High-Frequency Words and Vocabulary

High-Frequency Words

High-frequency words are the words that appear most often in printed materials. According to Robert Hillerich, "Just three words I, and, the account for ten percent of all words in printed English."

"High-frequency words are hard for my students to remember because they tend to be abstract," says first grade teacher Kathy Chen. They can't use a picture clue to figure out the word with. And phonics clues don't always work either."

Learning to recognize high-frequency words by sight is critical to developing fluency in reading. Kathy explains, "Recognizing these words gives students a basic context for figuring out other words. Once they recognize the, they can predict with amazing accuracy what the next word will be."

Teacher Tip

Word Walls, lists of words that follow a particular pattern, are an effective tool for teaching high-frequency words and vocabulary. Here are some ideas:

  • With your students, choose words that have similar beginning sounds, vowel sounds, endings, or words on a particular subject.
  • When students find an appropriate word, have them add it to the list.
  • Encourage students to use these words in their writing and as a reference.

Ideas for Teaching High-Frequency Words

Teaching Vocabulary

Julia Carriosa asks her fourth grade students to reread the following passage:

When ocean particles contain bits of soil, especially clay, the particles of earth stick to oil droplets. The more sediments that are mixed in the water, the more oil is eventually deposited on the ocean bottom.

"Now, let's suppose you don't know what sediments means," says Julia. "What do you do?"

Lisa raises her hand. "Look it up in the dictionary?"

"Yes. But suppose you don't have a dictionary handy. What else could you do?"

Julia then helps her students see that the passage contains enough context clues to give them an adequate understanding of the word sediments.

Choosing Vocabulary Words to Aid Comprehension

These steps can help you identify words that will improve students' comprehension when taught directly.

  1. Identify a selection's theme or key concepts.
  2. Cluster words from the selection that relate to the theme or key concepts.
  3. Eliminate words students know or can figure out from context clues or structural analysis.
  4. Eliminate words whose meaning is not needed to understand something important.

Ideas for Teaching Vocabulary

Teacher Tip: Effective Instruction
  • Teach words in a meaningful context, using authentic literature.
  • Teach only a few words per reading selection.
  • Relate each word to students' prior knowledge.
  • Group each word with other related words.
  • Have students use the word to express their own ideas and experiences.
  • Expose students to the word in a variety of contexts.


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