There are many ways of teaching the spelling of words students use frequently in their reading and writing. Some of the words are decodable and use sounds your students already know, and some high frequency words have irregular spellings making them challenging to teach and sometimes overwhelming for students who struggle with spelling.
Heart words are a way of teaching irregular spellings like, ‘said’. Your student knows the sounds ’s’ and ‘d' and the only unexpected letters in the word are the middle ‘ai’. Your students can combine the expected beginning sound ’s’ and ending sound ‘d’, and learn ‘by heart’ the middle two letters ‘a’ and ‘i’ making the sound /e/.
Another approach is integrating the high frequency words into your phonics lessons using sound patterns your students have already learned, or introducing a new word when it’s related to something your students are learning about.
When high frequency words are taught in isolation in a classroom without any context, just memorization, it can create confusion. Your students need a way to relate to the letter pattern, the use of the word, the sound of the word, and how to spell the word. Without a connection the word is meaningless and will be hard to retain.
We have written a practise high frequency word program of Dolche and Fry word lists. This program is a support to your existing program. The words are taught following your own scope and sequence or lesson plans. They are not expected to be taught alphabetically or out of context. The more a new word relates to something your students already know the more likely they are to use the new word and understand how to use it and how to spell it.
In our program each word has a ‘Say it, Make it, Write it’ page with tiles to cut out and arrange in the ‘Make it’ section. The process of reading and saying, making, and printing the word means your students are using all their senses. The second page for each word has a tracing, printing, circling the correct spelling, completing the missing letters, and using the word in a sentence. All of these exercises reach each of the learning paths for learning and retaining the spelling, reading, and meaning of a new high frequency word.
The program follows exactly the same exercises for every word if they are regular spellings or irregular spellings. For irregular spellings you can add the ‘heart word’ approach, or a mnemonic or rhyme to help retain the unexpected spellings.
I work full time as an Orton Gillingham tutor and regularly use mnemonics with my students to help them retain irregular spellings. The beginning sounds of the words create the new high frequency word, or the sounds are used together to create the new high frequency word. I always make sure the mnemonic uses the word in the sentence to help with retention.
Here are some examples of approaches to irregular spellings:
Said - beginning and ending sounds known, s and d, unexpected spelling learned ‘by heart’ ai says /e/. s-ai-d
Said - “I said Sally And I Dance!”
Guess - beginning, one middle, and ending sounds known, g, e, and ss, unexpected spelling learned ‘by heart’ u. g-u-e-ss
Guess - “Guess Until Every Sausage Sizzles!”
What - beginning and ending sounds known, wh and t, unexpected spelling learned ‘by heart’ a says /o/. wh-a-t
What - “What hat?”
Does - beginning sound known, d, unexpected spelling learned ‘by heart’ oe says /u/ and s says /z/ at the end of the word. d-oe-s
Does - “Danny Only Eats Sushi! He does!”
(You can substitute ‘sushi’ with spaghetti, salami, sweets, salad, sausages, squash… any food beginning with ’s’)
Either or both of these approaches can be used with the program we’ve created. The activity pages can be used to teach or to enhance with extra practise, it’s your choice.