High Frequency Words
I Can Read Without You (ICRWY) Project
Do you have the
SSP Monster Mapping app?

Read and Spell 400+
Words at Home.
Speedy Sight Words Toolkit

Learning another type of Coding at the same time!

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Please also follow Miss Emma's 'I Can Read Without You - Early Years' Project - in The Reading Hut, Dorset (UK). 

The Reading Whisperer in The Reading Hut, Dorset UK

 Learning the phoneme to grapheme mapping using a range of resources and activities, to secure the spelling into long term memory. A multisensory approach is taken. Code Mapping® these words ensures that the focus is on orthographic mapping. 


The vast majority of 'irregular' or 'exception' words only have one grapheme not taught within the 4 Code Levels. These are shown on the inside of the Spelling Clouds®


Checking the progress of each student is vital. Can they
recognise the words and also SPELL them correctly?

Come to training or book Miss Emma to visit your school and share her techniques.  

Miss Emma has Code Mapped all HFW lists. 

According to 2019 National Curriculum Assessment data just over 1 in 4 (27%) of 10- to 11-year-olds did not meet the expected standard in reading in the 2018 to 2019 school year (DofE 2019). Around 3 billion people around the world struggle with basic level reading and writing and illiteracy is considered ‘a global tragedy’ (World Literacy Foundation ) There is intense public interest in questions surrounding how children learn to become literate and the most effective ways to facilitate this process. Unlike learning to read, a child will almost certainly learn to understand and produce spoken language without instruction “there is almost no way to prevent it from happening, short of raising a child in a barrel” (Pinker 2019)  The brain’s Language Center, however, has no built-in circuitry for reading and spelling (cf. Sally Shaywitz, Overcoming Dyslexia, Ch 5).

Research in psychological science has answered many questions relating to how children learn to read, and yet the field has been plagued by decades of “reading wars” (see Kim, 2008). By the beginning of the 21st century, scientific research on reading gained traction. In 2000 a report from the National Reading panel was issued after reviewing the evidence on teaching reading. The same essential elements, phonemic awareness, fluency, phonics, vocabulary knowledge, and comprehension, were identified within National reports a few years later in the United Kingdom (Rose Review, 2007) and Australia (Rowe, 2005).  However "the persistence of the entire language thoughts despite the mass of indication against them is most remarkable at this point” and goes on to define it as a "theoretical zombie" as it perseveres despite a lack of relevant evidence (Seidenberg, 2017). 

Writing is a recent cultural invention; a code for spoken language in which the smallest sound units are represented on paper by 26 letters of the alphabet, used in probably between 300 and 400 graphophonemic combinations (Gough & Hillinger, 1980). There is a high degree of inconsistency in the relationship between speech and spelling  (for discussion, see Share, 2008) and many of the most commonly used words include phoneme-grapheme mappings not taught through explicit phonics instruction. This might account for the persistence in schools of teaching certain ‘high-frequency words’ as whole words, by rote learning, even though whole-word memorization is "labor-intensive," necessitating on average around 35 trials per word (Gates, 1931) and despite assertions that orthographic mapping is enabled by phonemic awareness and grapheme-phoneme knowledge; grapheme-phoneme connections fully bond spellings to pronunciations in memory, thus creating immediate access from written to spoken words when they are seen. When readers see a new word and say or hear its pronunciation, its spelling becomes mapped onto its pronunciation and meaning ie these mapping connections serve to “glue” spellings to their pronunciation in memory.  Recognizing words automatically is seen to contribute to reading effortlessly and with understanding (McArthur et al., 2015)  and the ability to recognise a word quickly and accurately one of the most important skills for effective, independent reading ability (Gibbon et. al., 2017) As such those teaching young children to read may be encouraged to ensure that children memorise whole words by ‘sight’ as the spelling patterns have not yet been explored within the curriculum. (Fry & Kress, 2012) and the’ Look, Cover, Write, Check’ pedagogical method may be utilized (Fisher et al,. 2007) Indeed, researchers have long supposed that irregular words are learned through repeated exposures and memorization of the whole word (Moats, 2010) This is apparent in debates where some claim that sight word instruction is damaging, because it may result in a guessing strategy based on the visual forms of words, and take the attention away from grapheme-phoneme correspondences.

Studies exploring different methods of sight word instruction have been conducted, but the vast majority of these are single case studies of participants with developmental disabilities, which vary widely in the rigour of their experimental designs (e.g., see Browder & Xin, 1998). Research studies have been undertaken to compared sight word fluency drills (i.e., reading racetrack and list drills, Sullivan et al 2013) however methods involve memorization of whole word. There are many outstanding questions about the effectiveness of sight word instruction. Methods may involve variations between hearing the word, seeing the word, spelling the word, and visualising the word, and the words may be accompanied by pictures or mnemonics. There is also little research evidence to guide teachers about the number of words that should be taught, or the number of exposures required for optimal learning. I could see no studies exploring the effect of exposure to pre-segmented words using a mobile application; in all studies, there has been some form of instruction and interaction with an educator. Indeed, very few experimental studies have explored ways of teaching irregular high-frequency words, and given the dearth of evidence, it is only possible to make tentative recommendations for practice. (for a discussion see Colenbrander etc al 2020)

High frequency ‘irregular’ words and phonics instruction,

Some research has shown that the most effective way to teach these ‘sight words’ is to use a high-frequency word list (Morrisette & Gierut, 2002; Storkel & Morrisette, 2002). HFWLs are lists of words sequentially ordered in the list with the most frequently found words listed first in order of prevalence. Teachers are often advised to teach the words with the highest frequency first, as these make up the most common words in the English Language (Gierut & Hulse, 2010) and to follow a whole school approach for consistency that can be supported by parents and carers. 
Teaching children to memorise words can provide students access to connected text in advance of learning the phonics principles otherwise necessary for decoding them. However, most words become authentic ‘sight words’ when a reader is able to efficiently process the phoneme to grapheme correspondences of the printed forms (Ehri, 2014). Learners need to not only recognize the words but also spell them. There is a disconnect therefore between memorizing words as whole words, in the early stages, and the process known as orthographic mapping; few studies have explored how this can be resolved at the instructional level. As such, there continues to be phonics instruction, where ‘regular’ phoneme to grapheme patterns are explored, alongside the teaching of ‘irregular’ words, known in the UK as ‘exception’ words, however, there may be recommendations that only a few of these words are initially introduced. ( Note 2) Recommendations are made, if a program is to be validated as a ‘systematic synthetic phonics programme, that ‘They include correspondences that are unusual and those that will be taught later in the programme (such as ‘said’ and ‘me’). Programmes should teach children to read and then spell the most common 'exception' words, noting the part of a word that makes it an exception word. These words should be introduced gradually. This directive, while helpful to the teacher regarding lesson planning, leaves children unable to read or write sentences with these common words, for quite some time. And yet there is no research evidence that teaching irregular sight words alongside regular grapheme-phoneme correspondences is harmful for children or results in ‘unlearning’ of existing grapheme-phoneme correspondences (e.g., see McArthur, Castles et al., 2015; McArthur, Kohnen et al., 2015; Shapiro & Solity, 2016)

Why does the early teaching of high-frequency words matter? Research undertaken by Edward Fry demonstrated that the first 25 words make up about a third of all printed material, the first 100 make up about half of all written material, and the first 300 make up at least 65 percent of all written material (Fry, Kress, & Fountoukidis, 2000) Fry's Instant Words are commonly used words in English ranked in order of frequency. The original 1000 words (Fry, 1957) was condensed to a list of 300 words (Fry, 1980) and reintroduced as a modified list of 1000 words (Fry, 2000). It would be difficult for children to read and write many sentences in the early stages of schooling without using at least a few of those words. These words are generally described as separate to words that children will decode using phonics (when deemed irregular) or not ‘decodable’ to the children until quite far on within their phonics program teaching sequence. The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) curriculum contains a specific reading goal as follows: “Children read and understand simple sentences. They use phonic knowledge to decode regular words and read them aloud accurately. They also read some common irregular words. These two ‘types’ of words become clearly separated because systematic instruction in phonics has a focus on the regular (i.e., frequent and predictable) relationships between letters and speech sounds. Within a wider approach both frequent and predictable phoneme to grapheme correspondences would be fully explored; both for reading and spelling. The focus of reading research has tended to focus on linguistic and intellectual procedures essential to the growth of reading capability instead of on instruction approaches (Adams, 1990; Gough et al., 1992). As such the practicalities of teaching those ‘irregular’ correspondences are faced by early years practitioners; there are many theoretical viewpoints on the best way to teach irregular words, but there is very little empirical research

Furthermore, programs to teach these ‘regular correspondences generally tend to have curricula that are rigid, intensely teacher-centred and lessons are given to every child in the same sequence and at the same pace. It can take a long time for children to reach the stage of exploring the less frequently used graphemes because the process involved in classroom teaching of the target graphemes takes up so much time. Such an approach to teaching beginning reading conflicts with the basic principles of differentiated instruction because it fails to recognize that the individual literary learning needs of children vary greatly depending on their specific levels of development. However, even when a more differentiated approach to teaching phonics is undertaken what are children to do when undertaking independent writing activities? These words are needed; children will want to write these words, regardless of whether this ‘fits’ with the grapheme teaching sequence within the class phonics program.

Reading material and testing for beginning readers.

Many schools are also still faced with the somewhat contradictory directive that early readers are selected from ‘book bands’ rather than those organized according to graphophonemic structure and explicit grapheme teaching order. Children may be assessed for monitoring and reporting purposes according to their ‘reading level’ at various intervals throughout the school year, for example using the Fountas and Pinnell Reading Benchmark Assessment or  the PM Benchmark Reading Assessment Resource, marketed by Scholastic as’ the largest and most finely levelled reading programme in the UK, with a proven approach to developing successful readers and offering over 1000 books spanning 30 finely graded levels.’ (

Book bands originated from The Institute of Education’s publication, Book Bands for Guided Reading (Bickler et al, 1998) and guided by the Reading Recovery initiative. The use of book bands, reading or ‘running’ records and Three-Cueing. also known as the Searchlights’ multi-cueing reading model, adopted by the National Literacy Strategy (DFEE, 1998) ) In the UK Searchlights was replaced by the Simple View of Reading developed by Gough and Tunmer (1986) and Ehri’s model of reading development (2005) and adopted by the UK Government in 2007. The SVR model proposes that reading ability or reading comprehension (R) is the product of two components; decoding (D) and language comprehension (C). This is often represented by the formula R = D x C. The SVR model suggests that the two components are independent of each other and that each is necessary for successful reading (Gustafson et al, 2013). Thus, neither decoding nor language comprehension is sufficient in itself to produce skilled and effective reading. It now underpins the English National Curriculum’s programmes of study for reading at Key Stage 1 and 2.
Within book bands for beginner readers (Oxford University Press 2019) children would be unable to decode even the beginning readers without recognizing a wide range of high-frequency words that include exception words. Schools may share this information with parents ‘Once a child can recognise 25 - 30 high-frequency words, then they will be ready for Red. Red books will have an increased number of words on a page’ ‘  Once children can recognise 100 high-frequency words, then it’s time for Blue’   


Books are levelled according to how many words on the pages rather than the graphophonemic structure.


Miss Emma introduced her decodable readers in Australia, and for over 5 years teachers have been collecting data to see how 'Code Level' reading aligns with the 'reading level' system (book bands)Some really interesting patterns emerged; when the SSP students were working towards the end of the SSP Yellow Code Level they could 'benchmark' at around a PM 10-12 - even if they had never been benchmarked before. Towards the end of SSP Blue they would be able to read at around a PM 20. Teachers started to tell their school leaders and education departments that they would not 'benchmark' children until they reached the end of SSP Yellow, or term 4 of reception/ prep (whichever came first) When they reached the end of SSP Blue they were off 'decodable' readers and these 'levelled readers' could be used. Teachers stopped at PM 25 in reception but many achieved that level. Most teachers reported that the effect size with regards to 'reading level' data was greater than 1.0 


Pocket Rockets


Learning to Read and Spell Irregular Words.

            The traditional view is that readers memorize connections between the visual shapes of words and their meanings. Nevertheless, Ehri’s (1992) research recommends that this idea is not correct. The researcher's results specify that the readers may learn the sight words by making linkage among spellings graphemes and phonemes; links underlying the pronunciations of singular words. Graphemes are the functional letter units symbolizing phonemes. It is worth noting here that this process relies specifically on phonemic awareness, a subset of phonological awareness. A meta-analysis conducted for the NRP report, investigating the number of questions about phoneme awareness, concluded that phoneme attentiveness should be explicitly taught. “(Phoneme awareness) training benefits not only word reading but children’s ability to read and spell for months, if not years, after the training has ended” (pg.2-40). Phonemic awareness, a specific subset of phonological awareness which atends to the smallest sound units, is the most powerful predictor of success in learning to read, more highly related to reading than tests of general intelligence, reading readiness, and listening comprehension. (Stanovich, 1986, 1994)

Evolving orthographic maps pose particular challenges of lexical high class in English due to the uncommon orthographic inconsistency and complexity of spellings (Ehri (2009) and Adams (2011). It has been notable that beginning readers in other languages like German, Greek, or Finnish have the benefit of highly systematic orthographies, which allows children to read almost any word on the completion of first grade (Seymour et al., 2003); however, English generally needs years of further study.  While orthographic mapping is considered ‘the most current theory of how children form sight word representation’ (Torgeson, 2004b), it is not a teaching method; it is the cognitive process by which words become embedded in long-term memory. When learning whole words by shape, children often do not use phonemic awareness to develop a sense of how words are put together, and academic knowledge is not transferable. The process of consciously mapping the phonemes to graphemes and making linkages lets readers remember how to read not only words comprising conformist letter-sound communications but also words with fewer regular spellings.

Segmenting High-Frequency Words into Sound Units

                        It has been observed that substantial research is conducted to define how alphabetic code-associated skills assist with the learning to read process, but there is much less agreement between researchers about how these skills must be taught, which is a crucial target of educators preparation (Solari et al., 2020, Seidenberg et al., 2020; Kearns, 2020). 'For reading scientists, the support that the phonological way is used in reading and particularly significant in beginning reading is about as close to certain as research on intricate human behavior can get.” (Seidenberg, 2017). Therefore, teachers within the early grades are directed to targeted student mastery of phoneme cognizance (Gillon, 2018).  However, a commonly adopted view about the development of phonemic awareness has been that young students go through stages; from syllables awareness to awareness of the rimes and onsets within syllables, to consequently achieve awareness of the smallest sound units known as phonemes (Goswami and Bryant, 1990; Treiman and Zukowski, 1991). This has been taken as the course of phonological awareness development, leading to the practice of teaching phonological awareness in that sequence. This teaching sequence is well established and widely promoted even by education departments, and popular websites ‘Phonological skill improves in a foreseeable progression. This is a fundamental idea as it provides the source for sequencing teaching responsibilities from easy to more complex' ( Brady (2020) point out the difficulties when the research is interpreted in this manner ‘If a district persists in focusing primarily on larger syllable, rhyme, or onset-rime structures in the kindergarten year, it will slow students’ development of reading skills.’ If the cognitive and linguistic processes are a source of contention or confusion, how can difficulties not arise when planning the instruction?

            Although this hierarchy is frequently shown within curriculum materials, and the segmentation of words into sound units larger than the phoneme, the most widely used method of teaching ‘sight words’ by rote learning of whole words does not include segmenting the words into sound units at all, even though. the research relating to orthographic mapping suggests that only a few exposures to the word will result in a new store in the learner’s orthographic lexicon;  they are able to develop a deeper understanding of irregular spelling patterns that can be transferred to other, newly encountered words. This is further supported by ‘The self-teaching hypothesis’ which proposes that phonological recoding functions as a self-teaching mechanism enabling the learner to independently acquire an autonomous orthographic lexicon (Share, 1995) When learning these words through rote learning the process of learning these sight words for 20-30% of students is agonizingly slow, and their ability to accurately recognize these words is unreliable (Dehaene, 2011; Shaywitz, 2003, Ehri et al., 2001)

Learning to read and spell words with irregular spelling patterns

The development of spelling proficiency is a continuous process reflecting gradual changes in children's use of phonological and orthographic information (Ehri, 1992)


 Teaching high-frequency words using a mobile application.

            Within many sight word programs, words are taught within context. However, "sight vocabulary was proposed to be learned most proficiently by all contributors when the target word was showed in isolation” (Meadan et al., 2008). With the rise of technology to assist learning, paper-based ‘flashcards’ have often been replaced with mobile applications, with whole words taught in a range of ways designed to appeal to the learner. I have been unable to find any studies in which learners are shown the mapping of phoneme to grapheme mapping of irregular English words using technology.   

            According to Scarborough’s model (2001) children learning to read may be balancing up to eight different strands of reading at any one time; the intrinsic cognitive load involved is too great and the processing capacity required to manage all of these would clearly be overwhelming. ‘Cognitive load’ is the amount of information processing required to complete a learning task In this case the task is to recognize a group of high-frequency words by ‘sight’ and also to spell these words correctly.  The cognitive load resulting from a complex task can be reduced by breaking it down into smaller, simpler components. In our videos the graphemes within high-frequency words are already mapped for children and presented simultaneously with their mapped phonemes.


Working memory capacity depletes after heavy use and recovers after rest. Therefore, if learning is spaced with rest periods between learning episodes, it is likely to be more effective than the same learning time massed without rest periods. More difficult and newly presented flashcards may be shown more frequently and vice versa to exploit the impact of psychological spacing. The use of spaced repetition has been established to improve the learning level in children. Spaced repetition is a valuable instrument for learning that is related to various domains like fact learning or mathematics and several different responsibilities. Various studies have proposed the use and execution of spaced repetition over the years, and for many researchers, it remains a matter of interest. 

            At present, the tools of technology and spaced repetition are used to promote the whole word 'flashcard' type approach to memorising whole words but I cannot find a mobile application designed to teach the learner to read and spell high-frequency words that include reference to word segmentation into the representations of the smallest sound units. The graphophonemic mapping is ignored. I am therefore working with techies to design this for our children!

            The issue of differentiation when teaching these words is also addressed through technology. Over a decade ago, the revised Primary National Strategy Framework for Literacy (PNS, 2006) enhanced the importance of texts based on screen and stimulated flexibility in explanation; the focus is on operating instead of critical or cultural measurements of digital literacy: it needs students to ‘read and write text on screen-based but concentrates mainly on skills as well as strategies. Communication and information technology in schools have enhanced radically in current years (Orlando, 2014). In 2018, the Education Secretary called upon the technology industry to establish assistance for “inventive teaching practices backed up by the support of the effect they are taking on the schools, the colleges and the universities (Department for Education, 2018). As shown, there is a gap in knowledge with regards to the teaching of these words, and in the research. We will build mobile technology to explore learning outcomes of children in the early stages of learning about the alphabetic code, when shown the graphophonemic mapping of words that will be highly beneficial to them. 

We can also use 'real' stories to show the graphophonemic mapping of words, and especially those with irregular spelling patterns. Use traditional stories, poems and also our new readers. These are 'Monster Mapped' to show characters rather than the linked phonetic symbols. We use this traditionally whole language 'reading scheme' BECAUSE of the opportunity to explore these words previously known as 'sight words'!! The children also love them. We have just updated the books in line with the science. 
And who doesn't love learning to read high-frequency words through music and dance?