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Should We Teach High Frequency Words?

Should We Teach High Frequency Words?

High Frequency Words?

As a teacher-publisher, I am a member of quite a few Facebook groups, Pinterest groups, etc. I sell my ELA and reading intervention curriculum on my Pennington Publishing site as well on the monolith: Teachers Pay Teachers. The latter provides a Seller’s Forum, which I infrequently visit.

A seller recently posted this topic:

Sight words – Fry or Dolch? 

I have always used the Dolch list, but notice many people using the Fry list in their products.  Does your school mandate a certain one?  Do you have a preference when looking for sight word materials?

This brings up an important topic. Both the Fry and Dolch lists are high frequency word lists. Each list was developed pre-computer age by groups of grad students counting the number of recurring words in basal readers.

Speaking of the English, teachers in the United Kingdom and many in international schools refer to the high frequency words as “tricky words.” American teachers have generally coined the term “sight words” to refer to high frequency words. This term has some important instructional implications.

Should We Teach Students Sight Words to Improve Reading and Spelling?

My take is that teaching (or more likely practicing and testing) long lists of high frequency reading words (the sight words or tricky words depending upon one’s side of the Atlantic) or using them in spelling instruction is counterproductive. Apologies to Rebecca Sitton, whose list of “No Excuse Spelling Words” still graces the classroom walls of thousands of American teachers’ classrooms. Why is it counterproductive? We need to teach students to rely on the code for reading and spelling. Just as in baseball, we need to teach students to “look for the fastball, but adjust for the curve.” In other words, apply the rule, but adjust for exceptions.

Memorizing lists of 200, 300, 400, 500 high frequency “sight words” treats language acquisition as a process of rote learning and viewing each and every word in isolation. This approach falsely teaches students that every reading and spelling word is an exception. The old Dick and Jane look-say method of reading and spelling instruction has been properly relegated to the instructional dumpster; however, high frequency instruction remains a hold-out to some degree. Why is this so? My take is because “Let’s teach the words students will read and write most often” seems intuitively correct. However, intuition is not science and should not guide our instructional decisions.

But What about Non-phonetic Sight Words?

Included within the lists of high frequency words are a subset of non-phonetic words. I call the 108 (plus or minus depending on list and how one counts inflections) non-phonetic words “outlaw words”; others refer to them as “rule-breakers.” Of the 100 highest frequency English words, many are non-phonetic because they derive from Old English.

Most reading specialists would agree that the “outlaw words” should be introduced concurrently with explicit, systematic phonics instruction. For example, I introduce the 108 highest frequency “outlaw words” two at a time in my 54 Sam & Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books.

However, teaching these “outlaw words” alongside of phonetically regular high frequency words confuses beginning and older vulnerable readers. When we teach these “rule breakers,” we need to make clear distinctions between these words which should not be sounded-out and those which should.

*Sight words assessments (also referred to as word recognition, e.g. The Slosson Oral Reading Test) shouldn’t be confused with instruction.

Before I end, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. A few important caveats! I so see value in practicing sight recognition of sight syllables (such as Greek and Latinates, which of course do not all conform to English phonetic rules). Additionally, the approach in my programs such as Teaching Reading Strategies and Differentiated Spelling Instruction includes other non-phonetic approaches, such as rimes (word families) memorization for kids who struggle with the code and high frequency spelling patterns, conventional spelling rules, and derivational influences.

*****

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive assessment-based reading intervention curriculum, the Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLEIdeal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, tiered response to intervention programs, ESL, ELL, ELD, and special education students. Simple directions, YouTube training videos, and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program. Phonological awareness, phonics, syllabication, sight words, fluency (with 128 YouTube modeled readings), spelling, vocabulary and comprehension. The 54 accompanying guided reading phonics books each have comprehension questions, a focus sound-spelling pattern, controlled sight words, a 30-second word fluency, a running record, and cleverly illustrated cartoons by David Rickert to match each entertaining story. These resources provide the best reading intervention program at a price every teacher can afford.

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books BUNDLE

Interested in seeing how I introduce the non-phonetic “outlaw words” and my phonics instructional sequence in my reading intervention program? Want the example words to blend for each of the sound-spellings? You’ll love this FREE download:

Get the Instructional Phonics Sequence FREE Resource:

Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ten Components of a Successful Spelling Program

Good Spellers Aren't Good Always Good Readers

Good Readers Aren’t Always Good Spellers

Developing a weekly spelling-vocabulary plan that differentiates instruction for all of your students is a challenging task for even the best veteran teacher. Teachers truly want to differentiate spelling instruction, but the materials, testing, instruction, and management can prove overwhelming to even the most conscientious professional. Using this Spelling Program Checklist can help teachers re-focus  to improve their spelling instruction.

Spelling Program Checklist

1. Instructional Challenge-Diagnostic Spelling Assessments

“Each year it’s always the same. I have good spellers and bad spellers. It takes a few weeks to find out who they are. Sometimes students will get 100%s on their Friday spelling tests, but they can’t spell anything in their writing. Unlike some of my colleagues, I do teach spelling, but I just use word lists I borrowed from a few old spelling workbooks, the Rebecca Sitton ‘No-Excuse Words,’ and words from our grade level spelling bee that we have to do in the spring. I assign spelling homework, because for some reason, spelling is about the only curricular area that parents ever ask about.”

Instructional Strategies

□ I administer, score, analyze, and differentiate spelling instruction according to a comprehensive assessment which diagnoses sound-spelling strengths and weaknesses.

□ I administer, score, analyze, and differentiate spelling instruction according to a comprehensive assessment which diagnoses sight-syllable strengths and weaknesses.

□ I administer, score, analyze, and differentiate spelling instruction according to a comprehensive assessment which diagnoses non-phonetic “outlaw word” strengths and weaknesses.

□ I administer, score, analyze, and differentiate spelling instruction according to a comprehensive assessment which diagnoses high frequency words strengths and weaknesses.

2. Instructional Challenge-Remedial Spelling Students

“Rafael is one of my brightest students, but poor spelling inhibits his writing. He just can’t get down on paper what he wants to say. Rafael continually makes the same spelling mistakes in his writing, now matter how many times I red-mark them. Memorizing the list of weekly spelling words has never helped Rafael improve his spelling; year after year, he has lagged further and further behind his classmates.”

Instructional Strategies

□ I know exactly what Rafael’s spelling deficits are, according to diagnostic data.

□ I have an instructional plan in place to remediate Rafael’s deficits.

□ I pull aside groups of remedial spellers that share a common spelling deficit for practice and spelling dictations regarding that spelling deficit at least twice per week.

□ I have formative assessments in place to analyze Rafael’s progress.

3. Instructional Challenge-Accelerated Spelling Students

“Kenny is a precocious student who clearly has a knack for spelling. On his Monday pretest, Kenny rarely misses any words. I give him the challenge words from the spelling workbook, but Kenny usually knows how to spell these too. Kenny rarely makes spelling mistakes in his writing because he selectively avoids using difficult spelling words.”

Instructional Strategies

□ Beyond the grade level spelling curricula, I know exactly what Kenny’s spelling deficits are, according to diagnostic data.

□ I have an instructional plan in place to remediate Kenny’s deficits.

□ I assign advanced spelling practice for accelerated spellers like Kenny.

□ I have formative assessments in place to analyze Kenny’s progress.

4. Instructional Challenge-Spelling Tests

“On Monday’s spelling pretest, one-third of my students get most all of the words right; one-third of my students get most all of the words wrong; and one-third of my students get about half of the words correct. I give the same test on Friday. Those who study, get an easy A; those who don’t wind up getting about the same score as on their pretest.”

Instructional Strategies

□ I use the spelling pretest as a diagnostic test and differentiate instruction from that data.

□ My spelling pretest has clear sound-spelling or syllable-spelling patterns and I analyze diagnostic data according to these patterns.

□ My spelling posttests are all individualized because they are designed according to the diagnostic data of the spelling pretest and other diagnostic assessments.

□ My spelling posttest includes words that students have misspelled in their own writing.

□ My spelling posttest includes words that student have misspelled on their last spelling posttest.

□ My spelling posttest includes non-phonetic “outlaw words” that are unknown to the students according to diagnostic data.

□ My spelling posttest includes conventional spelling rules.

5. Instructional Challenge-Spelling Practice

“I use a few workbook pages that I’ve found that go with the word lists. Sometimes I use “Puzzlemaker” to create a word search. Sometimes I have the students quiz each other on their word lists. I’ve tried spelling sorts, but they don’t work with the random word lists that I use. I assign spelling practice for homework because the parents like it, and because I can save time in class for other instructional activities.”

Instructional Strategies

□ I give my students different spelling practice, according to their diagnostic strengths and deficits.

□ I teach parents (elementary school) how to help their students practice their spelling.

□ I have students practice their spelling deficits in the context of real writing.

□ I teach students how to memorize spelling words for the spelling posttest.

□ I teach students how to use mnemonic devices to memorize difficult spelling words.

6. Instructional Challenge-Spelling Rules

“The only spelling rule my students know is the ‘i before e’ rule and the one about ‘change the y to i and add “es”,’ although they get the rules mixed up a bit. Oh, and they also know some of the plural spelling rules. Frankly, I’m not sure I could name any others. I don’t know which ones are worth teaching and which ones are not.”

Instructional Strategies

□ I teach students the most-useful eight conventional spelling rules.

□ I have students memorize the most-useful eight conventional spelling rules.

□ I have students practice the most-useful eight conventional spelling rules.

□ I hold students accountable for correctly spelling words in their own writing that follow already-introduced spelling rules.

7. Instructional Challenge-Writing

“I was taught not to red-mark any spelling mistakes because this would irreparably damage a student’s self-esteem. I’ve also heard that spelling is just an editing skill that should be reserved until the last step of the Writing Process, if there’s time. Sometimes, I do make the students write out their spelling words in complete sentences. I’ve also make them write out each word twenty times. Practice does make perfect.”

Instructional Strategies

□ I have a plan in place to hold students accountable for correctly spelling already tested words in their daily writing.

□ I mark spelling errors in student writing, according to the abilities of the individual student and hold students accountable for correcting, practicing, and applying words that I mark.

□ Students keep track of unknown or challenging spelling words that they use in their writing.

□ I teach spelling editing skills in the context of authentic writing tasks.

8. Instructional Challenge-Integrated Spelling and Vocabulary

“I usually have students define their spelling words or put the vocabulary words that I pre-teach before each short story on their weekly spelling test. Sometimes I use “Puzzlemaker” to create a crossword puzzle.”

Instructional Strategies

□ I integrate spelling and vocabulary by using derivational spellings.

□ I integrate spelling and vocabulary by using etymological spellings.

□ I integrate spelling and vocabulary by using homophone (sounds the same, but spelled differently) spellings.

□ I integrate spelling and vocabulary by using homograph (spelled the same, but sounded differently) spellings.

□ I integrate spelling and vocabulary by using Greek and Latin prefixes, suffixes, and roots.

9. Instructional Challenge-Integrated Spelling and Reading

“Most of my good readers are good spellers, but this isn’t always so. Some of my students say that they learned to read with phonics instruction; some of them say that they just memorized a lot of the words; others can’t remember how they learned to read. Maybe by being exposed to lot of correctly spelled words in reading, students will pick up spelling skills by this modeling.”

Instructional Strategies

□ I show how the phonics rules and help inform spelling decisions.

□ I teach students that spelling is an auditory skill, and not a visual one.

□ I teach phonics rules to those who demonstrate diagnostic deficits.

□ I teach structural analysis skills, including syllable rules and accent placement.

10. Instructional Challenge-Instructional Time

Elementary: “My administrator says we all have to teach spelling, but we have to have two hours of reading, one hour of math, one hour of social studies and science, and a few minutes of physical education. There just isn’t room for spelling-not to mention art, music, or critical thinking skills.”

Secondary: “My administrator says that spelling is a state and district standard and so we all have to teach it in our ELA classes to prepare for the high school exit exams. I didn’t become an English teacher just to teach spelling. There’s not enough time for novels as it is. Something just has to go and, frequently, it’s spelling. ”

Instructional Strategies

□ I spend at least one hour on spelling-vocabulary word study per week, in addition to vocabulary-in-context reading activities.

*****

A Model Grades 4-8 Spelling Scope and Sequence

Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4-8

Differentiated Spelling Instruction

Preview the Grades 4-8 Spelling Scope and Sequence tied to the author’s comprehensive grades 4-8 Language Strand programs. The instructional scope and sequence includes grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary. Teachers and district personnel are authorized to print and share this planning tool, with proper credit and/or citation. Why reinvent the wheel? Also check out my articles on Grammar Scope and Sequence, Mechanics Scope and Sequence, and Vocabulary Scope and Sequence.

FREE DOWNLOAD TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING SPELLING RESOURCES. Administer my FREE comprehensive Diagnostic Spelling Assessment with audio file and recording matrix. It has 102 words (I did say comprehensive) and covers all common spelling patterns and conventional spelling rules. It only takes 22 minutes and includes an audio file with test administration instructions. Once you see the gaps in your middle school students spelling patterns, you’re going to want to fill those gaps.

Get the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, Mastery Matrix, and Sample Lessons FREE Resource:

Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Programs

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has compiled the assessment-based Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  BUNDLES to teach each of the Common Core Language Strand Standards. The full-year grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 programs provide 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and includes sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has

weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

The program also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the author’s program.

Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How to Differentiate Spelling Instruction

Plural Noun Forms

The Plural Spelling Rule

One of the most common instructional practices in American schools make me cringe. In spite of pedagological common sense, teachers throughout America, from primary grades to high school, continue to pass out the list of 15-20 spelling words on Monday. Students “study” these lists, and perhaps complete an obligatory worksheet, crossword puzzle, or write-the-word-ten-times assignment, and then they are tested on these same words on Friday. It’s tradition. It’s as American as apple-pie. Parents care more about these language-arts activities than any others.

So, what’s wrong with this picture? The weekly spelling test procedures, as described above, make no use of the teacher as an informed practitioner. The first task of an informed teacher is to determine what students already know and don’t know. But, hold on just a minute! Most teachers (at least in the elementary grades) do give a spelling pretest on Monday. True. However, the second task of an informed teacher is to make use of the diagnostic data to differentiate instruction. Oh…well that is different.

So, how can an informed teacher (that is you) spelling differentiate instruction in an efficient manner? Simply follow these five steps:

1. Prepare Give a diagnostic spelling assessment to determine where your students have mastery and where they don’t.  Find the resources you need that truly integrate spelling and vocabulary instruction. Your educational bookstore and online resources will assist—there is no need to re-invent the wheel. Select twenty spelling pattern words that the spelling inventory indicates as problematic for most of your students. Select words that also teach vocabulary.

2. Pretest Dictate the 15—20 words in the traditional word-sentence-word format to all of your students. Have students self-correct from teacher dictation of letters in syllable chunks, marking dots below the correct letters, and marking an “X” through the numbers of any spelling errors. This is an instructional activity that can be performed by second graders. Don’t rob your students of this learning activity by correcting the pretest yourself.

3. Personalize Students complete their own Personal Spelling-Vocabulary List in the following order of priority:

  • Pretest Errors: Have the students copy up to ten of their pretest spelling errors onto a Personal Spelling List. Ten words are certainly enough to practice the grade-level spelling pattern.
  • Last Week’s Posttest Errors: Have students add on up to five spelling errors from last week’s spelling posttest.
  • Writing Errors: Have students add on up to five teacher-corrected spelling errors found in student writing. Oops…this commits you to mark strategic spelling errors in your students’ writing to effectively differentiate instruction.
  • Supplemental Spelling Lists: Students select and use words from the following resources to complete their list (Again, these resources are minutes away at your local educational bookstore on on the web):

For remedial spellers-
Outlaw Words
High Frequency Words
Most Often Misspelled Words
Commonly Confused Words
For grade level and accelerated spellers
Greek and Latin spellings
Content vocabulary—only terms that are commonly used

4. Practice Use direct instruction to demonstrate the spelling pattern. Find word sort resources that apply this pattern with words that emphasize vocabulary development. Additionally, have your students practice their weekly spelling words on their Personal Spelling List by writing context-clue sentences in which the spelling word is defined in the context of the other words and structure of their sentence. This spelling-vocabulary application is an important reading and writing skill and needs plenty of instruction and practice. Use the SALES strategies: synonyms, antonyms, logic, examples, and syllables to teach your students how to surround their spelling words with context clues.

5. Posttest Students take out a piece of binder paper and find a partner to exchange dictation of their Personal Spelling List words. Now, this makes instructional sense—actually using the posttest to measure what students have learned! Have one student complete the entire dictation of the list prior to having the other student dictate. But, you may be thinking…what if they cheat? For the few who cheat…It would be a shame to not differentiate instruction for the many to cater to a few. Truly, they are only cheating themselves.

A Model Grades 4-8 Spelling Scope and Sequence

Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4-8

Differentiated Spelling Instruction

Preview the Grades 4-8 Spelling Scope and Sequence tied to the author’s comprehensive grades 4-8 Language Strand programs. The instructional scope and sequence includes grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary. Teachers and district personnel are authorized to print and share this planning tool, with proper credit and/or citation. Why reinvent the wheel? Also check out my articles on Grammar Scope and Sequence, Mechanics Scope and Sequence, and Vocabulary Scope and Sequence.

FREE DOWNLOAD TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING SPELLING RESOURCES. Administer my FREE comprehensive Diagnostic Spelling Assessment with audio file and recording matrix. It has 102 words (I did say comprehensive) and covers all common spelling patterns and conventional spelling rules. It only takes 22 minutes and includes an audio file with test administration instructions. Once you see the gaps in your middle school students spelling patterns, you’re going to want to fill those gaps.

Get the Diagnostic Spelling Assessment, Mastery Matrix, and Sample Lessons FREE Resource:

Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Programs

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has compiled the assessment-based Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  BUNDLES to teach each of the Common Core Language Strand Standards. The full-year grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 programs provide 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and includes sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has

weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

The program also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the author’s program.

Literacy Centers, Reading, Spelling/Vocabulary, Study Skills , , , , , , , , , ,