High Frequency Words: What Are They And Why Should Your Child Learn Them

High Frequency Words: What Are They And Why Should Your Child Learn Them

You should ideally plan to have your child recognize 10–15 sight words before phonics instruction of whole words begin, but after your child knows all the letter names and sounds.

High frequency words, or sight words, are words that appear most commonly on texts and reading material. In fact, according to publishing company Scholastic, sight words account for up to 75% of the words used in children’s printed material. As parents, our goal should ideally be for our child to recognize every word on the High frequency words list at first sight, in order to make reading and writing a more efficient process. 

The concept of the high frequency words list was first founded by Professor and Author Edward William Dolch, who compiled words into five levels for children to learn by sight. These compromise of words such as ‘the’, ‘there’, ‘was’, ‘so’, ‘if’ – seemingly easy words that are difficult to illustrate, and can sometimes defy standard phonetic rules.

High frequency words list

Why is it important to learn sight words? 

high frequency words list

Children are exposed to high frequency words during Kindergarten. Photo: iStock

Lists of high frequency words differ by grade levels and age, but across the board, many of the words on these lists do not follow basic phonetic principles and cannot be “sounded out” or decoded using conventional strategies.

Memorizing them until they are known by sight is beneficial for many reasons including: 

  • functioning as an effective strategy for acting as a bridge and helping to decode unknown words.
  • promoting confidence, as when a child is familiar with high frequency words, he would be able to recognize most of a sentence in age-appropriate reading material. This acts as a booster in your child’s confidence and enables him to keep going and not to put a book down in frustration.
  • promoting comprehension skills in reading, as instead of trying to figure out what all of the words in a book means, your child can focus on unknown words as he is already familiar with the sight words in his arsenal. This allows kids to free up cognitive resources so they can focus on the tougher words that they do not know, that require stronger decoding skills.
  • High frequency words also provide clues to the context of the text, and especially if accompanied by pictures, your child will be able to decode what the story is about and may even learn new words. 

When should you introduce your child to the high frequency words list?

You should ideally plan to have your child recognize 10–15 sight words before phonics instruction of whole words begin, but after your child knows all the letter names and sounds as children who have not learned letters will inevitably struggle in identifying them by sight. 

These words will also be introduced and practised in school, and supplementing their learning at home will aid your child to pick them up faster. A chart of the first 100 high frequency words can be found here:

High Frequency Words: What Are They And Why Should Your Child Learn Them

Teaching your child the high frequency words list 

Now that you have your high-frequency words list, how do you go about teaching your child these common sight words? 

There are several ways in which you could incorporate these words into your child’s learning. Always start small, with around three to five words, and mix them up with familiar words as you go. 

Here are a few ways in which you can teach your children sight words:

  • Print them out and paste them around the house on surfaces and prominent places that your child is most likely to have regular contact with: such as the refrigerator, your child’s closet or wardrobe doors, a wall of the house facing an area where your child regularly plays, the door to your child’s bedroom. This will act as a visual reminder when your child is learning the words. 
  • Flashcards: Print out each of the high frequency words on separate flashcards, but make sure you don’t add any illustrations or pictures accompanying the words, as your child may simply look at the drawings instead of the words. You may choose to laminate these words separately, or punch holes in them and rig them onto a keychain for easy access. After a few sessions of helping your children memorize the words, these flashcards can then be used for quickfire practise, where you “flash” the card to them and they have a few seconds to tell you the word.
high frequency words list

Printing out flashcards is a valuable way to teach your child sight words. Photo: iStock

  • Games with flashcards: You can also print multiples of the same word and use them for memory games like Pairs or Snap, where you put the cards face down and ask your child to pick matching cards, or pick cards and shouting out the correct word as they match them. Another fun game to play would be to lay out all the cards face-up and use an insect swatter or spatula to “slap and point” to the words as you call them out, as fast as they can. You can also try to get your child to make a silly sentence with a string of as many high frequency words as they can. 
  • Try coaxing your child to spell out the words they have learnt with magnetic letters on a fridge or the door of the bomb shelter. 
  • Bring your child’s learning outdoors, and encourage him to look for and pick out words he has learnt on billboards, signs, or advertisements when you are travelling somewhere,  at the supermarket shopping for groceries, or even on a walk at your neighbourhood. 
  • Play a game of hangman or ‘fill in the missing letters’ on a whiteboard.
  • Make a twister mat with letters and get your child to hop onto the letter and spell them out as you call each word out. You can also write the letters in chalk at the void deck area of your house, or even the stretch in front of your door, and get your child to hop onto the correct letters to spell the word out correctly. Do remember to clean up after yourselves afterwards! 
  • Spelling in kinetic sand, flour, lentils, salt or even shaving cream can be a tactile way of teaching your child the words. Tracing the letters into these substances may also be very therapeutic and satisfying for your child and may interest him the most out of all the suggestions on this list! You can also get your child to spell the words out using pasta. 
High Frequency Words: What Are They And Why Should Your Child Learn Them

Spelling out words with pasta is a fun way to get your child to learn sight words. Photo: iStock

  • After your child has learned quite a bit of the word on the list, you can use scrabble tiles to make up words they know from the letters they pull. You can also use scrabble letter tiles to simply spell words instead of opting to draw letters from the pouch. 
  • Try getting artistic kids who love a bit of craftwork, to decorate or draw a word they learn. You can also use common household refuse to make a recycled work of art using material such as crumpled up newspaper and toilet and tissue rolls to fashion out words. 

Regardless of how you choose to teach your child these sight words, the most important tip would be to be patient and to persevere in introducing your child to the words at his or her own pace. It would also do your child good for them to see you reading, so as to encourage them to want to pick the habit up themselves. 

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