Teaching High-Frequency Words: A Sound-Symbol Approach

Phonemic Awareness and Phonics, Science of Reading

The journey to becoming a proficient reader and writer begins with a solid foundation in understanding words and their structures. Traditionally, high-frequency and irregular words have been taught through memorization, a method that often falls short of promoting genuine literacy skills. In this post, we’ll explore why it’s more effective to teach these words through sound-symbol correspondences and introduce the “stamp it” method to tackle irregularities.


Why Avoid Memorization?

  1. Memorizing words without understanding their underlying structure can hinder a student’s ability to decode unfamiliar words.
  2. When students learn to decode words based on their sounds and symbols instead of simple memorization, they acquire skills that extend beyond high-frequency words – setting them up to decode and encode new words independently.
  3. Teaching words in context and through their phonemic components enhances retention. Instead of memorizing isolated words, students learn to recognize patterns, making it easier to remember words and apply their knowledge to similar words.


Use the “Stamp it” Method for Irregular Parts:

While most high-frequency words follow phonetic rules, some are irregular and don’t adhere to these patterns. The “stamp it” method is a powerful tool for teaching these exceptions.

  1. Tap out the sounds in the word. Use manipulatives or Elkonin boxes to count the sounds.
  2. Write the symbols (letters) that go with each sound.
  3. Identify any irregularly spelled parts in the word. For example, in the word “said,” the irregular part is “ai.”
  4. Stamp It: Highlight the irregular part by drawing or marking it (e.g., with a heart). This makes it stand out from the rest of the word and helps students remember the irregularity.
  5. Practice: Have students orally spell, write, and read the word.


Teaching high-frequency words through sound-symbol correspondences and incorporating the “stamp it” method can help students orthographically map these words. It empowers students with the tools they need to become independent readers and writers, promoting an understanding of the connection between phonemes and graphemes and improved retention of words and their meanings.