sight words

How to Teach High Frequency Words Using Phonics? A New Approach to Teaching Sight Words!

What Will You Learn on this Article?
  1. What is the Difference Between High-Frequency Words and Sight Words?
  2. How to Teach High-Frequency Words Using Phonics Principles?
  3. 3 Bonuses for Extra Effectiveness!


Video Transcription…

Today we are going to be talking about sight words and high frequency words and I am going to explain to you a different way for teaching these words. A way that I believe is more effective than the traditional methodology, and that is based on modern science principles for teaching children to read.

More specifically, it is very much based on the principles of the Science of Reading.

And at the end of the video, I will also share with you 3 bonuses for extra effectiveness when teaching high frequency words to your child.

One of them is an actual document of high frequency words that you can get on the video description, but not your usual one. I won’t keep talking about it right now. It will all make sense after watching the video.

So, let’s get started.

What is the difference between sight words and high frequency words?

First of all, let’s clarify what sight words and high frequency words are, because they are 2 different things. And normally these 2 terms are used as synonyms, as if they were the same.

And this can be really confusing.

As the main indicates, High- Frequency Words are the most common words in the English language.

These High- Frequency Words might be part of the Dolch List, they could be Fry Instant Words, or high frequency words selected from a specific reading program you could be following.

For instance, Dolch words, the ones you may be most familiar with, since these words are the most commonly used, make up for 50% – 75% of the English language used in school books, library books, newspapers and magazines.

High Frequency Words make up for up 75% of words used in school books, children books and magazines.

That is according to Dolch, who, if you didn’t know, was a major proponent of the whole-word method for teaching children to read, and compiled this list of words back in the 30’s – 40’s.

I believe that the reason why they are called sight words more often than not… It is because there is this belief that these words should be learnt and identified in an instant just by sight. If you want to know more, read this post regarding the TRUTHS and the MYTHS around High Frequency Words here.

In fact, the common approach in the schooling system is to send home lists upon lists of these “sight words” for students to memorize, and / or instructing with flash cards in school.

Teachers tend to group the words by numbers of colours.

In general, high-frequency word instruction is disconnected from phonics instruction.

Maybe this follows the tradition and the actual beliefs of Dolch, who, as I mentioned before, was a major proponent of the whole word approach. By the way, if you are confused about what I mean by the whole word approach, then I recommend you check this article  about this topic. 

OK, we were saying that in general there is a disconnect between high frequency words instruction and phonics instruction. And this, my friends, is a terrible mistake. Especially for some students.

Some of these high frequency words are in fact decodable phonetically. And, in most cases, if not all the parts in the word are decodable, at least some chunks of the words are.

These, by the way, would be the real ‘sight words’… The ones that can’t be decoded phonetically. Even though, I would suggest giving them a different name, such us ‘tricky words’ or ‘heart words’, as some people call them…

I don’t want to go into a lot of detail in this article of why I think that sight words even for those words is not the best name because that is not the purpose of the video… But I say it for a reason. I may create a specific video about it.

So, even if it sounds weird because of the way these high frequency words are normally taught… The way I suggest for teaching high frequency words is using phonics principles!!

How to teach high frequency words using phonics principles?

Ok, let’s have a look a few examples and see how to go about it…

The first thing that we need to look at is: Can the high frequency word that we are teaching our kid be explained phonetically with the phonics level s/he is at at that point in time?

Let’s have a look at a few examples:


Can it be explained phonetically? A making the /a/ sound, N making the /n/ and D making the /d/ sound.

Well, yes it can. And the level of phonics of the child doesn’t need to be too advanced for understanding this. Then, just use phonics principles when teaching this word to your child.

The word ON

Can it be explained phonetically? O making the /o/ sound, and n making the /n/ sound? Yes, it can. Then, in my humble opinion, it should be taught phonetically, rather than by sight.

The word SAID

Can it be explained phonetically? Well, yes and no. Only certain parts can. So, how can you go about it?

I suggest you watch the video embedded on the article, and go minute 00:6:00 for a demonstration!

  1. First, ask your child many sounds can s/he hear in the word? Probably he’ll be able to figure out that there are 3 sounds on the word.
  2. Then, on a blackboard or a piece of paper, draw 3 boxes.
  3. A analyse these 3 individual sounds your child could hear (S,E,D).
  4. It is time to assign letters on the boxes based on the sounds we hear.
  5. Let’s start in this case with the first sound on the word and the letter S.  Does it make sense phonetically? Yes, it does. S is the letter you would expect in this case.
  6. Let’s look at now the last sound of the word. Does the ‘D’ at the end make sense for the last sound on this word? Yes, that is the letter that you would expect for that sound.
  7. So, you are left with ‘ai’ for the ‘ehh’ sound in the middle of the word. Put it in its box.
  8. That chunk does not make sense phonetically. So that is the part that needs to be memorized and learnt by heart, or by sight or however you want to call it.

The word HAS

Let’s approach this letter the same way. How many sounds can you hear? 3, then 3 boxes.

Dissect the word with your child into its individual sounds (H A Z). Assign the letters on the word to the boxes and figure out if they make sense phonetically or not. H makes sense, A makes sense. ‘S’ doesn’t make sense. We hear a ‘z’ sound instead. Then, this is the part that should be memorized. Highlight it!  That is the only thing that

As I promised, because you stayed till the end I also share with you some bonuses for extra effectiveness!

Bonuses for EXTRA EFFECTIVENESS when teaching High Frequency Words to your Child

bonuses for extra effectiveness!

  • BONUS 1 for extra effectiveness:When teaching patterns that are different to what you would expect phonetically, teach other words that follow the same unusual pattern. For instance, after teaching HAS, you can explain HIS, IS, or AS >> They all follow the same pattern of being spelled with an S at the end, but are pronounced with the Z sound.
  • BONUS 2 : On our Library of Free Resources (or here) you will find what, in my opinion, is a GOLDEN DOCUMENT. This document contains the commonly used 220 High frequency words classified by decodable / non decodable, and it is exclusive to you, you won’t find it anywhere else, because I actually created it!Golden Document for Understanding High Frequency Words
    The decodable words have also been assigned a level of difficulty, from 1 to 4. This is because some decodable words require children knowing about certain rules or about letter combinations, such is the voiced letter combination t+h ‘th’, which is used for instance in the word then. So, I thought that assigning a level of difficulty to these words was a good idea. This way you can really understand the degree of difficulty of the high frequency words that you are asking your child to work on.However, unfortunately, I can’t really tell you in which specific order you need to introduce these words. It really depends on the program that you are using. I mean, the order should be aligned with whatever program / system / curriculum you are following. Hopefully your program has given some thought and logic to this and it is not just introducing these words sort of randomly.On the non-decodable high frequency words, I highlighted for you the part that is non-decodable.For many words on the list, I also added comments to help you even further… For instance, these comments could be around what exactly the child needs to know about phonics rules in order to decode some of these words, or why an specific part on a non-decodable word is actually non-decodable.
  • BONUS 3 – Align the introduction of the high frequency words with the phonics materials that you are teaching your child. What does this mean? If you are teaching your child the ‘th’ letter combination sound, maybe it is a good opportunity to introduce high frequency words that have this spelling, such us then or them.
  • BONUS 4 – Well this is a like trick that works for us… Sometimes I like to make little stories with my children in order to memorize these funny things that happen in English For instance for memorization of words such us why, what, when, where, white, which – I like to tell the story about the ‘w’ being really hungry and swallowing the sound of the ‘h’. Then, the h took revenge in the word ‘who’, and that is why we do not pronounce the ‘w’ in that case.I don’t know. This little story has really worked in our case! But make it relevant to your child.










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