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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

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Megha

says:

Nice way to teach but what about those one who can’t memories it very well , forgets again and again, how to keep the rules in head permanently

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Megha,
It is important not only what you teach, but how you teach it as well. Here are some articles with specific tips and information for helping students remember what they are taught. Check out:
How to Make Reading and Spelling “Stick”
How the “Funnel Concept” Affects Learning
How Making Connections Helps Your Child’s Memory
Improving Your Child’s Working Memory

We have an excellent free ebook on how to Help Your Child’s Memory that condenses all of these articles into one handy ebook.

Rita Weber

says:

I am going to use your material with a married couple I am teaching English as a second language. It is organized and presented so well! Thank you very much!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Rita. I’m glad they will be helpful for your students!

Carrie

says:

What a fun and engaging way to teach these kind of words! Thanks for the idea and materials to use with my students.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Carrie!

Rosa

says:

Greatly appreciate it
The most difficulty are the words w/silent letters ( just as the word “ would, previous” words which sound the same spelled differently. Any other fun ways I’m open !
Thank you

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Rosa. Most words with silent letters become easier when students learn Phonograms that contain silent letters and the Jobs of Silent E.

Then others can be learned together to help make connections in the student’s mind, such as would, should, and could, and silent T words like castle, wrestle, rustle, and others.

Heather

says:

Thank you so much for all the free downloads!

Helen Jean Amery

says:

An memorable way to handle difficult words

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Helen.

Wilma Fourie

says:

Fun and interesting way to learn these rule breakers! Thanks!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Wilma!

Shantreis

says:

I really appreciate all of the interactive ways of learning. I have 3 boys! It works well for all of them and they enjoy the fun of it.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m pleased that it’s working well for all of your boys, Shantreis! Thank you.

Melissa Moreno

says:

This looks like a fun way to remember the rules!

Brandy Thompson

says:

Such a fun way to learn rulebreakers!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thanks, Brandy!

Denise

says:

I can’t wait to learn these rule breakers along side my kids. We are nearing the end of level 1 and loving AAS.

Ilsa Cunha

says:

Thank you! I love it! I am planning my child’s next year curriculum, and this is going to be useful!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wonderful! You’re welcome, Ilsa.

Gail S

says:

Great ideas.

Faye

says:

Love the hands on learning ideas in this article!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I hope you enjoy them, Faye!

Gail Timmer

says:

My granddaughter missed most of her inschool learning in grade 4 . On line missed all the spelling rules. This would be a wonderful way for me to help.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad this will be helpful for your granddaughter, Gail.

Hailey

says:

Awesome ideas!

Shala Billings

says:

I love this. Thanks for sharing!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Shala!

Alyssa Antongiovanni

says:

My kids LOVE to throw Rule Breakers in jail!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

The jail is often a fun activity for kids, Alyssa!

Holly

says:

Spelling has been out foe all along the homeschool trip! We have loved using aas and how it breaks spelling down into easy chunks. But adds in fun like the rule breakers and things to make it easier to remember.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m so pleased to hear that All About Spelling is working so well for you, Holly! Thank you.

Mychal

says:

My kids love the rule breaker jail. It adds something fun and DEFINITELY aids in memory.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Great to hear the jail is so helpful for your kids, Mychal!

Melanie

says:

My daughter loves the rule breakers!!

Sarah

says:

My daughter LOVES putting words in jail.

Melissa

says:

Right now we’re having difficulty with ‘own’ vs ‘one’. I have some kinetic sand so I will try the suggestion with using it in the box lid! My kiddo loves writing stories for me to read. It has been such an amazing experience for them to feel confident in their spelling abilities. ♥️

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Melissa,
I found it helpful for one of my kids to teach one, lone, and none altogether. Even though lone has a different vowel sound, and one adds that very strange /w/ sound, they all have the same spelling pattern and the meanings are related. That helped my child to remember them more easily.

Once your child has a good handle on one, then teach the phonogram OW and how it can say /ow/ and long /ō/. But don’t work on own at the same as one as working on them both can increase confusion.

Chris baad

says:

We absolutely love all about reading…the books are beautifully written and illustrated with beautiful pictures. The program is easy to follow.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Oh, thank you, Chris! I’m so pleased to hear that All About Reading is working well for you.

Kelly V

says:

Excited to start All About Spelling this January!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Wonderful, Kelly! Let me know if you have questions as you begin or any time.

nicola peace

says:

Hey Robin. Is there a way to contact you by email. I am nearing the end of AAS level 1 and have a couple of questions…..

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sure, Nicola. We are happy to peak with you through email. We can be reached at [email protected]. However, I have also emailed you directly.

Corey Olomon

says:

I wish I had had this when my kids were little

Kristie

says:

This will be great for my son. Thank you.

Merry

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Kristie!

Nickie

says:

Love that idea!

Edith B

says:

My kid loves Throwing the rule breakers in jail!

Angela

says:

This is so helpful!