First things first…. Let’s clarify what sight words are and talk about some new terms you may have been hearing about! This section will also show you how to teach high frequency words using phoneme-grapheme mapping & share some key research in how our brains learn and store words.
What is a Sight Word?
A sight word is any word you know effortlessly without sounding out or guessing. (Adults know 30,000 – 70,000 sight words and all of the words on this website are likely sight words for you!)
What is a High Frequency Word?
A high frequency word is a word seen often in text.
There are regularly spelled high frequency words and high frequency words with an irregular sound-spelling pattern.
(Only 4% of words have more than one irregular sound-spelling pattern).
What is a Heart Word?
“Heart Word” as become somewhat of a buzzword and is often used incorrectly. The idea was to put a heart over an irregular sound spelling to help kids remember that part of the word. However, I often see people putting hearts everywhere which defeats the purpose. Only about 4% of words are truly irregular. We want to use hearts sparingly. Most words are NOT heart words. To minimize the incorrect use of this term, I rarely use it anymore. I draw attention to the irregular part of the word by teaching it & sometimes using etymology to help explain it.
What is Orthographic Mapping?
Many people have a misconception that orthographic mapping is something that we do, however, it is important to note that it is a mental process, not a teaching strategy.
When we use strategies like phoneme-grapheme mapping, we promote the mental process of orthographic mapping (which is how our brains store words).
Now that we have cleared up those definitions, let’s talk about teaching high frequency words!
How do we teach High Frequency Words?
Whether a word is regular or not, you can teach it by matching sounds to symbols (speech to print). After all, the letters of the alphabet were invented to represent what we are saying!
Before we talk about the process, let me tell you this game changing fact. Memorizing just one word can take hundreds of repetitions (depending on the child). But with the necessary foundational skills, mapping words typically takes a couple repetitions!
If a child is not storing the word after several repetitions, check the following:
- Do they have phonemic awareness/proficiency
- Do they have letter sound skills
- Are they completing the mapping process independently
So let’s get into it! Here are 4 EASY steps to teaching any word!
- Have the child say the word
- Have the child segment the sounds
- Have the child spell each sound (match sounds to symbols)
- Teach any irregular sound spellings
I want to just re-emphasize here the importance of having the foundational skills of phonemic awareness (link to foundational skills page) and letter sound skills. Once a child has these skills, it’s like magic, but it’s science! The mapping and reading will come much easier for them.
My own child has never memorized a single word. We focused our time teaching him phonemic awareness skills, letter-sound skills, and mapping words and he can read!
Ready to make the switch from memorizing words to mapping them? Check out these teaching slides to get started!
This Orthographic Mapping Simplified Kit may also help you get started as it includes a sample lesson plan, parent letter, and mapping templates.
Sort HFW by Phonics Skill!
Another change I have made to teaching High Frequency Words is to teach them in an order that actually makes sense. We can still get the most common words in early WITHOUT asking kids to memorize dozens of words!
Several years ago, I took over 200 high frequency words from lists like dolch, fry, F&P, etc and sorted them into a phonics scope and sequence. I was shocked to find that over 80% of the words fit perfectly into this scope & sequence!
This is meant to serve as a working document and a scope & sequence should be a guide. You should adjust as needed for your students.
I also took all 236 words from this scope and sequence and mapped out every single one on teaching slides. No more wondering how each word is mapped! Oh, and did I mention the slides are editable as well? So again, you can adjust as needed to fit your scope and sequence!
Inside the SoR 101 Membership, we also have an exclusive cheat sheet with all of the “heart words” listed with explanations for the heart parts.
You don’t have to take my word for it. The information that I share in regards to teaching words is from a variety of researchers. I encourage you to do more research on the subject if you are interested but I will link a few key studies here.
Linnea Ehri – Ehri is a psychologist who studies reading development. She has done much of the research on orthographic mapping and the alphabetic principle.
Stanislas Dehaene – Dehaene is a cognitive neuroscientist who has studied how the brain reads. Here is a short video that is well worth the watch as an introduction to his work.
Stanford Study – Here is a study worth reading. Bruce McCandliss taught words to two groups of people using an invented alphabet. One group memorized whole words & the other learned the symbols/sounds.
David Kilpatrick – In his book, Equipped for Reading Success, Kilpatrick lays out the importance of phonemic awareness and gives multiple strategies for promoting orthographic mapping.
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