Word Walls & High Frequency Words

You may have noticed word walls and “snap words” mentioned throughout the reading and writing Units of Study books (Heinemann, 2013, 2015).  This refers to the 100 most frequent words in English (high frequency words). These words can be introduced a few at a time each week, and added to a large word wall in your classroom.  In third and fourth grade, you might not need a word wall if your students have mastered 100-200 high frequency words.

“Mastering” high frequency words means that students can read the word on sight and write the word automatically, without hesitation or “sounding it out.” These words serve an important role in learning to read -- and knowing them on sight allows students to save their energy for more challenging work.

Just a handful of words per week (3-5) is typical. At the end of the week, you can informally assess you whole class’s recognition of words by asking them to write the words on a white board. If the majority of your class has mastered a word, you may move on to teach a new word the following week. If most still need to stop and think before writing the word, continue with that word before adding new ones.

To introduce (or reteach) a high frequency word, you can use Marie Clay’s "Three Ways of Knowing" from her research:  

VISUAL: Invite kids to look closely at the word, written large on an index card. Talk about the shapes of the letters, draw a box to outline the shape of the word.

AUDITORY: Spell and say the word repeatedly. Rhythm and/or singing helps commit the spelling and the word to memory.

KINESTHETIC: Write the word large, small, in the air, on a white board, with different materials to build muscle memory for writing the word and remembering the word on sight.

COMBINE ALL THREE: Many teachers invent “cheers” for each new high frequency word that help students remember the word on sight.

Here are two posts I’ve written about how to use the word wall, once you’ve got it up and running:

How to Use A Word Wall from A Student Point of View

Three Favorite Word Wall Games