Little Miss Teacher Blog

By Clara Fiorentini

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

12 Important Words

High frequency words - they take up a lot of our thinking time in early primary literacy instruction. Be it Dolch, Fry's, Tricky - there are many lists teachers choose to teach and this often brings a lot of discussion about where to start, which list to use and which words should take priority?

High frequency words make up about half of the total words we encounter in reading. There are many reasons why we need to help children recognise common words, but the main one being, to help them experience success in early reading experiences! (Not in fact to just jump from list to list of 'Tricky Words' as many still believe.)

So what might help?

Finding a starting point is important. Deciding what will support your students the most as they begin blending and decoding. I introduced Junior Infants to just twelve words first. One by one,  after Halloween usually, over a number of weeks, even months. These twelve were plenty to begin tackling their first exposures to reading books and conveniently we met them on a daily basis in our Big Book read alouds.

Why 12?

There is endless research on High Frequency Words and best approaches. In particular, the work of McNally and Murray* from the 1960s who studied common key words in written English. According to their studies,  there are 12 important, little words that account for around 25% of the total words in adult literature, children's books and reading schemes.

And here they are:

When the children are beginning to recognise and remember the first few letter names and sounds, they are giving you the signals that they are ready to begin reading conventionally. Then it's a good time to begin tackling the high-frequency words .... simultaneously with your phonics. The children need to see the connection between the letters and print, and it is crucially important that the high freq. words are included in this process. 

Download the 12 Important Words list in PDF poster format here.

Happy reading!


Clark, M. (2016). Learning to be literate: Insights from research for policy and practice. Improving Schools 2017, Vol. 19(2) 129-140. DOI: 10.1177/136580216651518

Blogger Template by pipdig