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Skill Overview

What are irregularly spelled high frequency words?

High frequency words are often called sight words because the expectation is that students will recognize them “by sight”, suggesting that these words should be committed to memory without decoding them.  There are two kinds of high frequency words:  irregularly spelled and regularly spelled.  Irregularly spelled high frequency words have decodable parts and can aid in remembering them, however the irregular part(s) must be memorized.  For example in the word was, the "w" is decodable, but the "as" must be memorized as having the irregular pronunciation as /uz/. 

What tasks should students be able to demonstrate to indicate mastery of this skill?

  • Spell the words accurately.

  • Read the words with automaticity.


Why is understanding irregularly spelled high frequency words important to reading?

Reading high frequency words with automaticity contributes to fluency and comprehension when reading and writing because it frees up working space in the brain to focus on meaning..

Structured Literacy Tools

Sequential and Cumulative

Systematic and Explicit

To Mastery

It is a recommended practice to include teaching the most common HFW in the early stages of phonics instruction.   These words should be taught one at a time.  These words help students read connected text sooner.  The words that most frequently occur in text and should be taught early in phonics instruction are: the, a, I, to, and, was, for, you, is, of.  

The remaining words should be taught in clusters according to their similar irregular patterns.

Words that do not follow the typical phonics patterns should be taught in clusters according to their mutually, uncommon spelling pattern.  Below is a routine card for how to explicitly and systematically teach these words. These words should be taught to mastery before moving on.  Like any words, students should be able to recognize and read irregularly spelled words with automaticity.

Mastering high frequency words is crucial to reading fluency.  HFWs can be assessed in various ways, but students should be able to spell and read the words automatically.

Irregularly spelled high frequency words assessed by clusters according their mutually irregular pattern, such as has, is, as, his.  Students should consistently practice words in these patterns even after students master them on the assessment.

Practice Resources

Downloadable Files From BRI Resources
Downloadable Files From Literacy Partners
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