Kindergarten High Frequency Words
What are they and how do I teach them? Prior to learning about the science of reading, my answer back in 2015 would have been significantly different.
Let’s ditch the flash cards and let’s look at few sight word practice routines that can yield great results with both kindergarteners and first graders.
What is the difference between a sight word and a high frequency word?
High-frequency words are the words that are commonly seen in print. High-frequency words can be decodable words (and, in) or irregular words (of, the).
Decodable words: Words that rely on the alphabet principle (can).
Irregular words: Words that have one or more letters in them that is not following the typical letter-sound correspondence(said).
Sight words are words that students can read effortlessly on sight. Students know the word. They don’t need to pause to analyze them or sound them out.
Through effective orthographic mapping & practice, high-frequency words can become sight words.
Our goal is to provide reading instruction and practice so our young learners recognize those high-frequency words instantly on sight!
I personally found each of the above word lists to have its plus and minuses. So when I found Wiley Blevin’s High-Frequency Word List Top 248, I knew this was a great starting place when I worked on each specific grade level sight word list.
Dr. Blevins merged the Dolch words and Fry list to create his own sight word list that is perfection!
You can find this list on page 137 in his book, A Fresh Look at Phonics. This book is a MUST have book when it comes to phonics instruction and best practices. Especially for kindergarten teachers and first grade teachers.
Dr. Blevins suggests that students should be fluent with all 248 words by end of 2nd grade. Failure for students to have mastery over these words will interfere with their reading fluency and comprehension skills.
How many high frequency words should kindergarten students know?
This is an interesting question that gets asked a lot. Certainly, kindergarten students should know the essential 13 words that I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post. These are the common words that often hold a sentence together. In our sight word instruction unit, these words are included in our first quarter scope and sequence. As these are such important words, we want to be certain young readers master these words.
Additionally, early readers need to know about 10–15 essential high-frequency words as they start phonics instruction. Example: Week 2 of our scope and sequence asks students to practice with these words: is, for, I, see, the.
By week 5 kindergarten students are practicing with these words: is, for, I, see, the, this, and, here, a, an. As you can see, these words are included in our cumulative practice.
So not only are we learning new words, we are constantly reviewing the words we had learned in the past.
As I said, I started with the top 248 words and highlighted the essential 13 words. Next, I looked at the phonics skills according to the school year scope and sequence we created. I also looked at the blending and segmenting practice we would do on a daily basis. If you are blending and segmenting 3 phoneme words on a daily basis*, why not include these decodable high frequency words? Why not teach your kindergarten sight words while you are teaching your phonemic awareness and phonics skills?
* Current research on the science of reading suggests that effective kindergarten reading programs should include these types of lesson plans.
Here is a list of words that are decodable based on CVC or even VC words. Once students have been taught each consonant and short vowel sound, use these words in your daily blending and segmenting practice:
- am, an, as, at, big, but, can, cut, did, get, got, had, has, him, his, hot, if, in, is, it (its), let, man, not, on, ran, red, run, sit, six, ten, up, us, yes
When students learn digraphs and blends, the following words can be used in your blending and segmenting routines:
- and, back, best, fast, just, much, must, pick, stop, such, than, that, them, then, this, went, when, which, wish, with
So to answer the question, “How many sight words should a kindergarten student know?” The answer is, it depends on your phonics instruction. Look at the sight word list and determine how you can rearrange the order in which you introduce new sight words so they mirror your phonics lessons.
Then look at your irregular words and arrange them so that have something in common so you can teach them at the same time. For example… if you are going to teach come, teach some at the same time.
Pay attention to words that are easily confused. Words like was and saw will require students to have more practice time so cumulative practice and instruction over weeks and months will be needed. In fact, research suggests that student will need 8-12 exposures to a word to turn that word into a sight word. However, students who struggle may need reading practice with that word 50 or more times.
How do you teach sight words?
2015 Deedee Wills was guilty of not really teaching sight words, merely assigning them. So when a question about sight word instruction was asked of me a few years ago, I started digging deep into what science has to say about how the brain learns new words.
What I discovered is memorizing words is unsustainable. Students who are not affected by a language-based learning issue, can oftentimes orthographically map word patterns and turn high frequency words into sight words. But roughly 38% of fourth-graders are not reading at grade level, so clearly many students can not.
How how do you teach high frequency words explicitly?
When you want to introduce a new word to your class, you will want to orthographically map that word. You will verify the sounds that are following the phonics rules your students have learned so far. Then let the students know the part they need to learn by heart.
For example, when teaching an irregular word you will want to :
- Point out to the student(s) all the regular letter-sound correspondences. Example: want (the w, n, t are all following their regular letter-sound correspondences.
- Next, point out the irregular part of the word. (the a sounds link /o/, so we will need to learn that by heart.)
Once you have taught the word (not assigned like 2015 Deedee Wills ) then you will add it to your sound wall.
2015 Deedee Wills used a word wall. A sound wall has words arranged by their sound instead.
High frequency word practice activities and word games
As I said earlier, students who struggle may need to experience a word 50 or more times. In addition to your whole group lessons, meeting those students in small groups is essential. You can reteach lessons, review lessons, or extend lessons at this time.
While you are meeting in your small group, the rest of the students can be working in literacy centers. Adding sight word activities to your center time is a great way to have students practice their reading skills and still have fun.
Regardless of the list of high frequency words your school district uses, these activities will work for you because they are editable! Yes, you can add your own words.
You can find these high-frequency word games by clicking:
Free Sound Wall Webinar
Would you like to watch a webinar where we discuss how to use sound walls? Hilary Statum and I walk you through how to use a sound wall and answer questions!
Starting the Year with Sound Walls (Free File)
I totally understand. In the summer, you want to get your sound wall up on the walls because you know the next time you can come up for air is maybe December… maybe.
But research tells us that anticipation and the little surprise hook is powerful. So it is encouraged to keep things “under wraps” until the phonics skill is taught. Therefore we made a little free file for you. You can print them on sticky notes and cover the sound wall card until the phonics skill is taught.
You will find the link for this sound wall sticky note free file at the end of this blog post.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Do you recommend sight word readers?
Answer: If 70% of the words in the sight word reader text are decodable based on the phonics instruction you have provided so far… yes.
If the decodability of your reading materials is under 70%, these are not the best resource to use in your instruction. Research points to the need for students to read books where they can read most of the words.
You can read a blog post I wrote about leveled texts and decodable books by clicking:
Question: What does a Science of Reading lesson look like?
Answer: I have the perfect blog post for you. I go into the details of a structured literacy lesson.
Where can I find the digital file with the high frequency words with the blue background shown in this post?
The high-frequency word powerpoints are part of our daily lessons – you can find all of these resources for teaching whole-group phonics and sight word instruction here: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Science-of-Reading-Based-Sight-Word-Instruction-Kindergarten-First-Grade-5747462
Hi there, I’m not sure what happened to my links but I just relinked the pictures. So sorry about that. Here is the link were you can find the PowerPoint slides: