When learning to read and write, learning high frequency words quickly and purposefully can make all the difference. In this blog post, I will go over my best tips for teaching high frequency words in Kindergarten so they actually stick! Want to read other phonics tips? Check out this blog post!
What Makes a High Frequency Word?
A high frequency word is a word that doesn’t tend to follow typical rules of letter sounds, especially the letter sounds that beginning readers learn. They are also words that appear most frequently in their beginning texts. Teachers call them all kinds of things – sight words (because you know them by sight), snap words (because you know them in a snap), trick words (because they don’t tend to follow the simple sound rules of English) or high-frequency words (because they appear often in texts). You can decide these words based on the words your students struggle with in their reading, or your curriculum might dictate what words to teach.
How Many Words Do I Teach?
This will depend on your grade and school’s curriculum. Developmentally, for kindergarten, I don’t think it makes sense to explicitly teach and practice more than 1 word per week. Does that mean I am not modeling and teaching other words as they pop-up? Of course not! My school focuses on 25 words for the kindergarten year (although I go beyond this when doing 1 word per week) and 100 words for first grade (which includes the 25 from kindergarten). You can find words from different curriculums like Fountas and Pinnell or lists like the Dolch lists. However, you find the words, the order you teach them should be purposefully chosen based on the reading and writing your students are doing.
High Frequency Word Practice
Teaching Students to Read High Frequency Words
When I introduce new high-frequency words in kindergarten I first show the word to my students and I read the word and then have them read the word. We repeat this three times. Then, I try and include a movement for the word and use the word in a sentence to try and help them remember it. There are some great resources for this like eyewords or child1st.
Next, I highlight the parts of the word that are trick. For example, in the word “are” you only hear one sound /r/ but the word has a and e in it. Every word needs a vowel! It’s a good chance to teach the rules of sounds that we have in English. For example, in the “have” we hear three sounds /h/ /a/ /v/ but in this word, there is also a silent -e. Immediately following this, I have my students read this word in context using a poem and an emergent reader. I also have them practice writing the word.
Outside my classroom is a tool to help practice reading the high-frequency words – a password (FREE!). After practicing a sight word for a week, that word becomes our classroom’s password. Children must read the word when they enter the room. I purposefully have them practice last week’s word so that it continues the practice a little longer.
Teaching Students to Write High Frequency Words
Immediately following the direct instruction on the sounds and spelling of the high-frequency words, I have my students practice tracing it in my emergent readers. To continue practicing writing multiple high-frequency words in kindergarten, I have my students play Roll, Read and Write where they write or trace 6 different high-frequency words depending on the roll of a dice, or similarly, Spin, Read and Write! I also have them play Tic, Tac, SNAP where they each take a snap word and practice writing it to get three in a row. I also like to give my students the chance to physically build the words with playdough, wiki sticks, magnetic letters, or letter pieces. It is also always fun to give them some shaving cream or sand to trace the words in for some extra kinesthetic practice!
Reading AND writing practice
Whenever possible, I try to combine practice of high-frequency words in kindergarten to include both reading and writing. I choose these activities for a phonics center or literacy small group. For example, if there is a game that includes mostly reading the sight words, like the board games or bingo games, I have my students trace the word that they land on in some sand or build it with wiki sticks before “earning” the spot. I also like games like Find It, Trace It, because they have to read the high frequency words before tracing them.
Resources to readers and writers
The key to a high-quality instruction of high-frequency words in kindergarten is transfer to reading and writing. It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen with one go at the word. We can provide tools to support this transfer to our students’ reading and writing. I give all of my students word walls in their writing folders and I have a class word wall that our snap words get added to every week.
If used regularly and purposefully, this word wall can be a great link between learning the words and using them independently. They know they can use the resource if they are stuck on the spelling of a word or if they see a word in their text but aren’t sure what word it is, they can check to see if it is a word they have learned. It’s a powerful thing to see my students getting up to check the word wall with their texts or their writing.
Teaching high-frequency words in kindergarten purposefully and effectively can significantly boost your students’ reading and writing development. They need explicit instruction, multiple and repeated modes of practice, and tools to support the transfer to their reading and writing.
You can get all of these activities from my High Frequency Word Practice product!