Anyone got any handy hints for teaching ei and ie spellings?

Hi all,

I’m currently making the lesson schedule for the next semester and I can’t think of a fun way to get students to learn the differences between words with “ie” spellings and words with “ei” spellings. All I can think of is what we were taught at school “I before E except after C”.

Anyone got any handy tips or games? Any help is appreciated.

Thanks as always

Words like neighbor and foreigner stuff that rule up. I’ve been wondering the same thing for teaching it though. But then the word neighbor came up in the next lesson.

i before e except after c, and when ei sounds like “ay”


i before e except after c, and when ei sounds like “ay” as in weigh and neighbor

I don’t have any teaching tips or games (Why am I writing?..), but Exceptions to the rule ‘I before E except after C’ is critical of the utility of the rule. Examples of the different types of exceptions it lists are weigh, height, seize, surfeit, heifer, and weird.

I would imagine many students would give you the iciest of looks if you tried to explain the weight and science of foreign policies right after explaining the i before e except after c rule.


I am trying to dredge the little rhyme that Lisa Simpson said in an episode of the Simpsons. I believe it was the spelling bee one in which the tried to pay her off to lose the bee.

Anyone remember the full rhyme?

The “i before e except after c” rule only applies to stressed syllables with the “ee” (IPA: /i/) sound. And even then there are exceptions.

You can remember “weird” because it’s a weird exception to the rule.

Then there’s “seize”. This rule probably won’t work for the Chinese, but my dad taught me that it can be remembered because the i and e are in the opposite order that they are in the similar-sounding word “siege”, which in turn can be remembered because of the French word "si

According to, of approximately 11941 North American Tournament Scrabble words containing IE or EI, there are 2169 total exceptions.

Thus, to blindly follow the rule for ie and ei, we would get 80% on our spelling test if we could get everything else right.

As I was unable to find an in depth statistical study of the “i before e” mnemonic online, I was forced to analyze the data myself. Casually looking at the list, we see approximately 20% of the exceptions to the rule are actually made when we “change y to i and add ed/es/ent/etc”. For example decency becomes decencies in violation of the “i before e” rule. This accounts for nearly all “C then IE” exceptions, and leaves us to remember words like science, glacier and ancient. Also watch for adding ing to a word that ends in e such as being.

A further 40% of the exceptions can be eliminated with the additional “and when it’s said ay as in weigh or neighbor”. My conclusion is then that for 90 to 95 percent of words the rule with that extension allows us to correctly order i and e.

If a teacher considers the “i before e except after c, and in words when it’s said like ay as in weigh or neighbor” mnemonic unsatisfactory, what is he or she doing when it comes to spelling - rote memorization? In my opinion, pure rote memorization would lead to a class with a lower spelling test score than a class that learned this mnemonic rule. Therefore, despite its imperfection, I feel it serves its use.

For one last example, should I see the spelling formosafeids I will naturally consider the last syllable to have the ay sound. “I before E except after C and when it’s said with an ay sound as in weigh and neighbor” also conveys a phonic pattern that I acquired as a native English speaker.