Ir Sound Words: How to Teach Them + Activities and Word List

The English language is both beautiful and frustrating! This becomes evident very quickly as we discuss phonics instruction and spelling words. And ir sound words definitely fall into this category.

As teachers, this means we have to encourage our students to memorize the ir words (along with all of the other r-controlled words) and then give them ample opportunities to practice spelling and using these words in many different ways.

So let’s take a look at the most common ir words, what makes the pronunciation of these words unique, and some activities that will help your students learn these words.

What is an R-Controlled Word?

An “r-controlled word” (also known as an “r-controlled vowel”) is a type of word in the English language where the letter “r” affects the sound of a vowel that comes before it in a one-syllable word.

In early reading education, you might hear this referred to as the “Bossy R” because the /r/ “bosses” the preceding vowel, changing its sound and creating a new vowel sound. 

In a nutshell, these words don’t have the traditional short /i/ sound or follow the normal short /i/ pattern. The vowel is pronounced differently since the vowel directly precedes the /r/.

This r-contolled vowel is what causes /ir/ words to sound exactly the same as some /er/ words and /ur/ words, which is where the confusion and frustration come in.

And if that wasn’t reason enough to feel overwhelmed as a learner, ir words can also make different sounds depending on the word.

These exceptions include words like air, viral, spiral, and mirror. They are still spelled with ir, but they don’t have the same sound.

Common IR Words Word List

  1. Bird
  2. Girl
  3. Girlish
  4. Stir
  5. Stirring
  6. First
  7. Firstly
  8. Third
  9. Thirdly
  10. Shirt
  11. Shirtless
  12. Circle
  13. Firm
  14. Firmer
  15. Firmest
  16. Whirl
  17. Whirling
  18. Dirt
  19. Dirty
  20. Dirtiest
  21. Birth
  22. Birthday
  23. Skirt
  24. Thirdly
  25. Thirst
  26. Thirsty
  27. Mirth
  28. Sirloin
  29. Fir
  30. Firth
  31. Firkin
  32. Squirrel
  33. Chirp
  34. Swirl
  35. Swirling
  36. Giraffe
  37. Stirrup
  38. Virgo
  39. Virtue
  40. Squirt
  41. Squirm
  42. Birch
  43. Smirk
  44. Gird

Simple Activities to Review Ir Sound Words

Because I know how tricky r-controlled vowels can be for learners, I created an ir words activity pack. It includes all of the different activities that I mention already put together into a simple print and go pack!

You can click the image below (or click here) to be taken directly to the activity bundle!

Word Hunt 

Create a list of “ir” words and give each student a worksheet with a grid of letters. Ask them to find and circle the “ir” words hidden in the grid.

Word Sort

Prepare a set of word cards that includes real “ir” words and nonsense “ir” words. Have your students sort the cards into either the real word group or the nonsense word group.

You can play this same game a different way by integrating the “ir” words with other short /i/ words. Students will then sort the cards into groups based on the vowel sound they hear.

Word Bingo

Create bingo cards with “ir” words randomly placed on them. Call out the words, and students mark the corresponding words on their cards.

Read and Draw 

Provide students with a list of “ir” words and ask them to draw a simple picture representation of each word next to it. This reinforces their understanding of the word’s meaning.

Word Race

Create flashcards with “ir” words. You can incorporate both real words and nonsense words to help your students practice the sounds.

Divide the class into teams and hold a relay race where students must read the word on their card before passing it to the next team member.

Articulation Practice

Practice saying “ir” words aloud, emphasizing the /ir/ sound. Use mirrors or video recordings to help students observe their mouth movements for correct pronunciation.


Cut out all of your memory cards and shuffle. Place the cards face down. Students take turns flipping over two cards.

If they find a match, they have to read the words correctly before they can collect the cards. If the same word is revealed, but the student mispronounces the words, they have to flip the cards back over.

Rhyme Time

Introduce some rhyming words with the “ir” sound. Ask students to come up with more rhyming words to expand their vocabulary.

Sentence Building

Have students use “ir” words to create sentences that demonstrate their understanding of how to use the words in context.

Remember, teaching ir words and providing your students opportunities to practice their new words doesn’t have to be super-complex.

 Just make sure your students understand these words and make the activities work for you.