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Kindergarten: High frequency words

If you are just beginning your homeschooling adventure, you may be hearing this term for the very first time. What are these high frequency words that people keep mentioning?

High frequency words, also called sight words, are the words that occur most often in a language. If a child can master these high frequency words, their ability to comprehend longer text is drastically improved.

These high frequency words need to be recognized on sight, which is why some refer to them as sight words. If they are not recognized on sight, and the child is still stuck in sound-it-out mode for every single word, the words are going to go by too slowly and with too much struggle for the larger meaning of the text to be understood. The fluency of a child's reading supports comprehension, and a substantial quantity of mastered high frequency words supports fluency.

(There are two main lists that educators use to determine which words are high frequency words; the Dolch word list and the Fry word list. Some use both, some mix and match.)


This does not mean that we should make teaching sight words our focus. Let me say that again for the crowd in the back. Do not make teaching sight words your main focus! Yes, your child needs to master the high frequency words in order to gain fluency, BUT if you teach word by word, then you have to teach every word. How many words are in the English language? This is the equivalency of giving your child one fish at a time when you should be teaching him or her to fish. It is far more effective to take a phonics approach with your child.

IEF curriculum

What we CAN do with these high frequency words is introduce them as soon as they are phonemically relevant. We can introduce them when they seem to "fit". We can spend part of our time giving a bit of extra focus to these words while traveling through our phonics scope and sequence: ensuring these words are orthographically mapped (recognized on sight) while covering progressively more difficult phoneme to grapheme (sound to spelling) patterns.

Some of the most common high frequency words are actually quite beneficial in the curriculum. In, is, at, an... how many sentences could you write without including one of these two letter words? In the Buckets & Berries curriculum, we introduce these words first!

It is quite common to jump into "Sam is a cat. Sam has a cat." But here we focus first on two letter combinations so that children may practice blending letters together successfully. How exactly do you make one letter sound slide into the next? These two letter combinations help us explicitly teach this skill.

You may notice the word "off" is included in this two letter space. Off is really a two letter combination, so it is added here. As we work with the word off, we will give it the special privilege of being a heart word. Heart words are just sight words that we hold in our heart because the spelling is one we must memorize.

In kindergarten we first solidify the letters. Can your child recognize the letter and recall its most common sound? Great! The next step is to practice blending two letters together. That knocks out a good chunk of high frequency words. After this, we begin CVC patterns. (consonant-vowel-consonant) Let's study the first of these patterns and take a closer look at how Buckets & Berries determines the timing of each high frequency word.

Short A CVC

has - perfectly fits the short A CVC pattern.

can, and - The AN word family is one of the most prevalent in the short A CVC group. Adding and is a natural fit. Sure, it doesn't precisely follow the grapheme pattern, but it fits well enough. Can, van, man, tan, pan, ran, and... hear it? So will your child. We could wait until 1st grade, when the child formally begins to blend consonants before introducing the word and, but then we would miss this perfect opportunity!

all, was, want - One of the first "special rules" we teach children is what is commonly referred to as the WALL rule. Before an L, or near a W, the letter A changes its sound. Can you hear the difference between the A in has and was? If you do not explicitly teach this sound change, many children will simply pick it up through exposure, but those with reading disabilities will find their first stumbling block on the road to reading. All children benefit from explicit instruction, but children with dyslexia REQUIRE it.

have - The second "special rule" we teach children is that words in English do not like to end in a V. Have is just a CVC word that is tailored by this special rule. Give, love, live ... in the English language there are quite a few words that are really just hidden CVC words. EVERY high frequency word from both the Dolch and Fry lists which follow this "hidden CVC" pattern are introduced during the CVC units. The goal here is simple! We want all high frequency words with a "hidden CVC" pattern to be orthographically mapped long before we dream of introducing bossy E words in first grade. We want give to be read on sight while the child is sounding out hive, dive and drive.

As you can see, the goal here is to "fit" the most frequently used words in the English language into our phonics scope and sequence. How closely does the word match the phoneme to grapheme pattern we are already covering? How high on the list is the high frequency word? Does the word break a future pattern so that early orthographic mapping helps avoid confusion? All these questions determine the timing of our lessons.

I hope our journey inspires your own,

Buckets and Berries

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