When learning to read, children develop two skills simultaneously:
- Mastery of phonics
- Recognition of an increasingly large pool of sight words (also known as “high-frequency words”)
To help your child read at home, you also need to master phonics and know the high-frequency words they’re learning at school. Often, sight words are words that cannot be decoded through typical phonics rules, children “just have to know them”, as teachers say.
Here, I’ve collated the Top 100 High-Frequency words (and suggested some learning games) and shared some useful resources to help your child practise phonics. With a good grasp of phonics and quick recognition of sight words, your child will be well on the way to becoming a fluent reader.
Sight Words / Common Words / High-Frequency Words
These terms are used interchangeably.
To develop fluency, children need to recognise the words that frequently crop up in their phonics reading books (and everywhere else in the curriculum!). If they sounded out every word, reading would be painful (for them and you) so your child’s teacher will make sure these words are taught (which is why they often appear in spelling lists).
If your child is younger or finds reading particularly tricky, they’ll likely have fewer high-frequency words to learn initially. As their reading develops and they recognise a greater number of words, new, more challenging words will be taught.
Here are the top 100 high-frequency words, divided into Phases 2 to 5. (In the UK, phonics is taught sequentially in stages. A common framework used in schools is Letters & Sounds which has six distinct phonics stages. Don’t worry about the absence of Phase 1 – this is the stage in which children are distinguishing different types of sounds – or Phase 6 – in this stage, children continue to apply their phonics learning to become increasingly fluent readers.)
Activities to Learn High Frequency Words
The lists above are deeply boring, but you can make learning these words considerably more enjoyable. With your child, practise spelling the words in coloured sand (you can buy this online or in toy shops), using cooked spaghetti, with phonics magnetic letters or alphabet blocks. Paint the words or stamp them into Play-Doh; whatever gets your child engaged in writing and spelling. (If your child has sensory needs, it’s a good idea to avoid pen or pencil to help the spelling of the words embed in their minds.)
Can your child spell the word backwards? What does the word look like in joined-up handwriting or capitals? Can they type it on the computer keyboard? The possibilities of helping your child learn to spell are endless – try and have fun with it.
“Tricky words” are words that don’t follow typical phonics rules but children also have to know them to become fluent in reading. Fortunately, (or perhaps unfortunately depending on how you look at it) YouTube houses some very catchy songs to help your child recognise tricky words. Parents: I’m sorry!
When reading with your child, it helps to know how to separate a word into chunks (segmenting) so children can put the component sounds together in order (blending) and therefore read the word.
There are 44 sounds (phonemes) made up of 144 letter combinations (graphemes) – known as grapheme-phoneme-correspondences (GPCs). Phonics programmes differ slightly in the order the phonemes are taught but these are the sounds in the (rough) order your child will learn them.
A Teacher’s Recommended Phonics Resources
The market is saturated with affordable phonics resources to buy to help your child read at home. Ask your child’s teacher what they recommend, alternatively, here are my top phonics resources for reading at home with your child.
Online Phonics Games
Picnic on Pluto is a fun phonics game for children to distinguish between real and fake words. Sounds useless? Think again. In the Phonics Screening Check each year, teachers of Year 1 are required to administer a standardised test to students to assess phonics teaching and learning in the school. Within this test, there are real and pretend words, checking children’s ability to segment and blend words.
Phonics Pop allows personalised practice of specific sounds. Children listen to a target sound and try to pop as many letters that represent that sound until the next sound appears.
Similar to Picnic on Pluto, Buried Treasure encourages children to distinguish between real and fake words. Includes a deeply irritating jingle that children will love!
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