Posts Tagged ‘heart words assessment’

How to Teach Heart Words

English often is referred to as a difficult language to learn to speak, read, and spell because of its irregular sound-spellings. However, contrary to this assumption, the English orthographic system is actually quite regular and reliable. Of course, there are exceptions, but not as many as teachers generally think. So, the relevant question for reading teachers is… If there are relatively few words with irregular sound-spellings, why spend so much instructional time on them when the great percentage of English words perfect match the spellings to their sounds are?

The answer, of course, is that many of these words with non-phonetic spellings are on the research-based high frequency Fry and Dolch word lists. In other words, beginning readers see these words in print much more often than their total numbers would suggest. In fact, a large percentage of the 100 highest frequency words derive from Old and Middle English, and those old sound-spellings remain. Read more about “the great vowel shift” and other interesting historical developments in my article, “English Language History.”

On the Reading Rockets website, Linda Farrell and Michael Hunter summarize their helpful study on the Dolch 220 list of high frequency words. Of the 220 words, 82 were identified as Heart Words (37%).

One helpful development from the Science of Reading movement has been the refinement of some reading instructional terminology. One such term that has come to some degree of consensus is Heart Words. A Heart Word is usually defined as a word with one or more irregular sound-spellings or an unusual sound-spelling pattern that has not yet been taught. One important point should be emphasized: In Heart Words, the whole word is not phonetically irregular; only a part or parts is irregular. In other words, “the parts to learn by heart.”

For example, students might be taught that the Heart Word, the, is “not all irregular.” In other words, the “th” /th/ follows the rules; it’s only the “e” that does not. It is “the part to learn by heart.” Plus, when used before words beginning with vowels, the the is perfectly regular because the “e” makes the long /e/ sound for example, thē army and thē elephants in most regional dialects.  
The good news is that most of the sound-spellings in Heart Words are largely regular in their sound-spellings.
Noted reading researcher, David Kilpatrick (2015), comments that “the vast majority of irregular words have only a single irregular letter-sound relationship.”
For example, the Heart Word, pretty, is the 97th most frequently used reading word. Of the five /p//r//e//t//y/ sounds, only one (the /e/) is irregular. The Heart Word, together, ranks #214. Of the six /t//o//g//e//th//er/sounds, only one (the /o/) is irregular.
As a baseball player, I remember my coach always counseling, “Look for the fast ball and adjust to the curve.” That’s the foundational principle of how to teach Heart Words. Look for the regular sound-spellings first and adjust to any irregular parts. In other words, follow the rules and adjust to the exceptions.
Orthographic Mapping
In orthographic mapping, students are wiring the brain to remember all of the sound-spellings of a word in order as a unified whole. Simply put, orthographic mapping is practice until the brain synapses are connected. Students map from phonemes to graphemes, as well as from graphemes to phonemes. These become true sight words when they are recognized grades 4-adult to help student develop automaticity with the Heart Words.
How to Teach Heart Words
1. Blending
2. Segmenting
3. Spelling
4. Independent Heart Words practice
5. Decodable practice
6. Assess and target instruction! Download the FREE 108 High Frequency Heart Words Assessment at the end of this article to help you effectively differentiate instruction.
7. Game cards (not flash cards)

1. Blending: For each daily lesson, I’ve chosen two of my list of 108 high frequency Heart Words. I use Google slides to show the focus Heart Word with a heart or

Blending Heart Words hearts on top of the phonetically irregular sound-spelling(s). I slide my hand under the word on the in-class display or shared screen to blend with students. I blend the phonetically regular sound-spellings with the continuous blending technique, blending through the whole word with special attention to the stop and continuous sounds until I reach the non-phonetic part. I say, “STOP! This spelling does not follow the sound-spelling rules. We have to learn this part by heart.” I continue to blend the rest of the regular sound-spellings in the word. For example, to blend the word into, I blend through the continuous sounds of the in syllable (iinn) and follow with the stop sound /t/. At the “o” I say, “STOP! This spelling does not follow the sound-spelling rules. You have to learn this part by heart. The long /oo/ sound, as in rooster, can be spelled with an ‘o.’” Note: my phoneme-grapheme Animal Cards include a rooster card. for the long /oo/ sound-spelling.

2. Segmenting: In the next Google slide, I prompt students to tap their knees to count the number of phonemes in the focus Heart Word. The following slide givesHow to Segment Heart Words the answer and shows the Heart Word without hearts in a variety of fonts. As a weekly review, students use Sound Boxes for my spelling dictation of both the daily regular sound-spellings and the Heart Words. Students count and record the number of phonemes and type (or write if using a print copy) the “heart spellings.” After the segmenting slides, I show a slide that features three Heart Words with similar or comparable words. For example, with the focus Heart Word, into, this slide displays do, to, and tonight (each with hearts).

How to Spell Heart Words3. Spelling: All too often teachers focus on decoding without application to encoding. If I had to choose reading the Heart Word, into, ten times or spelling the word once. I would go with the spelling. Both reading and spelling are essential, but spelling is the key to developing automaticity and the acquisition of into as a sight word. In addition to the Sound Box spelling dictations, I have student spell each blending word immediately after blending on the next Google slide. Students use the squiggle tool to print (or pencil if you use print copies) and are guided by proper letter formation models.

4. Independent Heart Words Practice: After my Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling Activity, students completeHow to Practice Heart Words independent work (drag and drop and fill-in-the-text boxes with sounds to spelling matches, word sorts, and nonsense word practice along with audio files) with the lesson’s regular sound-spellings. After this slide, students work on the two lesson Heart Words. Students sort similar or comparable irregular sound-spellings to match the two focus Heart Words and open up doors on the Google slide to check their answers. Next, students identify the “parts to learn by heart” with similar or comparable Heart Words by dragging and dropping the hearts above the phonetically irregular sound-spellings (or they draw the hearts if using print copies).

Sam and Friends Phonics Books

5. Decodable Practice: In my 54 decodables, the Sam and Friends Phonics Books, each story includes plenty of practice in the lesson’s focus regular sound-spelling patterns and the two Heart Words. Plus, the back page includes a 30-second Word Fluency with built-in timer to practice these words and record the number of words read per timing.

6. Heart Words Assessment: In the second half of my full-year reading intervention program, I provide mid-year diagnostic assessments. One of the assessments tests mastery of the 108 high frequency Heart Words. This assessment will pinpoint the Heart Words that students cannot yet read and spell accurately. “If they know it, this (assessment) will show it; if they don’t, it won’t.” The assessment provides the data for teachers to differentiate instruction.

Heart Word Flash Cards7. Heart Words Game Cards: NOT FLASH CARDS. The teacher prints the 108 Heart Word Game Cards and distributes only those cards which the Heart Words Assessment has determined as yet-to-be-mastered for each student. For example, Ryan may get 48 cards and Selma only 22. These 108 Heart Word cards feature the irregular sound-spellings in red and list similar or comparable pattern words. One of my favorite Heart Word games from the program is Make ‘em Legal.

Make ‘em Legal

For this game, students pair up and each places one of their unknown Heart Words Game Cards on the desk or table. Each student uses their own set of Animal Cards, which feature the regular sound-spellings, to build a word around the Heart Word. For example, one of the students might select the into Heart Word Game Card. The “o” is printed in red because it is the irregular sound-spelling. That student might build the word, undo, around this Heart Word Game Card and lay out these cards left to right: Buffalo /short u/ – Newt /n/ – Dog /d/ – Heart Word Game Card into to form the word, undo.

The partner needs to find the phonetically regular sound-spelling on their Animal Cards to Make ‘em Legal, or correct, the phonetically irregular sound-spelling of the Heart Word Game Card, into. If the partner displays the rooster card, the partner wins a point, because rooster includes the legal sound-spelling of the long /oo/ sound. If the other partner can’t find the card to Make ‘em Legal, no point is awarded. Partners trade off, each using their own sets of Heart Words they need to master. Perfect differentiated, assessment-based instruction and… fun!

Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Word Recognition includes explicit, scripted instruction and practice with the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities every reading intervention student needs: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spellings (including handwriting) 4. Heart Words Practice 5. Sam and Friends Phonics Books (decodables). Plus, digital and printable sound wall cards and speech articulation songs. Print versions are available for all activities. First Half of the Year Program (55 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Language Comprehension resources are designed for students who have completed the word recognition program or have demonstrated basic mastery of the alphabetic code and can read with some degree of fluency. The program features the 5 Weekly Language Comprehension Activities: 1. Background Knowledge Mentor Texts 2. Academic Language, Greek and Latin Morphology, Figures of Speech, Connotations, Multiple Meaning Words 3. Syntax in Reading 4. Reading Comprehension Strategies 5. Literacy Knowledge (Narrative and Expository). Second Half of the Year Program (30 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program: Assessment-based Instruction provides diagnostically-based “second chance” instructional resources. The program includes 13 comprehensive assessments and matching instructional resources to fill in the yet-to-be-mastered gaps in phonemic awareness, alphabetic awareness, phonics, fluency (with YouTube modeled readings), Heart Words and Phonics Games, spelling patterns, grammar, usage, and mechanics, syllabication and morphology, executive function shills. Second Half of the Year Program (25 minutes-per-day, 18 weeks)

The Science of Reading Intervention Program BUNDLE  includes all 3 program components for the comprehensive, state-of-the-art (and science) grades 4-adult full-year program. Scripted, easy-to-teach, no prep, no need for time-consuming (albeit valuable) LETRS training or O-G certification… Learn as you teach and get results NOW for your students. Print to speech with plenty of speech to print instructional components.

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FREE Diagnostic Reading and ELA Assessments


Teachers at all grade levels want to determine what students know and what they do not know.  Following are comprehensive reading and English-language arts assessments with corresponding recording matrices to provide the data teachers need to target instruction. Designed to be both comprehensive (no random samples) and teacher-friendly with audio files, self-correcting Google forms and sheets (or print versions), teachers have found the data to reliably inform their instructional decision-making. Visit the Pennington Publishing store to check out corresponding program resources.

ARE THESE ASSESSMENTS RESEARCH-BASED? These are teacher/reading specialist-created comprehensive diagnostics. None are normed. You won’t find them on What Works…As you probably know, comprehensive diagnostics need not meet research-based criteria for external validity since there is no sampling. However, each assessment is evidence-based and has internal validity/reliability. Read on!

HOW AND WHY WERE THESE ASSESSMENTS DEVELOPED? The phonics and spelling assessments were developed, field-tested, and implemented by a cadre of 23 reading specialists in the largest and most diverse school district in Northern California. As educators faced declining reading scores (below 50th percentiles on nationally normed tests), a radical shift took place to data-based science of reading instruction. Most teachers welcomed this shift, but the assessment burden was significant and threatened to undermine initial enthusiasm. In particular, the individual phonics, spelling, and fluency assessments used to drive instruction took hours of class time to administer on a quarterly basis.

To address this issue,  the reading specialists (in consultation with local university professors) developed teacher-friendly phonics, spelling, and fluency diagnostic assessments and field-tested them in hundreds of classrooms across the grade levels. The assessments were designed for whole-class, rather than individual, administration (except for the fluency assessment) to save valuable instructional time and reduce teacher workload. With this time-savings, the reading specialists were able to change the assessments from random-sample screeners to comprehensive diagnostics. Teachers and admin loved the specifics and the actionable data.

The data were analyzed and test items revised accordingly with significant teacher input from teachers and compared to data from normed assessments. Results were remarkably comparable. Teachers and reading specialists found the assessments to be internally valid (the test items accurately represent what they purport to assess) and reliable for placement.

Over the years, these original assessments have been revised and additional assessments were developed and field-tested by one of these reading specialists, Mark Pennington, to take advantage of new technology to further streamline administration, correction, and recording of the data teachers need to inform and differentiate reading and ELA instruction. Assessment components are now provided as audio files and in self-correcting Google forms and sheets.

WHY ARE THESE ASSESSMENTS FREE TO USE? As noted above, the assessments were developed and revised for and by teachers and their students. Mark Pennington has followed this precedent with his additional assessments and kept them free to use as he developed his own company, Pennington Publishing, over the years. As a publisher, Mark has reasoned that if teachers find the assessment data valuable, they may wish to purchase corresponding instructional resources which help teach to those data. Especially instructional components with quick formative assessments to monitor progress. Give one of them a try and see if the assessment data rings true and informs your instruction.

Phonemic Awareness Assessments

Use these five phonemic awareness to determine reading readiness. Each of the 5 assessments is administered whole class and includes audio files.

Syllable Awareness Assessment

Print and 5:48 Audio File

Syllable Rhyming Assessment

Print and 5:38 Audio File

Phonemic Isolation Assessment

Print and 5:54 Audio File

Phonemic Blending Assessment

Print and 5:53 Audio File

Phonemic Segmenting Assessment

Print and 5:21 Audio File

Alphabetic Awareness Assessments

Print and Alphabet Cards

Phonics Assessments

The phonics assessments feature nonsense words and test all common sound-spellings.

Vowel Sounds Phonics Assessment

Print, Google Forms, Google Sheets and 10:42 Audio File

Consonant Sounds Phonics Assessment

Print, Google Forms, Google Sheets and 12:07 Audio File

Fluency Assessment

The fluency assessment is designed in a tiered reading level format, beginning at the first grade level and proceeding to the seventh grade level. This assessment is individually administered and is timed for two minutes.

Pets Fluency Assessment


Heart Words Assessments

This 108-word assessment tests student knowledge of high frequency words with an irregular sound-spelling (the part to learn by heart). As an option, teachers may require students to identify the irregular sound spellings by drawing hearts.

Heart Words Assessment


Spelling Assessments

All common spelling patterns are included in this assessment. Administer part or all of the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (American English Version) test items, according to grade-level criteria.

  • Grade 2: K-1 spelling patterns (#s 1‒41)
  • Grade 3: K-3 spelling patterns (#s 1‒55)
  • Grade 4: K-3 spelling patterns (#s 1‒64)
  • Grade 5: K-4 spelling patterns (#s 1‒82)
  • Grade 6: K-5 spelling patterns (#s 1‒100)
  • Grade 7: K-6 spelling patterns(#s 1‒102)

All common spelling patterns are included in this assessment. Administer part or all of the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment (Canadian English Version) test items, according to grade-level criteria

  • Grade 2: K-1 spelling patterns (#s 1‒41)
  • Grade 3: K-3 spelling patterns (#s 1‒55)
  • Grade 4: K-3 spelling patterns (#s 1‒64)
  • Grade 5: K-4 spelling patterns (#s 1‒82)
  • Grade 6: K-5 spelling patterns (#s 1‒100)
  • Grade 7: K-6 spelling patterns(#s 1‒102)
  • Grade 8: K-7 spelling patterns (#s 1‒106)

Diagnostic American English Spelling Assessment: “Normal speed” 22:38 and “Quick version 17:26 audio files; Google Forms and Sheets; Print Version, Recording Matrix for Progress Monitoring

Diagnostic Canadian English Spelling Assessment: “Normal speed” 18:53 and “Quick version 21:12 audio files; Google Forms and Sheets; Print Version, Recording Matrix for Progress Monitoring

Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Assessments

Use this 45 grammar and usage item assessment to determine student’s knowledge of parts of speech, subjects and predicates, types of sentences, fragments and run-ons, pronoun usage, modifiers, verb tenses and verb forms.

Grammar and Usage Assessment

Print and Google Forms

Use this 32 item mechanics assessment to test students’ ability to apply correct usage of commas, capitalization, and all other essential punctuation.

Mechanics Assessment

As an option, the grammar, usage, and mechanics assessments are combined as a Google form.

Print and Google Forms

Diagnostic Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Assessment (self-correcting Google forms)

Vocabulary Assessments

The Tier 2 academic language vocabulary has been derived from the research-based Academic Word List (AWL).  The Academic Word List (Coxhead) has been ordered into grade level lists by frequency of use. Each grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Academic Language Assessment includes 56 Tier 2 words. The Tier 2 words are the academic language words that are most-often generalizable across the academic domains. For example, the word analyze is used in English-language arts, social science, history, science, math, and the arts.

Grade 4 Academic Language Assessment

Grade 5 Academic Language Assessment

Grade 6 Academic Language Assessment

Grade 7 Academic Language Assessment

Grade 8 Academic Language Assessment

Diagnostic Assessment Matrices


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