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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 High Frequency Words to Improve Reading and Spelling?

My take is that teaching (or more likely practicing and testing) long lists of high frequency reading words 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 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 High Frequency Words with Non-Phonetic Sound-Spellings?

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

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

Many of these Heart Words may have unusual spelling patterns, but as students acquire more reading and spelling knowledge, they find that some words initially learned as Heart Words have the same unusual spelling pattern as others. When we teach these “rule breakers,” we need to show students how many of them belong to the same patterns. For example, the Heart Word, one, has similar patterns as the Dolch words: some (30), come (64), and done (180). The more we show the patterns of the English orthographic system, the easier it is for beginning readers to map these words to their orthographic memories. These words can become immediately recognizable in reading and far easier to spell once they reach the level of sight word automaticity.

Researchers Linda Farrell and Michael Hunter completed a study on the Dolch 220 list of high frequency words. Of the 220 words, 82 were identified as Heart Words (37%), and 45 of the words can be studied in similar pattern words.  https://www.readingrockets.org/article/new-model-teaching-high-frequency-words

Reading specialists do disagree about which words would be classified as Heart Words. Although the reading research is clear that memorizing whole words, such as in the outdated “Look and Say” approach, is inefficient, some reading teachers stress that teaching students to remember whole words is important as a part of 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. These become true “sight words,” because they are recognized automatically by sight, and not any longer by sounding each phoneme (speech sound) out. 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.

Check out my article on How to Teach Heart Words for seven activities to do so.

A sound box is often used to help students map heart Words, because they require more instruction than phonetically regular words.

Outlaw Word Sound Boxes

Sound Boxes

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

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Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable, easy-to- teach, and science of reading-based, featuring the Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables designed for older students. The word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program.

PREVIEW TEACHING READING STRATEGIES and THE SCIENCE OF READING INTERVENTION PROGRAM RESOURCES HERE

Get the Heart Words Assessment FREE Resource:

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Sight Word Activities

Sight Words

Which sight words should we teach?

Most every reading teacher places some value on sight words instruction; however, just what teachers mean by sight words varies more than the flavors at the local ice cream parlor. Reading specialists describe two methods of “word attack”: word identification and word recognition. Sight words are the word recognition side of the coin. Some mean high frequency reading words and trot out Fry or Dolch word lists. These words consist of those most frequently found in basal reading series. “By the end of second grade, your child must have memorized the top 200 words.” Unfortunately, many of our high frequency and high utility words have one or more sound-spellings which are non-decodable. Linguists tell us that these are holdovers from our Old English roots.

Other teachers see sight words as high utility spelling words. You can spot these teachers by their prominently displayed “No Excuse” spelling words on a colorful bulletin board. Thanks to Rebecca Sitton, these collections of words are the words that children most often use in their beginning writing. “By the end of second grade, your child must have mastered the spelling of these words in their writing–no excuses!”

Still other teachers understand and teach sight words as word family (rimes) words. A rime is a vowel and final consonants in one syllable, such as “ick.” The rime usually follows an initial consonant, e.g. “t,” or consonant blend, e.g. “tr,” to form words, e.g., “tick” or “trick.” Teachers using rimes have their students memorize what these chunks of words look and sound like and then apply these to other starting consonants (called onsets) to recognize or say new words. “By the end of second grade, your child must know every one of these 79 word families with automaticity.” Get a comprehensive list of rimes and terrific learning activities Word Families (Rimes) Activities.

What we’re learning now in the science of reading is that sight words should be those words and word parts which have been decoded and practiced so often that the words can be processed by sight. In order to get students to the point that they are orthographically mapping the phonemes (speech sounds) to the graphemes (the spellings with automaticity, we have to do the hard work of teaching students to pay attention to each part of the word.

So often, we rush to whole word memorization, when we need to teach readers to use the code. A perfect example of doing so is with words with non-phonetic parts. We call these 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. https://blog.penningtonpublishing.com/reading/should-we-teach-high-frequency-words/  
The good news is that most of the sound-spellings in Heart Words are largely regular in their sound-spellings.
Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention ProgramPennington Publishing provides two reading intervention program options for ages eight–adult. The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is a full-year, 55 minutes per day program which includes both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). The word recognition components feature the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spelling Independent Practice 4. Heart Words Independent Practice 5. The Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables 1ith comprehension and word fluency practice for older readers. The program also includes sound boxes and personal sound walls for weekly review.  The language comprehension components feature comprehensive vocabulary, reading fluency, reading comprehension, spelling, writing and syntax, syllabication, reading strategies, and game card lessons, worksheets, and activities. Word Recognition × Language Comprehension = Skillful Reading: The Simple View of Reading and the National Reading Panel Big 5.

If you only have time for a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) program, the The Science of Reading Intervention Program features the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities, plus the sound boxes and personal word walls for an effective word recognition program.

d Reading Phonics Books. These 54 decodable books (includes print-ready and digital display versions) have been designed for older readers with teenage cartoon characters and plots. Each 8-page book introduces two sight words and reinforces the sound-spellings practiced in that day’s sound-by-sound spelling blending. Plus, each book has two great guided reading activities: a 30-second word fluency to review previously learned sight words and sound-spelling patterns and 5 higher-level comprehension questions. Additionally, each book includes an easy-to-use running record if you choose to assess. Your students will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug. These take-home books are great for independent homework practice.

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

Teaching Reading Strategies and Sam and Friends Guided Reading Phonics Books

FREE DOWNLOADS TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING RESOURCES: The SCRIP (Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict) Comprehension Strategies includes class posters, five lessons to introduce the strategies, and the SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks.

 

 

 

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

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How to Teach Prefixes, Roots, and Suffixes

Every teacher knows that word parts are the building blocks of words. Most teachers know that learning individual word parts and how they fit together to form multi-syllabic words is the most efficient method of vocabulary acquisition, second only to that of widespread reading at the student’s independent reading level. These word parts that are, indeed, the keys to academic vocabulary—the types of words that students especially need to succeed in school. However, most teachers do not know the best instructional methods to teach these important word parts.

How Most Teachers Teach Prefixes

The Test Method: “Here is your list of ten prefixes with game cards to memorize this week. Test on Friday.” No instruction + no practice = no success.

The Literature-based Method: “Notice the prefix pre in the author’s word preamble? That means before. Let’s look for other ones.

The Word Sort Method: “Here is a list of 20 big words. Sort all of the words that start with pre in the first box.”

The Intensive Vocabulary Study Methods: “Let’s use our Four Square vocabulary chart to study the prefix pre. Who knows an antonym? Who knows an example word? Who knows a synonym? Who knows an inflection that can be added to the word? Who knows…? Spend at least 15 minutes “studying” this one prefix.” How inefficient can you get?

The Modality Methods (VAK): “Let’s draw the prefix pre in the word preamble. Then draw a symbol of the word that will help you remember the word. Use at least three colors. If you prefer, design a Lego® model of the prefix.” Check out this relevant article on Don’t Teach to Learning Styles or Multiple Intelligences.

Better Ways to Teach Prefixes, Roots, and Suffixes

High Frequency Greek and Latin Word PartsChoose the Right Word Parts

Teaching the high utility Greek and Latin prefixes, roots, and suffixes is a very efficient tool to acquire academic vocabulary. These morphological (meaning-based) word parts that form the basis of English academic vocabulary are primarily Greek and Latinates. Prefixes and roots carry the bulk of important word meanings; however, some key suffixes are important, as well. Over 50% of multi-syllabic words beyond the most frequently used 10,000 words contain a Greek or Latin word part. Since Greek and Latinates are so common in our academic language, it makes sense to memorize the highest frequency word parts. See the attached list of High Frequency Prefixes, Suffixes, and Roots for reference.

Teach by Analogy

Word part clues are highly memorable because readers have frequent exposure to and practice with the high frequency word parts. Additionally, they are memorable because the simple to understand use of the word part can be applied to more complex usages. For example, bi means two in bicycle, just as it means two in bicameral or biped. Analogy is a powerful learning aid and its application in academic vocabulary is of paramount importance.

One of the most effective strategies for learning and practicing word parts by analogy is to have students build upon their previous knowledge of words that use the targeted word parts. Building student vocabularies based upon their own prior knowledge ensures that your example words will more likely be within their grade-level experience, rather than arbitrarily providing examples beyond their reading and listening experience.

After introducing the week’s word parts and their definitions (I suggest a combination of prefixes, roots, and suffixes), ask students to brainstorm words that they already know that use each of the word parts. Give students two minutes to quick-write all the words that they know that use the selected prefix, root, or suffix. Then, ask students to share their words in class discussion. Quickly write down and define each word that clearly uses the definition that you have provided. Ignore those words that use the word part, but do not clearly exemplify the definition that you have provided. Require students to write down each word that you have written in their Vocabulary Journals. Award points for all student contributions.

Teach through Word Play

Effective vocabulary study involves practice. One of the best ways to practice prefixes is through vocabulary games. A terrific list of word play games with clear instructions is found in Vocabulary Review Games.

Teach through Association

Memorization through association places learning into the long-term memory. Connection to other word parts helps students memorize important prefixes, roots, and suffixes.

Greek and Latin Academic LanguageFifteen Power Words

These fifteen words have prefixes or roots that are part of over 15,000 words. That is as many words as most student dictionaries! Memorize these words and the meanings of their prefixes and roots and you have significantly improved your vocabulary.

1. inaudible     (not, hear)

2. dismiss        (away from, send)

3. transport      (across, carry)

4. unsubscribe (not, under, write)

5. predict         (before, say)

6. remit            (again, send)

7. encounter    (in, against)

8. offer              (against, carry)

9. inspect         (in, see)

10. epilogue     (upon, word)

11. antigen      (against, people)

12. empathy    (in, feeling)

13. intermediate (between, middle)

14. destruction    (apart from, build)

15. superimpose (over, in, put)

Put-Togethers

Have students spread out vocabulary word part cards into prefix, root, and suffix groups on their desks. Business card size works best. The object of the game is to put together these word parts into real words within a given time period. Students can use connecting vowels. Students are awarded points as follows:

1 point for each prefix—root combination

1 point for each root—suffix combination

2 points for a prefix—root combination that no one else in the group has

2 points for a root—suffix combination that no one else in the group has

3 points for each prefix—root—suffix combination

5 points for a prefix—root—suffix combination that no one else has.

Game can be played timed or untimed.

Teach through Syllabication

Teaching basic syllabication skills helps students understand and apply how syllable patterns fit in with decodable word parts. The Transformers activity teaches the basic syllables skills through inductive examples.

In addition to the basics, the Twenty Advanced Syllable Rules provide the guidelines for correct pronunciation and writing.

Teaching the Ten Accent Rules, including the schwa, will assist students in accurate pronunciation and spelling.

Teach through Spelling

Using a comprehensive spelling pattern spelling program will teach how prefixes absorb and assimilate with connected roots, how roots change spellings to accommodate pronunciation and suffix spelling, and how suffixes determine the grammar, verb tense, and limit the meaning of preceding prefixes and roots. Beyond primary sound-spellings, spelling and vocabulary have an important relationship in the structure of academic vocabulary. Only recently has spelling been relegated to the elementary classroom. Check out Differentiated Spelling Instruction to see how a grade-level spelling program can effectively incorporate advanced vocabulary development.

Context Clues Reading

Even knowing just one word part will provide a clue to meaning of an unknown word. For example, a reader may not understand the meaning of the word bicameral. However, knowing that the prefix bi means two certainly helps the reader gain a sense of the word, especially when combined with other context clues such as synonyms, antonyms, logic-based, and example clues. For example, let’s look at the following sentence:

The bicameral legislative system of the House and Senate provide important checks and balances.

Identifying the context example clues, “House and Senate” and “checks and balances,” combines with the reader’s knowledge of the word part, bi and help the reader problem-solve the meaning of the unknown word: bicameral.

Context Clues Writing

Similarly, having students develop their own context clue sentences, in which they suggest the meaning of the word parts and words with surrounding synonyms, antonyms, logic-based, and example clues is excellent practice.

Inventive Writing

After introducing the week’s word parts and their definitions (I suggest two prefixes, three roots, and two suffixes per week), ask students to invent words that use each word part in a sentence, that uses context clues to show the meaning of each nonsense word. Encourage students to use “real” word parts to combine with each targeted word part to form multi-syllabic words. Award extra points for words used from prior week’s words.

Don’t want to reinvent the wheel? Find every resource you need to teach vocabulary, grammar, usage, and spelling in Pennington Publishing’s grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary programs. Teaching the Language Strand. Each comprehensive program is designed to help students catch up while they keep up with grade-level Standards. The vocabulary worksheets are designed to teach every grade level Common Core Vocabulary Standard (L4.0, 5.0, 6.0). Check out the YouTube introductory video for a concise overview of the program.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary  Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Grades 4-8 Programs

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Spelling Lists and Tests

The there, their, and they're Words

there, their, and they’re

My last post, “Spelling Rules,” discussed why teachers should teach the eight conventional spelling rules as part of a balanced spelling program. I provided links for each of the eight free downloadable spelling rules with accompanying MP3 files of raps and songs to help your students memorize each of these rules. I also offered an essential resource: the comprehensive Diagnostic Spelling Assessment.

As I previously mentioned, each of the six posts will begin with a brief reflection about the instructional spelling component, follow with a rationale for teaching that component, and finish with some free instructional spelling resources. The components of each of the six posts are as follows:

1. Diagnostic Assessment 2. Sound-Spellings 3. Spelling Rules
4. Spelling Lists and Tests 5. Spelling Practice 6. Integrated Spelling and Vocabulary.

This week we explore how to use spelling lists and tests as part of a balanced spelling program.

Reflection

□ I use developmentally appropriate word lists as my spelling pre-tests.

□ I use the spelling pre-test as a diagnostic tool and adjust student practice according to the results of the assessment.

□ I have supplemental spelling word lists that are developmentally appropriate and I use these to differentiate spelling instruction.

□ I don’t use the exact same spelling test for my pre and post-tests because the spelling post-tests vary from student to student.

Rationale

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 individualize spelling instruction, but the materials, testing, instruction, and management can prove overwhelming to even the most conscientious professional. After years of experimentation and teacher trial and error, this plan has earned a track record of proven success in combining spelling individualization and vocabulary word study with sensible amounts of teacher preparation and class time.

Spelling Resources

Five Steps to Differentiating Spelling-Vocabulary Instruction: The Five Ps

1. Prepare

Select twenty spelling pattern words from your grade-level spelling workbook. If you don’t have a spelling workbook, check out Grade Level Spelling Lists.

2. Pretest

Dictate the twenty words grade-level spelling pattern words in the traditional word-sentence-word format to all of your students. After the dictations, have students self-correct from teacher dictation of the letters in syllable chunks. Tell students to mark dots below the correct letters, but mark an “X” through the numbers of any spelling errors. Of course, double check the corrections of any students who have difficulty following directions or listening.

3. Personalize

To effectively differentiate instruction, students personalize their own spelling word lists for study and for their post-tests. Assign 15-20 words for practice and testing per week. Students complete their own Personal Spelling Lists with the 15-20 words in this priority order:

  • Pretest Errors: Have the students copy up to ten of their pretest spelling errors onto their Personal Spelling-Vocabulary List. Students will need to refer to the spelling workbook or your own spelling list to correctly spell these words. Ten words are certainly enough to practice the grade-level spelling pattern. Tell students to pick spelling errors from both the top and the bottom of their pretest to ensure that all spelling patterns are practiced because many workbooks teach two patterns per week.
  • 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-an essential component of improving student spelling.
  • Supplemental Spelling Lists: Students select and use words from the following resources  to complete their list:

Vowel Sound-Spelling Patterns (for primary or remedial spellers), Outlaw Words (non-phonetic words), Dolch High Frequency Words, Commonly Confused Words, and the Eight Conventional Spelling Rules.

But, how do the students select the right words from the supplemental lists?

Parents can be integral partners in helping their children select appropriate words for the Personal Spelling List. After completing the weekly Personal Spelling List, the student must secure a parent signature on the list to verify that each of the selected words is an unknown spelling for the student. This is to prevent students from writing down words already part of the student’s conventional spelling word bank.

Early in the school year, send home a parent letter explaining the role of the parent in individualizing spelling instruction. Parents can pretest their son or daughter on the words from the appendices a little at a time to determine which words are un-mastered and need to be included as part of the weekly Personal Spelling List. For those parents who will not complete the pre-assessments, the teacher can have a parent, instructional aide, or another student complete the pretests.

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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   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.

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