Ten practical ways to help your child learn to read high frequency words

Has your child recently started Reception? Are they starting to come home with reading books and high frequency words to learn? Don't worry if they're not coming home with books or words just yet- all schools do things slightly differently and all children are 'ready' at different times.


My 4 year old has started to come home with words to learn- just 5 new words a week. To me, this is an exciting challenge but I realise that this prospect may fill some people with dread because not only is it another thing to do in a busy week but they may not know how best to support their child. I am constantly trying to think of fun and practical ways to help my son learn his words- in ways that I hope will help him to remember them. I would like to share these to help others to enjoy their child's reading journey. If children think of learning as a game, rather than a chore, it is guaranteed to be a success. Children learn best when they are 'doing' and having fun!


The first thing to point out when children are given words to learn is that schools may refer to these words using different names. It may be that they are simply called 'high frequency words'- these are words that occur frequently in reading and writing. Some high frequency words may be decodable using phonics; words such as 'an' and some words may not be completely decodable phonetically; words such as 'the'. Sometimes high frequency words that are not phonetically decodable are referred to as 'tricky words' or 'common exception words'. Whatever name they are given, children are expected to learn them by 'sight' and not have to decode them every single time. This helps children to learn to read with fluency- important as high frequency words will be occurring with every book they read!


I think it's useful to do a word analysis each time! Decide whether the word is a tricky / common exception word or if it's a decodable high frequency word. There will often be some parts of a word, no matter how 'tricky' that children will have some phonic knowledge that will help them to read the word, even if it's only the first letter sound.


These are our words this week: her, out, my, what and there. Two of these words are decodable: her /h//er/ and out /ou/ /t/ but it's unlikely that my child will have been taught the 'er' and 'ou' vowel digraphs yet at school. So this is a good learning opportunity. My, what and there are all tricky words, but there are still parts of the words that he may be able to use his phonic knowledge to help him with. He knows the 'th' consonant digraph but he didn't know that 'wh' makes the 'w' sound so this has been another good opportunity to teach that.


It makes sense to start from where your child is at already because it helps to give them the confidence that they know a lot of it already!


That is the explanation bit, over and done with. Here are some simple games / activities you can do. I hope you find them useful!...


1. Word Splat

Simply write the words on post-its / pieces of paper and give your child a spatula, fly swatter or they can use their hands. Call out the words. How quickly can your child find them? Can they race you to find the word the fastest? Take it in turns so that your child calls out the word and you have to find it. Can you 'trick' them by finding the wrong word or ask for their help? You could also turn this into a memory game / matching pairs. Write the words out twice, turn them over and the person who finds the most matching pairs wins!


It's important to note that I have written the words in pre-cursive script, purely because my child's school teaches this way. Write the words in the same way that your child's school teaches them- purely for consistency and so as not to confuse them. It is best to avoid using capital letters!


2. Play dough words


Play dough is a wonderful sensory resource that can be used to help with reading. You can use it in different ways. You could make the letters of the word in play dough, by rolling out the dough and twisting it to make the letter shapes. This is good for developing fine motor skills too.


Or you could press magnetic letters (or other tactile letters) into the dough to create a print of the word. Why not make your own play dough? You can learn how to do this by clicking here.



3. Popping words on bubble wrap

This is always a firm favourite of ours! Save all the bubble wrap from your packages!


Write the words you want your child to learn on the bubble wrap. Present the words to your child and ask them to say and then STAMP on the word so that it pops! It is particularly useful for c-v-c words such as 'cat' where the child can say the individual sound and then blend the whole word and stamp- but it can be used on all words. It brings the visual, auditory and kinaesthetic elements of learning together to create a memorable, fun, high energy learning experience. It's incredibly quick and easy to set up too!




4. Hook a duck


These ducks have been one of the best things I have ever bought! They are so versatile and encourage learning in the bath and in the paddling pool in the summer time too. These are especially useful if your child likes to spend a long time in the bath!


These particular ducks are really sturdy and actually stay up in the water. I highly recommend them. A link to this particular set is here. Simply write on the words or sounds you want to learn with a dry wipe marker and play!


If you don't have any ducks, you can write the words with a dry wipe marker on the bathroom tiles. Just ensure the area is dry before you write and then wash them away fairly soon after playing!


5. Rescue words


Here we have created a spider's web using a laundry basket, some string and a plastic spider. I have written the words on cars, because that is my child's favourite thing that he wants to 'rescue' at the moment but you could use anything-plastic toy figurines, superheroes etc. If you use your child's interests to create the game, they will have no idea they are learning!


You can encourage your child to use tweezers to collect the objects as they say the words- so you are not only developing their word recognition but their fine motor strength, which is so important for writing.


6. Magic words


It is a good idea to invest in a letter set of some description be it magnetic letters or other tactile letters because you will use them time and time again. The ones we have used are here. I particularly like them because the vowels and consonants are different colours, which are really useful when you are making digraphs. Also, they have arrows on the top which enables you to feel the letter formation. (These letters are close to a precursive font with the exit flicks, but they don't have the entrance flicks)


For this activity, you simply find the letters to create the word and sieve a little flour over the words. Carefully lift the letters away and MAGIC the word is still there!


7. Carpark words


This is a really simple matching activity, particularly fun if your child already likes playing with vehicles!


Make a simple carpark, just by drawing the lines and writing the words. Write the words on sticky labels and attach to the cars and simply match the car to the correct space as you play. You could also race the cars.


This is a really adaptable activity that could be used to help children learn the letters in their names (a car and a parking space for each letter sound) or simply for phonemes or words that you want to practise.


8. Target Practice


This is a fun, multi-sensory activity that is easily adaptable and can be played indoors or outdoors.


Write the words on post-its and stick them to a wall / fence or write them in big letters in chalk.


Provide your child with a spray bottle, nerf gun, water pistol or anything that can be used to target the words. They will have so much fun that they won't realise they are learning!


You could challenge them to target words in a particular order or challenge them to target all the words faster than you can. (Let them win!)



9. Driving over words


Remote control vehicles are a really useful and fun way of driving over and learning words. It doesn't have to be a remote control vehicle- you could use an ordinary toy vehicle. Or you could take the words outside and ride over with a bike or a scooter. You could even just jump on the words!



10. Treasure hunt


I have never met a child that doesn't like doing a treasure hunt! My older children, who are 13 and 11, still love doing them. Since the treasure hunt we created for Halloween, my 4 year old asks for them daily! I plan on making him one later today (pictures to follow!). It is really important to try and contextualise the words a child is trying to learn by putting them into a caption / sentence that the child will be able to read / understand. What better way to do this than writing something that they need to read in order to find a treat?


Here are some ideas I have for clues for later, using the words: out, my, what, there and her combined with other words that I know he can read or will be able to decode.


  1. Go to my bed

  2. What is in the bin?

  3. Her room has got lots of mess in it.

  4. This is for the cat to go out of

  5. I sit here. You sit there.


I hope all of these ideas have been useful. Please comment if you have tried or plan to try any of these activities. Also, please comment with ideas of your own! If you need any help with learning particular words or sounds, feel free to message us: info@the phonicsfox.com and we will do our best to help!

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