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Words, Words, Words - Part 3: Introducing Irregular High Frequency Words

In this series, we focus on introducing and discussing words while using decodable texts. This post focuses on irregular high frequency words. (Check out our previous posts on introducing new decodable vocabulary words and infusing higher level vocabulary alongside the text.)

Over the past several years we've shifted from pushing for whole word memorization of high frequency words to supporting students with attention to the sound and letter relationships in words, even when one or more sounds is spelled with an irregular or unknown spelling.

Your phonics curriculum should include a sequence for introducing irregular high frequency words. Yet, as you use connected, decodable text, you may need to introduce new words or you may want to review words with students. Before meeting with students, preview the text, with the lens of irregular high frequency words in mind. Consider words that will be new, or words that may need to be reviewed. Think about the sound spellings that students are familiar with according to their phonics knowledge and those that are either irregular or temporarily irregular because students haven't yet learned one or more sound-spellings.

Then, introduce the word before reading the text. Here's a replicable teaching routine:

  1. Say and Use the word: “Let’s study a word that we use a lot when we read and write. The word is [look]. Like [Look at that big bus!]."

  2. Listen for the phonemes: "Let’s listen for the sounds in the word [look]. /L / /oo/ /k /. ”

  3. Show the spelling of the sounds. Here's an example: "/l/ is spelled just like we would expect with the letter L. /oo/ is spelled with the letters OO. That's tricky. /k/ is spelled with the letter K. That makes sense, right?"

  4. Ask about the sound spellings: "What spells /l/? What spells /oo/? What spells /k/? What's the tricky part?"

  5. Practice: Ask students to spell the word (on a whiteboard, with a finger on a table, etc.) while thinking about the sounds and spellings.

This routine can also be used after reading a text, when you notice an unanticipated need and want to review or teach an irregular high frequency word.

Until next time... have a great week!


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