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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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Lauren Swaim

says:

One of the things that I love about this curriculum program is how easy it is to share from one child to the next without a lot of extra expense because a lot of the consumable items are available as downloads :-) Makes for a happy multiple kid family budget!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

As a homeschool mom of 5 myself, I know just what you mean and agree, Lauren! All About Spelling is a great pass-down program.

Masashi Ng

says:

There’s something fishy going on. In “Houston”, the OU vowel team makes the long U sound (YOO sound).

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Masashi,
You have posted “There’s something fishy going on,” and then listed words in at least five separate blog comments in the last few days. I feel like you may have some root concern or question that is not being addressed. Is it something I can help you with?

Houston is a Scottish name, not an English word. English rules may not apply.

Masashi Ng

says:

There’s something fishy going on. In these words, the A makes the short O sound, not the A sound.
Spelling Changes Examples:
wad->wod
wand->wond
want->wont
wash->wosh
wasp->wosp
water->woter
what->whot
war->wor
warm->worm
wart->wort
all->oll
ball->boll
call->coll
fall->foll
hall->holl
mall->moll
small->smoll
stall->stoll
tall->toll
wall->woll
swap->swop
swamp->swomp
halt->holt
salt->solt
scald->scold
also->olso

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Masashi,
In each of these words, the A is making its third sound. A makes this sound after a W or before an L, as seen in all of these words. Again, you can hear all the sounds of all the basic phonograms with our free Phonogram Sounds app.

Masashi Ng

says:

There’s something fishy going on. In these words, the O makes the short U sound, not the O sound. In “one”, “once” and “choir”, the O makes the W sound.
Spelling Changes Examples:
love->luve
glove->gluve
shove->shuve
come->cum
some->sum (sum->summ)
son->sun
ton->tun
month->munth
honey->hunney
money->munney
monkey->munkey
wonder->wunder
cover->cuver
govern->guvern
other->uther
brother->bruther
another->anuther
above->abuve
front->frunt
done->dun (dun->dunn)
none->nun (nun->nunn)
won->wunn
company->cumpany
compass->cumpass
one->wun
once->wunse
choir->qair

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Masashi,
The short /ŭ/ sound is a sound that O can make. O has four sounds, and you can hear all four sounds on our free Phonogram Sounds app.

You are correct, one, once and choir are all rule-breaker words.

Sarantsetseg

says:

Nice

Jules

says:

Love this idea and it’s a great freebie, thank you, and some good tips on this thread.
British spellers might want to put an ‘e’ in ‘judgement’ and ‘acknowledgement’.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jules,
Yes, there are a few spelling differences between American and British spelling. If you are interested, we have a document that details the changes that those using British spelling often need to make when using All About Spelling. Let me know.

Amy

says:

He has trouble with 5 letter words. Pronounce them and sounding them out. He has trouble reading and is in the 2nd grade.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry to hear your child is having difficulties, Amy. 5 letter words usually mean words that contain consonant blends, that is two or three consonants together that each say their own sound but they are blended. For example, the str in strap, the bl and nd in bland. Consonant blends can be tricky for many children.

First, check out our blog post on Helping Kids Sound Out Words. Working with children on each step of the blending procedure can help fix many difficulties with sounding words out.

Then, check out the complete sample Lessons 24, 25, 26, and 27 from All About Reading level 1. You will find them in our Resources for Teaching at Home blog post. Just scroll down to the All About Reading level 1 samples and you will see links to download all the components of these four lessons. They will take you step-by-step through teaching your child to read 4 letter words with consonant blends, and this has to be mastered well before moving on to 5 letter words.

All About Reading is A “No Gaps” Approach to Reading, and your child may benefit from using the program. Let me know if you need help with placement or have other questions or concerns.

Iris

says:

I like the concept; however, having a cowboy on every card holding a gun, regardless of what is coming out of the gun, is not appropriate for small children.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for expressing your concerns, Iris. I am passing this along to the development team and I know they will take it into full consideration.

Sarah Woodward

says:

Does this activity included all the jail breakers for each level?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Good question, Sarah. No, this download includes a sampling of the rule-breakers for each level.

Ellen Sanchez

says:

I am using the program with my son, is this something the manuals will have included when I order or is this something extra I should download from your newsletter?

In reference to Jail for Rule Breakers

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Ellen,
All About Spelling does include the jail and teaches how to handle rule breakers. The jail is first introduced in level 2.

Janine Hinksman

says:

Absolutely love this idea

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.