Posts Tagged ‘heart words assessment’

How to Teach Heart Words

Teaching Heart Words

How to Teach Heart Words

Want to watch how I teach two Heart Words to older reading intervention students and lead them in guided practice? Check out my “real-time” (7:52) lesson on YouTube!

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.

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. 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.”

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%).

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.

Now there is some disagreement regarding the scope of Heart Words.

  • Some reading specialists assert that Heart Words should only be called such until the word has orthographically mapped–hardwired in the brain.
  • Some would limit the Heart Word designation to words on the high frequency Dolch or Fry list.
  • Some would limit the heart designation to one per syllable. In other words, in the word of only one heart would be displayed underneath the two letters (usually designated by a line underneath them or color-coded boxes. I display one heart for the “o” and one for the “f,” because both of the two sound-spellings are irregular. Thus, the Heart Word of has two parts to learn by heart by my way of thinking.
  • Some disagree about what constitutes an irregular sound-spelling. We all know some colleagues who consider a sound-spelling to be regular if some sort of rare rule or mnemonic can be applied, even to a limited number of words. Thus, for example, they would argue that would, could, should should not be classified as Heart Words.
  • Some speech to print reading specialists add more spellings to sounds and avoid the Heart Words designation altogether. Thus, they would teach the “e” spelling in pretty as another short /i/ option.
  • Some would exclude silent letters from the Heart Words designation, for example the “w” in answer. Now most would treat the VCe as a non-Heart Word if the vowel is a long sound e.g., ate, but as a Heart Word if the vowel sound is short or a diphthong e.g. gone or route.
How to Teach Heart Words: Say It! Spell It! Read It! Instructional Sequence
1. Segmenting
2. Spelling
3. Blending
4. Heart Words Guided 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. Segmenting: Say It! We start with the sounds. I use my first Google slide to display the focus Heart Word. I say the word, using continuous blending. In other words, I read through the word, adjusting pronunciation according to stop and continuous sounds. I direct students to look at the word and repeat it as I blend it.

Next, we segment each of the sounds out loud. I target the Heart Word sound-spelling by saying, “Study the part to learn by heart.” Afterword, I direct students: “Show with your fingers the number of sounds.” I prompt students to tap their knees to count the number of phonemes. I display my second slide with the answer and the Heart Word (without the heart(s)) in a variety of fonts.

How to Spell Heart Words2. Spelling: Spell It! Have students spell the word before they read it. I display my third slide and direct students to say each sound as they spell them, using the squiggle tool with Google slides (or pencil if using print copies). I use proper letter formation models for both the slides and print copies. Handwriting is important!

Blending Heart Words3. Blending: Read It! Say ’em as I blend ’em! Say ’em as you blend ’em! Word? For each lesson, I’ve chosen two of my list of 108 high frequency Heart Words. I use my fourth slide to show one of the two focus Heart Words, which is printed three times. I slide my hand under the first on the display or screen and blend with students. For the second, students blend out loud on their own, sliding their hand on their Google slide tablet screens or in the air. For the third (without the heart(s), I point to and ask, “Word?”

Next, I display my fifth slide, which shows three Heart Words with the same part(s) to learn by heart as our focus Heart Word. We blend each word and I ask students to explain how these words are similar to lesson’s Heart Word. Even though Heart Words have an irregular sound-spelling (or a few), most have similar patterns as other Heart Words. Extend the learning! English has patterns even with irregular sound-spellings.

4. Heart Words Guided Practice: After the explicit Segmenting-Spelling-Blending instruction, students completeHow to Practice Heart Words guided practice. 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.

Want to watch how I teach two Heart Words to older reading intervention students and lead them in guided practice? Check out my “real-time” (7:52) lesson on YouTube!

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 6 Daily Google Slide Activities every reading intervention student needs: 1. Phonemic Awareness 2. Segmenting, Spelling, and Blending 3. Sounds and Spellings Guided Practice (including handwriting) 4. Word Chains 5. Sam and Friends Phonics Books (decodables). 6 . Elkonin Sound Boxes and 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 5Weekly 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


Diagnostic Spelling Assessments

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

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

Diagnostic American English Spelling Assessment: Print Assessment with “Normal speed” 22:38 and “Quick version 17:26 audio file links. Recording Matrix for Progress Monitoring

Diagnostic Canadian English Spelling Assessment: Print Assessment with “Normal speed” 18:53 and “Quick version 21:12 audio file links. 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. 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.

Diagnostic Academic Language Assessments Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8  (self-correcting Google forms) 

Data Recording Matrices

Diagnostic Assessment Matrices


Grammar/Mechanics, Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,