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Jolly Method for Teaching Sight Words

by Debbie McCarson, studioD

The Jolly method for teaching sight words is a systematic phonics program published by Jolly Learning educational publishers. Jolly Phonics teaches students to distinguish sounds represented by letter symbols; however, some words break the rules of phonics. Because these words can’t be taught by blending phonics sounds together, they need to be recognized and memorized as whole words. These words are sometimes called sight words, or "tricky words," according to the Jolly method. For these words, different methods of teaching must be applied.

Teach two new tricky words each week. With a broad-tipped marker, write the tricky words on flashcards in large letters and distribute them to the students. Call out a word and instruct students to lift up the corresponding card.

Tell students to trace the tricky word with their fingers while saying the letters out loud. Tell them to turn the flashcard face-down while they try to write the word on paper. The students will flip over the flashcard and check their answers.

Hold up a flashcard and ask students to identify what is "tricky" about the word. Point out what phonics rules it breaks. Pronounce the word phonetically before giving the correct pronunciation. For instance, for the word "laugh" say, "This word looks like it says "laug" but it is actually sounds this way: "laf."

Use each letter of the tricky word as the initial letter of sequential words in a clever saying that children can memorize. For instance, to learn how “laugh” is spelled, the Jolly method creators suggest "Laugh At Ugly Goat’s Hair." Point to each letter on the flashcard as you say the corresponding word.

Items you will need
  •  Flashcards, 2 per child per week of school
  •  Broad-tipped markers
  •  Paper
  •  Pencils


  • Jolly learning suggests the use of cursive writing for learning tricky words. The flowing nature and uninterrupted progression of cursive writing reinforces the direction of written language.

About the Author

Debbie McCarson is a former English teacher and school business administrator. Her articles have appeared in "School Librarians’ Journal" and "The Encyclopedia of New Jersey." A South Jersey native, she is a regular contributor to "South Jersey MOM" magazine.

Photo Credits

  • George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images