High-Frequency Words

Sight Words, Fluency, and Phonics: a Brief Discussion

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High-Frequency Words

A high-frequency word is one that children and adults will encounter regularly in reading; it is one of a small number of common words that make up the majority of any English text (like he, she, you, I, ask, is, but, the, have, and good).

High-frequency word lists vary from source to source; however, they are fairly consistent about the first 300 words. One widely-known example of these lists was created in 1948 by Edward Dolch, who based his 220-word list on commonly used words in children's literature. The ability to read these high-frequency words swiftly and automatically is a crucial component of reading fluency. Many educators believe these words must be memorized by rote, as a single unit, for children to become fluent readers.

Sight Words

A fluent reader does not spend her attention on sounding out the words of the text. She is able to concentrate fully on the underlying ideas of the text.

Because students who read fluently seemed to be "reading by sight,” many educators began treating words as the basic unit of language in order to emphasize fluency in reading instruction. The idea was to accelerate the process of becoming fluent by cutting out instruction on letter sounds.

However, memorizing whole words is inadequate for mastering English.

It is a completely inefficient, ineffective way to develop reading fluency.

The chart above shows the number of words from the Dolch high-frequency list that become understandable to a new reader if he is taught:

  • all A-Z Sounds
  • X number of sight words
  • all A-Z Sounds
  • X number of phonics concepts

The amount of rote memorization required skyrockets and fluency too often stagnates when a student is taught to read by sight words, because each piece of memorization work adds only one word to the student’s vocabulary. To become fully literate, a student would need to memorize most of the 40,000 - 200,000 words that make up the vocabulary of an English-speaking adult. (That is more than 10 words a week for about 77 years!)

Conversely, a student taught to read by memorizing and applying a limited number of phonics concepts will have the potential for limitless fluency.

The Logic of English approach to fluency:
105 Concepts & Critical Thinking

Logic of English Essentials and Foundations curricula build fluency by focusing on:

Students do need to practice reading high-frequency words to become fluent readers. However, brain research shows that strong readers, even when they process a written word ‘instantaneously,’ are reading by sounds. True reading fluency is developed by mastering the letter-sound relationships and practicing reading them within words until the student can do so automatically, without thought. When students use their knowledge of the sounds to learn and master high-frequency words, they simultaneously strengthen the skills that will enable them to read thousands more.

In Logic of English curriculum, students learn why each high-frequency word is spelled the way it is in the context of linguistically accurate phonics instruction and then develop fluency reading them through a variety of reading and spelling exercises and high-energy games.

Read more about High-Frequency Words in our research white paper.

Sounding Out the Dolch List with Logic of English

Check out Sounding on the Sight Words: A Guide to Teaching the Dolch Words through Phonics, a series of sixty-six mini-lessons for teaching students how to read all the words on the Dolch List and Dolch 95 through linguistically accurate phonics concepts. This simple introduction to the concepts taught in LOE curriculum is a great alternative to flash card drill!

Logic of English High-Frequency Word Lists

Our master list of 1,712 high-frequency words is based on five different educational lists ranking the most common words in children's literature, 20th century newspapers and correspondence, and ESL vocabulary instruction. This list is the source of many of the words used in Essentials spelling lists and activities (primarily in levels A and B), as well as the words used in Foundations lessons.

In both Foundations and Essentials, these words are taught and practiced using the 74 Basic Phonograms and 31 Spelling Rules. By practicing phonograms and spelling rules through applying them to the reading and spelling of these words, students simultaneously gain fluency in reading the words they will encounter most often in written texts and develop the skills to read thousands of additional words.

The links below include the master list (all 1712 high-frequency word) and six smaller lists grouping these words by increasing phonics complexity.

Logic of English High-Frequency Word List - all
Logic of English High-Frequency Word List Level 1
Logic of English High-Frequency Word List Level 2
Logic of English High-Frequency Word List Level 3
Logic of English High-Frequency Word List Level 4
Logic of English High-Frequency Word List Level 5
Logic of English High-Frequency Word List Level 6

High-Frequency Words taught in Foundations

In Foundations, students read hundreds of high-frequency words as they learn the phonograms and spelling rules used in these words in a step-by-step progression. The following PDFs list the high-frequency words introduced in each level A-C, including words from spelling analysis, readers, fluency games, and other activities.

Foundations A High-Frequency Word List
Foundations B High-Frequency Word List
Foundations C High-Frequency Word List