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 our instruction often focuses 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. (You can download each group of 100 words below. Remember that these words are not in order of difficulty; they are in order of how often they appear in print.) If your students are spelling these words correctly, their writing will automatically be 70% correct. Then they can put their cognitive energy into the patterns and chunks that enable them to spell more complex words.
A SIMPLE STRATEGY FOR LEARNING TO SPELL HIGH FREQUENCY WORDS
Just 10 minutes a day will help all your students build a repertoire of high frequency words!
Test students first. Download each set of 100 high frequency words and pretest your students, perhaps 20 words at a time. (Or why not have students test each other?) This pre-test will guide you in determining what words to teach individuals, small groups or the whole class. You can find the downloads blow.
Celebrate what they already know. Chances are, your students already know most of these words. Start by having students identify the words – and parts of words – that they’ve spelled correctly.
Identify the tricky parts. Now have students take a look at the words that weren’t spelled correctly and identify the errors. It’s likely most of each word was spelled correctly and only a few letters are incorrect.
Have students come up with techniques for remembering the tricky parts. Everyone will probably have their own “tricks” for remembering confusing spellings. For example, in the word they, students might remind themselves to start with the little word the in order to remember the correct vowel.
Test in context. Spelling “tests” can tell whether students know how to spell words conventionally, but the real measure of their competence is correct spelling in connected text.
TRICKS, TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES FOR REMEMBERING TRICKY WORDS
- Visual cues: pictures to go along with a word, write the word as part of a picture, make part of the word a rebus, take a mental picture of the word
- Auditory cues: Make sure to pronounce the word carefully (e.g., February instead of Febuary) or exaggerate tricky sounds (Wed-NES-day), sing or chant the spelling of the word
- Kinesthetic cues: Do an action or gesture to remember the tricky part of the word.
- Morphological cues: Many spelling patterns are patterns of meaning rather than sound or visual. Linking to other words in the same family can help reinforce spellings (e.g., remember the silent c in muscle by thinking about muscular.)
- Structural cues: Grammatical structures such as as plurals, contractions or affixes provide spelling cues (such as doubling a final consonant before adding ing).
10 TIPS FOR TEACHING LITTLE WORDS TO BIG KIDS
1. Play games with words. Puzzles, games and riddles engage students in examining words and relating them to one another.
2. Start with sounds! When spelling multi-syllabic words, teach students to spell one syllable at a time.
3. Consider a “Word Wall.” The “Word Wall” is an alphabetical display and a widely accepted tool for reinforcing high frequency words. Only put words on the wall if they’ve been studied in class. Add new words each week. This makes it much easier to find connections among words. When words are on the wall, they are “no-excuse” words and must always be spelled conventionally.
4. Watch out for homonym pairs! These are the most common spelling errors by students right through high school. Usually, writers know how to spell both words; they just don’t know which one to use. The good news is they only have to come up with a memory trick to remember one of the words. Read more about homophone mnemonics here.
5. Use mnemonics when you can – but only when needed. Mnemonics are simply memory tricks (just like stairs climb into the air, above or a friend to the end). Some people like anagrams, phrases in which the first letter of each word spells a tricky word. I still remember learning a rat in the church might eat the ice cream to spell arithmetic. Unfortunately, I’ve only been called upon to spell arithmetic about a dozen times in my entire life – and I would have been better off saving my energy for more common words.
6. Teach Greek and Latin prefixes, suffixes and roots. Many students find this kind of study engaging and they can “explode” a single root into many other words.
7. Look for patterns among words. Contrary to popular opinion, most English words do follow consistent spelling patterns, whether they are patterns of sound or meaning. Look for connections to other words to help remember spelling patterns. Read this article from the Journal of Literacy Research in which Edward Fry summarizes a seminal study of over 17,000 words sorted into common vowel and consonant spellings.
8. Clarify expectations about spelling. “Spell as well as you can” does not mean “Spell any way you want.” Be clear about which words must always be spelled conventionally (generally the “word wall” words). We don’t want to limit the word choice students have access to because they don’t know how to spell them. Model invented spelling for tricky words.
9. Use Word Sorts to teach spelling generalizations and patterns.
10. 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. It’s important to make that transfer.
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.