Spelling Strategies:
Learning High-Frequency Words
By Diane Snowball

The 100 most frequently used words make up about half of the written English language. Here are strategies I use to help students learn to spell these words.


Strategy 1: Chart the Words

To underscore the idea of high-frequency words, I have students keep a list of the words they encounter most often in their own reading and writing. I later supply them with a chart like our 100 Most Common High-Frequency Words. (Students can keep this chart of high-frequency words in their writing folder or notebook and check off each word as they learn it. In the younger grades, display this list on your word wall at eye level.) I like older students to check early in the year if they know how to spell all high-frequency words. If not, they need to set personal goals to learn them. With younger students, we make learning high-frequency words an early priority, along with trying unknown words.


Strategy 2: Break Bad Habits

It's very difficult for students to break the habit of a misspelling if they do it for a few weeks. I carefully observe students' writing, and if I see they are consistently misspelling the same high-frequency word, I say, "I notice you are using that word often in your writing, so let's find out and learn the correct spelling."


Strategy 3: Build New Words

I encourage students to scour their high-frequency lists for words with particular spelling patterns, then learn new words based on them (for example, an: pan, than; day: hay, play).


Strategy 4: Use Alternatives to Rote Memorization

Tips like these help students master words rather than simply memorizing them.

  1. Learn words with the same pattern — could, would, should — together, and include others to help you remember the spelling (such as shoulder, to remember the l).

  2. Think about how spelling and meaning go together, then link words with related meanings: two, twin, twice (remember the w).

  3. Look for words-within-words: what, was, when.

  4. Watch for the words their/there and where/were in your reading. Keep a list of sentences using these words to compare how they're used.

  5. Use memory aids such as "Here is in the words where and there."

  6. Build word families starting with a base word (back: backs, backing, backward, quarterback).

  7. Focus on the part of misspelled words that may be causing a problem, such as the ai in said. Link with other words you know with the same spelling pattern (such as rain, train, or pain).


100 Most Common High-Frequency Words

A
a
about
after
all
am
an
and
are
as
at

B
back
be
because
been
big
but
by

C
came
can
come
could

D
day
did
do
down

F
first
for
from

G
get
go
going
got

H
had
has
have
he
her
here
him
his

I
I
if
in
into
is
it

J
just

L
like
little
look

M
made
make
me
more
my

N
no
not
now

O
of
off
on
one
only
or
our
out
over

S
said
saw
see
she
so
some

T
that
the
their
them
then
there
they
this
to
two

U
up

V
very

W
was
we
well
went
were
what
when
where
which
who
will
with
would

Y
you
your

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Diane Snowball is an internationally known educational consultant focusing on language arts. Some of the material for this column was adapted from Ideas for Spelling and Teaching Spelling (Heinemann).

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