Did you know that only 100 words make up 50% of an average text? No wonder they’re called “High Frequency!”
About 1000 words make up over 70% of print. And yet we tend to spend most of our energy on the remaining 100,000+ words in our language that students rarely encounter.
It’s important for fluent reading and effective writing that 95% of words be read automatically and written easily. That’s why these high frequency words are sometimes called “sight words;” they must recognized at sight. When students need to “sound out” or struggle to spell the core vocabulary, they have little energy left to solve the really challenging words.
These core 1000 words should form the basis of any spelling program. If your students are spelling these words correctly, their writing will automatically be 70% correct. Then they put their cognitive energy into the patterns and chunks that enable them to spell more complex words.
TEN TIPS FOR TEACHING LITTLE WORDS TO BIG KIDS
1. Test students first. Chances are, your students already know most of these words. Better yet, have students test each other. Start by giving them a personal list of the first 100 words. If they can automatically recognize and spell a word, they should highlight it. Our curriculum is too full to waste time teaching words they already know! This assessment will guide you in determining what words to teach individuals, small groups or the whole class.
2. Practising is not teaching. Games, enters and other activities enable students to reinforce and practice the words, but they don’t necessarily teach strategies for spelling those words. Take time to explicitly teach high frequency words for a few minutes a day.
3. 10 minutes a day, 5 words a week. That’s all the time you need to build a repertoire of high frequency words.
4. Choose words that look and sound different from each other. Don’t confuse the issue by teaching homonym pairs or words in which the same letter combinations form different sounds.
5. Construct a “Word Wall.” The “Word Wall” is a widely accepted tool for reinforcing high frequency words. Only put words on the wall if they’ve been studied in class. Add your five words each week.
6. Look for the “tricky parts” Have students identify the features of each word that make them challenging to read or spell. It’s encouraging for them to note that most of the word will be very easy.
7. Have students create memory tricks for the ones they have trouble with. They don’t need to tap, clap or rap words that they can spell. Use mnemonics, gestures, rhythms or whatever works to remember the ones that remain troublesome.
8. Identify common patterns among words. Look for words already on the wall that have similar elements. Try to read and write other words that might be related to the focus words.
9. Assess in connected text. The real test of whether students can spell these words correctly is not a spelling list; it’s how the words are spelled in everyday writing.
10. Make word wall words “no-excuse” words. Once a word has been studied and placed on the Word Wall, it’s a no-excuse word and must be spelled correctly in every subject, all the time.
FRY HIGH-FREQUENCY WORD LISTS
The links below, from sightwords.com, represent the 200-900 most frequently appearing words in everyday text, according to Dr. Edward Fry. Notice that they’re in order of frequency, not difficulty. That’s why your students might struggle with some words on the second list but whiz through many on the fifth or sixth list.