On our Sounds-Write courses, I’ve noticed that an increasing number of practitioners working in schools teaching phonics seem to believe that the three hundred high-frequency words included in the Letters and Sounds manual should be taught as ‘sight words’.
What is the answer to this?
First, we think it’s a bad idea to teach ‘sight words’ or words which teachers think need to be memorised by heart. In fact, we go as far as to say that, because it has become synonymous with ‘sight words’, the term ‘high-frequency words’ should be accompanied by a reading and spelling health warning.
Second, the term ‘high frequency’ has become so clichéd, it seems, in the minds of some teachers, to have become detached from its meaning. What ‘high frequency’ means is that the words in the list are the most commonly occurring words in children’s books and stories. However, being the most commonly occurring words in children’s books and stories doesn’t mean that all of them are complex to teach.
In the list of the first one hundred high-frequency words the following are relatively straightforward to teach:
From a structural point of view, the complexity also increases slightly with the inclusion of adjacent consonants in words which take the form VCC, CVCC and CCVC (‘and’, ‘help’ and ‘from’). Having said that, all of these words are very easy to teach and to learn.
So, in the list of one hundred high-frequency words, at least a third of them are very or relatively easy to teach.
Tomorrow – what to do with words containing more complex spellings?