December 5, 2023

Let’s talk about high frequency words and sight words.

I’m sharing this blog and video series to help you understand the similarities and differences between some of the terms or strategies we use in literacy and apply that knowledge to your teaching.

The text in this blog post is the text from my video.
Watch the full video on my YouTube channel.

What are high frequency words?

As the name suggests, high frequency words are words that appear frequently in textssuch as the books or articles we read.

Some examples of high frequency words are: the, of, and, to, is and was among others. These words are commonly seen in the texts we read, and in fact are so common that word lists have been created based on their frequency.

Two of the most well-known lists of high-frequency words are Fry’s list and Dolch’s list. To show you how common these words are, Fry’s first 100 words make up over 50% of what we read! That’s a LOT of words!

Example: Look at the sentence I just wrote/spoke about Fry’s word list: “Fry’s first 100 words make up over 50% of what we read!”

High frequency words – seen very often

Red words indicate high frequency words that are on Fry’s list of the first 100 words. Since there are 13 real words in this sentence and 8 of them are on Fry’s list, these high frequency words make up more than 50% of the sentence!

What are Sight Words?

See the wordson the other hand, are words that the reader knows automatically (or by sight).

The distinction is a bit muddier because the term “sight word” is often used to mean “high frequency word”.

sight word is an umbrella term that can include high frequency words

I see the term “sight word” as more of an umbrella term that includes high frequency words, but can also include words like mom love cat or even the student’s own name.

The idea is that students have seen or interacted with the word repeatedly and it is now in their long-term memory.

They no longer need to sound it or figure it out when they see it. It’s automatic. And this leads to two common misconceptions about sight words.

Two misconceptions about sight words

1. Sight words cannot be spoken.

I used to believe this incorrectly too. But a quick look at high frequency words (also sometimes called “sight words”) such as:

shows that many of them be able to be sounded. Students can use their knowledge of phonics to come up with these words.

This first misconception can lead to the second.

2. Sight words should be learned as whole words.

I can see why that might be thought provoking. After all, sight words are known automatically. Our students had to learn them or memorize them as whole words, right? Well, not really.

Believe it or not almost every single word and high frequency word can be taught through the lens of phonics instruction.

So, the ultimate goal for our students is for high frequency words, commonly used words that readers often come across when reading, to become sight words. We want these words to be stored in long-term memory so that they are become automatically.

we want high frequency words to become sight words – but how?

How exactly do we do this? What is a bridge? This will be the subject of our next video in this series, memorizing vs. mapping so stay tuned.

In the meantime, you can find lots of helpful resources on teaching sight words {aka high frequency words} on my blog. Click on any of these images for resources:

Enjoy the tutorial!

More posts in this series so far…

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