Posts Tagged ‘word families’

Which High Frequency Words?

Most teachers and reading specialists advocate some teaching of high frequency words: the question is which ones make sense to teach and which ones don’t make sense to teach?

First, let’s dispel a few notions about how we learn to read. It’s not a which came first, the chicken or the egg? question some still suggest. In other words, the end result is not all that matters. Witness the plethora of reading intervention classes in upper elementary and middle schools to see how many of our students can “read,” but not understand what they are “word calling.” How we get to the end result does matter. Reading does not teach phonemic awareness, nor does reading teach phonics and multi-syllabic decoding. These are prerequisite skills which students need in order to to read well.

We have plenty of reading research to positively assert that explicit, systematic phonics instruction is the most efficient approach to teaching beginning and remedial readers. The Look-Say Method of the Dick and Jane readers (sight words only instruction) and the Onset-Rime Method (b-ack, h-ack, j-ack, l-ack, p-ack, r-ack, s-ack, t-ack) have largely been placed on the dustbin of instructional approaches.


We can certainly take things too far. We know some things, but we don’t know a lot of things about reading. We are only at the beginning stages of brain research.


A prudent approach to both beginning and remedial reading instruction is to focus on decoding (phonics) and encoding (spelling) instruction and practice, but to also “throw in” a healthy dose of fluency practice with high frequency words.

Which High Frequency Words Not to Teach and Why

Don’t pass out flashcards or lists of high frequency reading or spelling words for students to memorize. Intuitively, it would seem to make sense to have students memorize the words that they are going to read or spell most often. However, our gut-level instincts lead us astray here.

  • The Dolch and Fry word lists of the most commonly used words in basal readers were never designed to provide a list of words to study. Countless U.S. classrooms still, unfortunately, have these reading goals (and assign parents the task of teaching): 10 words by the end of kindergarten; 100 words by the end of first grade; 200 words by the end of second grade; and 300 words by the end of third grade. As a reading specialist, I’ve worked with hundreds of elementary, middle school, high school, and even community college students who can word call each of these lists, but not read with comprehension. Now, there is some sense to pre-teaching a limited number of high frequency words before beginning systematic phonics instruction.
  • Similarly, the Slosson Oral Word Reading Test and San Diego Quick Assessment were only designed to test word recognition and they do provide correlations to reading comprehension, but authors Richard L. Slosson and Charles L. Nicholson, as well as Margaret La Pray and Ramon Ross respectively, never advocated using their random sample assessments as instructional tools.
  • The “No Excuse” spelling word lists, floating around since Rebecca Sitton popularized this band aid approach to spelling mastery during the height of the whole language movement of the 1980s and 1990s still, unfortunately, serves as the entire spelling program for countless U.S. classrooms with absolutely no research validating its instructional validity.

Which High Frequency Words to Teach and Why

The first group of high frequency words are, indeed, words; the second and third groups are word parts.

  • Heart Words: These words include one or more non-phonetic parts, also known as “the parts to learn by heart.” Or Heart Words may also designated as those sound-spelling patterns not yet taught, such as the “_ve” pattern with words such as live, love, and have. Check out how to teach Heart Words.

Get the Heart Words Assessment FREE Resource:

  • Word Families (Rimes): A rime is a vowel and the final consonants in one syllable, such as “ack.” The rime usually follows an first consonant, e.g. “b,” or consonant blend, e.g. “tr,” to form words, e.g., “back” or “track.” Students apply these to other starting consonants (called onsets) to recognize or say new words. By the end of second grade, students should know every one of these 79 word families with automaticity through explicit, systematic phonics instruction. If they don’t, gap fill with flashcard practice and activities to help students master the rimes. I have found plenty of success teaching the word families that students do not know with sound-spelling blending. Again, the focus is remedial, not instructional, with the rimes.
  • High Frequency Greek and Latin Prefixes and Roots: Greek and Latin word parts make up over 50% of the words in the dictionary. Some are decodable in English, and some are not. Because of the strong reading-vocabulary connection, it does make sense to have students teach and practice the Greek and Latin high frequency prefixes and suffixes which they do not know. Like with rimes, the analogous relationships formed by morphological (meaning-based) word parts make this a sound sight words instructional focus. For example,  bi means two in bicycle, just as it means two in bicameral or biped.

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 and evidence-based, the program features the 54 Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables for each lesson and designed for older students. The digital and print word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program. Both programs include the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities.


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Word Families (Rimes) Activities

Should We Teach High Frequency Words?

High Frequency Words?

Although systematic explicit phonemic awareness and  phonics instruction should be the core of beginning reading instruction, as a reading specialist I support an eclectic approach to ensure success for all students. One such approach that I have used with success is teaching the basic word families, also known as rimes.

Now to be certain that I don’t lead you astray, let’s be clear that I do mean rimes, and not rhymes. Although the two are certainly related, especially in terms of instructional practice. Simply defined, the rime consists of a vowel and final consonants, such as “ack.” The rime usually follows an initial consonant, e.g. “b,” or consonant blend, e.g. “bl,” to form words, e.g., “back” or “black.”

Learning the common rimes can help beginning readers recognize common chunks of letters within words. Margaret Moustafa’s research has demonstrated that beginning readers tend to figure out new words through analogy (1997). In other words, they connect “what they already know” to “what they need to know” through word similarities. Goswami found that both beginning and dyslexic readers benefit from learning and practicing rimes (2000). To summarize, if beginning readers learn to recognize the “ack” rime, they will be able to use that chunk to learn words with different single consonant onsets to form words such as “back,” “hack,” “jack,” “lack,” “rack,” “sack,” “tack,” as well as words with different consonant blend onsets, such as “black,” “crack,” and “stack.”

Reading specialists will note that this approach features analytic phonics, not synthetic phonics. The science of reading movement has featured the latter approach and, like Dr. Tim Shanahan, I favor synthetic phonics for beginning reading instruction; however, like Dr. Tim Shanahan, I also see a role for analytic phonics to help students who have challenges orthographically mapping the phoneme-grapheme relationships.

“When children know their phonics skills but struggle to read or spell words, then working with word analogies and getting kids to thinking about alternative pronunciations of spelling patterns (bread, break, bead) is the way to go.
The idea of combining synthetic and analytic phonics instruction violates no research, and if done well, may help more kids to succeed…/which-is-best-analytic…

Now, good reading teachers will note that teaching rimes could be used to side-step blending the individual vowel and final consonant sounds, just as teaching the consonant blends could side-step blending the individual consonant sounds. Thus, with the consonant blend onset “bl” and its rime “ack,” the word black becomes two pronunciation units, rather than four. I certainly would not advocate these short-cuts; however, once beginning readers have mastered, or are in the process of mastering how to blend, I see no reason to avoid practicing blending automaticity with rimes. I do suggest leaving the consonant blends to the traditional blending strategies rather than practicing these as chunks because mispronunciations, such as “bluh” for bl, will create more harm than good. Again, students should be taught to decode each sound-spelling; however, to map the word orthographically, analogous onsets and rimes help students form and apply sight syllables with automaticity.

Parents can be helpful partners in practicing rimes with their children. Although oftentimes well-intentioned parents can do more harm than good when they teach their children to blend improperly, practicing rimes is almost foolproof. A good list of rimes, such as in the following Word Family (Rimes Activities), will give parents the tools they need. Also, reading rhyming books, such as Dr. Seuss, are wonderful practice.

For older students, say second-graders or reading intervention students (think Response to Intervention Tiers Ii and III), this Rimes Assessment with recording matrix can provide the data teachers need to effectively differentiate instruction.

So for those of you who have read this far, here are some terrific Word Families (Rimes) Activities to practice rimes in the classroom. You may also wish to use the phonics materials and activities found in these articles: Phonics Games and in How to Teach Phonics. Also, check out these related Phonemic Awareness Activities.


Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

Pennington 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.

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:

Get the Syllable Awareness Assessment FREE Resource:

Get the Syllable Rules FREE Resource:

Get the Accent Rules FREE Resource:

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Cambridge University Reading Test

Cambridge University Reading Exam

Cambridge University Reading Test

Every few years the Cambridge University Reading Test goes viral once again. The “test” purports to disprove the explicit and systematic phonics approach to reading and to plunge us back into the reading wars.

Although the reading wars have died down since the death of the “whole language” movement of the 1980s and 1990s, the two opposing camps remain garrisoned behind an unstable DMZ. The “whole language” holdouts still believe that we learn to read naturally from “whole word to part” through exposure to lots of text, memorization of whole words or onsets and rimes (e.g., c-ake and b-ake), and the use of context clues. “Balanced literacy” advocates attempt to camp out in the no-man’s land in between by teaching both implicit and explicit word recognition strategies.


The “phonicators” believe that we learn to read “part to whole word” by learning and applying the alphabetic code to decipher the English sound-spelling system.

The unknown author of the Cambridge University Reading Test specifically designed the test to support the “whole language” approach to reading and to debunk the phonics-based approach. Let’s take a look at the test and then see how its author manipulated the test format to get the casual reader to accept its premise.

Cambridge University Reading Test

Aoccdrnig to a rseearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

According to a researcher (sic) at Cambridge University, it doesn’t matter in what order the letters in a word are, the only important thing is that the first and last letter be at the right place. The rest can be a total mess and you can still read it without problem. This is because the human mind does not read every letter by itself but the word as a whole.

At first (or second) read, the above example seems to validate the whole-word method. You can read the words above with just their first and last letters. Phonics are bogus!

But, wait a minute… There never was such a reading test developed at Cambridge University. The Cambridge University “reading test” is a hoax. The trick behind the hoax is that not only are the first and last letters in the same place, but most of the consonants appear in the exact order of the word. Only the vowels are all removed, rearranged, and replaced.

Text-messaging proves the point. Try texting this sentence to a friend:

Tgouhh pprehas ploepe rlleay cluod cphoreenmd, gievn uteimlnid tmie,  ecfecfniiy sfruefs gatelry.

Though perhaps people really could comprehend, given unlimited time, efficiency suffers greatly.

A bit more challenging? Your friend will certainly have more difficulty reading your message because even though the first and last letters are in the same place, the consonants and medial vowels are not. So, the Cambridge University “Reading Test” actually points to the fact that readers really do look at all of the letters and apply the alphabetic code to read efficiently.

In fact, the English sound-spelling system is remarkably consistent and well-worth learning, especially for remedial readers. Yes, there are exceptions, but better to learn the rules and adjust to the exceptions.


The Teaching Reading Strategies (Reading Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight-adult. Ideal as both Tier II or III pull-out or push-in reading intervention for older struggling readers, special education students with auditory processing disorders, and ESL, ESOL, or ELL students. This full-year (or half-year intensive) program provides explicit and systematic whole-class instruction and assessment-based small group workshops to differentiate instruction. Both new and veteran reading teachers will appreciate the four training videos, minimal prep and correction, and user-friendly resources in this program, written by a teacher for teachers and their students.

The program provides 13 diagnostic reading and spelling assessments (many with audio files). Teachers use assessment-based instruction to target the discrete concepts and skills each student needs to master according to the assessment data. Whole class and small group instruction includes the following: phonemic awareness activities, synthetic phonics blending and syllabication practice, phonics workshops with formative assessments, expository comprehension worksheets, 102 spelling pattern assessments, reading strategies worksheets, 123 multi-level fluency passage videos recorded at three different reading speeds, writing skills worksheets, 644 reading, spelling, and vocabulary game cards (includes print-ready and digital display versions) to play entertaining learning games.

In addition to these resources, the program features the popular Sam and Friends Guided 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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