Since Cian discovered Thomas the Tank Engine, our train set is being played with regularly. We decided to use the trains to recap the spellings of some tricky words. Tricky words are words which cannot be sounded out easily.


  • Trains
  • Sticky labels
  • Pen
  • Scissors


I wrote the tricky words on sticky labels, spacing the letters out so that I could cut around them separately. Then I stuck the letters on the roof of the trains and their carriages or tenders.

Letters & Sounds and the KS1 Spelling Curriculum

Tricky words are not decodable using phonics alone as they have spellings that do not show grapheme-phoneme correspondence. A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in a word. A grapheme is a symbol used to identify a phoneme. In tricky words, the sound made doesn’t match the letter (or group of letters) representing the sound. They are called common exception words in the KS1 Spelling Curriculum.

Ioan explained in his own words:

I spread out all the letters for Ioan to find. He connected the trains to make the tricky words.

These were the first tricky words that Ioan found:

He explained why one of these words was especially tricky.

These were the next words he was able to make. First, he read the words to me.

Then, I read the words from the previous two groups, for Ioan to spell.

These were the final set of words. Again, Ioan read them to me, then spelt them.

Small World Play

Afterwards, they played with the trains. I love that Ioan and Finn were playing alongside each other, but were both absorbed in their own separate storylines of their play.

Unfortunately, I stopped this video just as Cian joined in, copying Ioan with the sound of the trains.

DfES Outcomes for EYFS and National Curriculum (2013)

English Year 1 programme of study

Reading – word reading

  • Pupils should be taught to read common exception words, noting unusual correspondences between spelling and sound and where these occur in the word.


  • Pupils’ attention should be drawn to the grapheme-phoneme correspondences that do and do not fit in with what has been taught so far.