High-Frequency Words

High-frequency words are those which appear most often in written English. However, many high-frequency words are common exception words, such as ‘I’, ‘the’, and ‘you’.

What are high-frequency words?

High-frequency words are one of the main types of sight words and are those words which occur most frequently in written material, for example, “and”, “the”, “as” and “it”. They are often words that have little meaning on their own, but they do contribute significantly to the definition of a sentence as a whole.

Some of the high-frequency words can be sounded out using basic phonic rules. For example, “it” is an easy word to read using phonics. However, many high-frequency words are not phonically regular and, therefore, hard to read in the early stages.

Some high-frequency words are called tricky words or sight words. In addition to being difficult to sound out, most of these high-frequency words have a rather abstract meaning which is hard to explain to children. For example, it’s easy to learn words like “cat” and “house” because they can easily be related to a real object or a picture, but representing the words “the” or “of” is tricky because there’s no point of reference.

Why are high-frequency words important?

High-frequency words are, as you’d expect, words that you come across frequently. This means that when children are reading, they’ll see lots of these high-frequency words. Therefore, children must be able to read these words, pronounce them correctly, spell them, and understand what they mean within a sentence. Just as importantly, children will use these words in their writing, so it’s an essential part of their literacy development.

Did you know that 16 words make up around a quarter of every piece of writing for both adults and children? These are examples of high-frequency words, which shows precisely why it’s essential for children to become familiar with them. Terms such as ‘he’ ‘and’ ‘I’ and more tricky words such as ‘you’, ‘said’, and ‘she’ are everywhere when we write and read. As a literate adult, you might not notice them, but they can be significant hurdles for children when it comes to literacy if they aren’t taught how to read and write them correctly.

Recognizing and being able to read high-frequency words gives children more confidence. If a child can acknowledge already a quarter of the terms in a text, they are more likely to want to keep reading. Reading and recognizing these words can begin to make reading and writing less daunting to children during the early stages of their educational journey.

In what order do kids learn high-frequency words?

Kids are taught to read in phonics ‘phases’, and each phase has a consistent list of high-frequency words to learn.

Phase 2 phonics:

  • Decodable words: a, an, as, at, and, back, big, but, can, dad, had, get, got, him, his, if, in, is, it, mum, not, on, of, off, up
  • Tricky words: the, no, to, into, go, I

Phase 3 phonics:

  • Decodable words: down, for, look, now, see, that, them, this, then, too, will, with
  • Tricky words: all, are, be, he, her, me, my, she, they, was, we, you

Phase 4 phonics:

  • Decodable words: went, children, it’s, just, from, help
  • Tricky words: come, do, have, like, little, one, out, said, so, some, there, were, what, when

Phase 5 phonics:

  • Decodable words: don’t, day, old, made, I’m, came, by, make, time, here, saw, house, very, about, your
  • Tricky words: Oh, their, people, Mr, Mrs, looked, called, asked, could.

What are the top 100 high-frequency words in order?

These are the top 100 high-frequency words that are most frequently used in any piece of writing: the, and, a, to, said, in, he, I, of, it, was, you, they, on, she, is, for, at, his, but, that, with, all, we, can, are, up, had, my, her, what, there, out, this, have, went, be, like, some, so, not, then, were, go, little, as, no, mum, one, them, do, me, down, dad, big, when, it’s, see, looked, very, look, don’t, come, will, into, back, from, children, him, Mr, get, just, now, came, oh, about, got, their, people, your, put, could, house, old, too, by, day, made, time, I’m, if, help, Mrs, called, here, off, asked, saw, make, an.

How to teach children high-frequency words

  • High-frequency words, and phonics as a whole, are essential to a child’s primary education. They form the basis for reading and writing, so teaching them effectively is necessary. Here are a few tools that you can use to teach them:
  • Flashcards are by far the most popular way to teach this topic. You can cut them out and use them for a variety of games and activities which focus on repetition and boosting pupils’ memory of high-frequency words.
  • Dictationpassages are a great way to simultaneously assess reading skills and knowledge of high-frequency words. Children are given a piece of text with high-frequency words missing, and they must fill in the blanks. Through an activity like this, they’ll become more familiar with the terms themselves and develop their reading fluency.
  • Look, say, cover, writeis another standard method. Children practice saying the words aloud and writing and spelling them correctly. This is effective for memorization of the sounds and spellings of the terms and word recognition.
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