Fiona Al Rowaie, literacy coach extraordinaire at the Riffa Views International School in Bahrain shared a document she was working on for her staff with me. Like many administrators working using Real Spelling with a Structured Word Inquiry approach, she was finding teachers wanted help with ways to address those lists of "high frequency words" that were typically taught as sight words to just memorize. It is clearly useful for young students to become effective and efficient at reading and spelling these words that seem to be found in just about every sentence students read and write. But the idea of memorizing the spellings of lists of words without using them to build a deeper understanding of how English spelling works runs counter to what these teachers have been learning. Worse, studying a list of words categorized simply because of their frequency, and not to reveal any orthographic concept is undoubtedly likely to plant the seed in young learner's (and teacher's) minds that English spelling is full of arbitrary spellings that don't make sense. 

Fiona was seeking a way to both help teachers get their teachers to prepare their students with the needed efficiency with spelling and reading these ubiquitous little words, but at the same time use these words as ways of promoting and understanding of the basic principles of English spelling - and feeding a motiviation of inquiry into the spelling system with these words. 

One reason I love Fiona's response to this common challenge for the schools I work with is that it responds brilliantly to a basic principle I try to use in my own work when I am trying to deside how best to address instruction about any word. I try to ask myself this question:

"What is the most generative concept about spelling available in this word to teach this audience at this time?" 

Fiona's chart has gathered a large set of words that teachers are regularly going to encounter and guides them by pointing them to generative concepts they have to teach. It also points them to resources that can help them learn about and teach those concepts. The teacher, of course, then needs to determine which concepts they think are most appropriate at what time for their own students' learning. 

Fiona shared this document with me seeking some orthographic advice from me before sharing it with her staff. I gave here some of my ideas, but I know that the wisdom of the Real Spellers community is far greater than my own, so with Fiona's permission I am sharing with the Real Spellers commnity for two reasons. 

First, I hope that Fiona's work helps teachers beyond the faculty at one school to guide thier teaching of these words. Second, I hope that teachers out there provide additional insights to add to this chart that could never be a "completed document". 

Below is an image of the first page of Fiona's document so you get an idea of how it is structured. 


Click here for a pdf of the document or here for an editable Excel version.

If you do make use of this document and/or alter it for your purposes, I hope you will share your ideas by posting your updated version. My hope is that teachers create a thread from this post sharing favourite lessons based on words in this list, including images of class work and perhaps even videos, student presentations or any other ideas that will help fellow teacher/learners working to improve thier understanding and instruction of these high frequency words

As an example, one concept in Fiona's chart is that frequently cited is that of "function and content words." This is a very rich concept tha makes sense of countless early words. To learn about this concept and for some references to help you teach it, see this link from 

And finally, I will pass on some of Fiona's comments to me about what she was trying to do with this document, and some of the questions for which she was seeking advice. I hope the members of our community have some thoughts to share!

Some comments from Fiona's email to me...

My hope is that it will provide a framework from which teachers can develop a systematic approach to teaching high frequency words which are assessed as part of our standard on writing conventions. I hope too that it provides an appealing alternative to teaching these words out of any context...

It is my image that teachers will use the chart to develop class charts that students can add too. There would, of course be many other words that could be taught/investigated within each theme...

And as ever the process of working with the othrographic conventions of words, Fiona gained new learning, and new questions to share. Again, from Fiona to you...

While developing the list I came to some new understandings of words such as <mother>, <come> and <some>, as well as <across>, <again>, <today>, <tomorrow>. I hope my understandings are accurate!

There are a few words from the list that I am still grappling with – do you have any insights as to the spelling of;

<are>, <were>, (Reason for the single silent <e>?)

<put> (The spelling appears to denote etymological connection to OE and other words.)

<said> (Purpose of <i>?, connection with <say>?)

<any> (Use of a to represent short <e>? Link to OE O.E. ænig? )

<great>  (Use of ea grapheme to represent long <a>?)

<view> (Use of <iew> rather than <ew>)

<walk> (Would it be accurate to say that <l> is an etymological marker denoting connection to OE <wealcan>?)

Thanks Fiona for doing this great work, sharing it with the world-wide community, and seeking their wisdom to push all of our learning forward. I have a few people on my list as go-to people for questions to help me with specific questions, but it's always good to remember that the wisdom of the group is clearly greater than the wisest member of the group!