A New Model for Teaching High-Frequency Words

By Linda Farrell, Michael Hunter & Tina Osenga Last updated 2024/05/27
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Often, high-frequency words are called “sight words” with the expectation that these words are irregular and must be memorized. Integrating high-frequency words into phonics lessons allows students to make sense of spelling patterns for these words. To do this, high-frequency words need to be categorized according to whether they are spelled entirely regularly or not. This article describes how to “rethink” teaching of high-frequency words, and provides a word list to support educators in designing effective instruction.

Curriculum Connection

B2. Language Foundations for Reading and Writing
This article supports the teaching and learning of words with irregularities.
Grade(s): K 1 2 3 4
Topic(s): Words with irregularities


  1. This resource demonstrates and explains how to integrate “flash” and “heart” words into phonics instruction. If students are demonstrating some difficulty with particular high frequency words, you can then provide intervention that aligns with the corresponding spelling patterns.

  2. Organizing the dolch words into phonics patterns is definitely the way to go. I also appreciated thinking about Kindergarten (Year 1 & 2) and teaching 10–15 pre‐reading high-frequency words ONLY AFTER students know all the letter names, but BEFORE they start phonics instruction.

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