesome! However, throwing the word in jail and focusing on just the letters that are breaking the rules does help. Try out these tips, but if your son is still frustrated with rule breakers, let me know.

Bethany

says:

Love these ideas. What fun and hands on ways to help kids remember.

Heather

says:

We love the freebies and are considering purchasing All about Spelling, winning a gift card would be a huge blessing.

Holly P.

says:

My children enjoy throwing the rule breakers in jail! A fun way to remember “odd” words.

Cathy

says:

This was very helpful, thank you!

Laura

says:

I can’t wait to use the rule breaker!!!

Lydia R.

says:

Thank you for this download! Now my younger one can have his own set of rule breaker cards when it’s his turn to use AAS.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Lydia. I have a younger one too that wants to color the rule-breaker cards and would be disappointed using her brother’s already colored ones.

Another benefit I have found with these printable rule-breaker cards is that when we put a card in jail, I tend to forget to review it after the first day. I look through the review box and forget to look at the jail on the wall. Now we throw the printed card in jail but I can keep the green card in the review box so that I remember to review it.

Deidre

says:

That is such a fun idea!

Trish

says:

Tee hee hee! This is a fun one!

Mindy Walls

says:

My son loves throwing words on jail!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Mindy,
My kids love throwing words in jail too! I think they like the feeling of authority. 😉

Jessica Hamer

says:

My boys love when they see “rule breakers”! For some reason they think it’s just so funny to them! 😁 We Love AAR & AAS!!

Whitney P

says:

It’s always great to have a visual reminder.

Brenda Goodwin

says:

Thanks! Like the tactile ideas

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