10 Ways to Learn High Frequency Words

When your child first starts learning to read, they might come home with sets of high frequency words from school.

These can feel daunting at first – just what exactly should you do with these word sets? How can you help your child to learn them? and what should you do if your child is reluctant to learn them? This will all be addressed in this blog post.


So what are High Frequency Words?

High frequency words, or HFW are words that repeatedly come up in reading and writing. For example:

  • and
  • but
  • so
  • said
  • the
  • I
  • as
  • it

High frequency words can also be divided into two main groups:

Decodable Words: meaning that the words can be sounded out using phonics knowledge (e.g at, but, it)

Sight words: those words that have more complex spellings and cannot be decoded with phonics (e.g. you, said, does)


Which words should you learn first?

If your child is in school, then they should start coming home with lists of high frequency words at some point during the first few months of Reception Class or Kindergarten. Every school tends to do this a little differently, so it’s worth checking with your child’s school first.

Typically a child will be given a set of up to 10 words to learn and once they know they off by heart, they then get another set.

If you’re homeschooling, take a look at ‘Fry Sight Words’ which was developed by Dr Edward Fry or the Dolch list.

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10 Activities to Try

These simple activities can be used on repeat to help your child learn sets of words. I recommend using a combination of methods when your child is learning each word so that they don’t just identify the words with one specific activity.

Whilst this post mainly focuses on helping your child to read the words, they can also be used to help with spellings too.

1. Reading!

You don’t always have to reinvent the wheel in order to help your child learn. Sometimes the most obvious choice is also one of the best. The fact is, the more your child reads, the more accustomed to certain words they will become.

My youngest son knows mum, dad, said, the, I, and (plus more). All from reading home readers on a daily basis.

Some reading schemes, such as the Oxford Reading Tree ‘Biff, Chip and Kipper’ series will often have a list of the high frequency words included in the story. You may wish to do some of the activities below with those specific sight words in mind.

In addition, keep up reading to your child at bedtime, even as they get older. Follow the sentences you are reading outline with your finger so your child can keep track of where you are.

Don’t ditch the repetitive stories just yet either. Books like ‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See?’, ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ and ‘Dear Zoo’ can all help your child to make connections.

a 3 year old girl in red tights looks at the book 'Little Red'

2. Magnetic Letters on a cake tin

One of the most versatile literacy learning resources you can buy is a set of magnetic letters. Ideally, these should be lowercase to help your child learn the words.

All you need to make this activity work is a copy of the high frequency words you are learning, magnetic letters and a cake tin.

In order to make this easier for young learners, sort out the letters needed to make the words first. The invite your child to put the words together, then read them.

this image shows magnetic lower case letters on a cake tin. The idea is to learn high frequency words by putting the letters together


3. Paint it!

One of the earliest high frequency words your child learns is their own name!! And whilst the photograph below shows a name recognition activity, you could also try

this picture shows a three year old girl painting her name


4. Use a salt tray

Creating a salt writing tray is so simple You can read a blog post on how to create your own here.

You can use the salt writing tray to help your child write the high frequency letters that they are currently learning in school.

a 4 year old girl practises writing in a blue Montessori sensory salt tray


5. Water Paint

Simply write the words onto a chalkboard, then invite your child to paint over the words with water. This is a good way to help your child work on letter formation and well as remember the high frequency words.

If you don’t have a chalkboard, you can get outside and write the letters on the pavement instead.

a blonde boy paints over high frequency words with water

6. Word Bricks

The bricks featured below are from a company called ‘Coko Learning’, however it would be easy enough to make  DIY version using Duplo bricks and a sharpie pen.

Just like the second high frequency word activity featured, make this easier on your little learner by sorting the letters first.

a blonde boy uses word blocks (similar to duplos) to make words


7. Word Spray

This is a slightly easier version of the ‘water paint’ activity. All you need is a spray bottle and a chalkboard (or pavement).

The spray bottle is a great way to help your child work on their hand strength. Something that is essential for learning to write.

just visible are the hands of a 5 year old boy who is using a spray bottle to erase high frequency words that have been written on a chalk board

8. Seasonal Variations

Sometimes learning high frequency words can be made more interesting if you just add a seasonal theme. For example, this ‘ghost spray’ for Halloween!

a blonde boy uses a spray bottle to squirt water on 'ghosts' that have been drawn on a chalkboard. Each ghost has a different high frequency word

9. Look, Cover, Say Write, Check

A look, say, cover, write template is a good way to help your child learn to spell the high frequency words they are learning.

Tip: Use a plastic sleeve and a whiteboard pen so that you can reuse the same sheet a number of times. 

just visible is the hand of a 5 year old child practising high frquency words using the look say, write, cover method

10. Flip and Say

Simply place the high frequency word cards on a table so that the words are facing down. Get your child to pick up a word, then say it.



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Is Your Child Starting School Soon?

Starting school is not just about the academics – whilst learning about high frequency words is really helpful, you need a holistic approach to the lead up to school.

Head on over to my membership, ‘How I drink my Coffee Hot’, to access the ‘Starting School’ mini course.

Topics covered include:

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Sian Thomas
an image of This Playful Home founder, Sian Thomas. The photo includes a photo of her daughter when she was around 18 months old

I’m Siân (rhymes with yarn), a play advocate, proud parent to three, and former teacher. My mission is to infuse more joy and less overwhelm into the lives of parents. Discover play-based activities with me that not only make learning FUN but also forge deep connections with your young learners, creating memories to cherish forever.