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An important part of learning to read is memorizing high frequency words.

High frequency words are words that make up the majority of printed material, such as news articles, novels, textbooks, and children’s books.

To be fluent readers, children need to be able to read high frequency words quickly and automatically.

High frequency words are not necessarily “rule breakers” or words that can’t be sounded out. There are many high frequency words that are easy to sound out! High frequency words are the words that occur most frequently in printed material.

You’ll find various lists of high frequency words. The most common lists are the Dolch words and the Fry 1000 Instant Word List. In addition, most reading programs provide their own lists.

The Fry 1000 Instant Word List

In 1996, Dr. Edward Fry published his list of the 1000 most commonly used words in English, ranked by order of frequency.

The first 25 words make up 30% of printed material.

The first 100 words make up 50% of printed material.

The first 300 words make up 65% of printed material.

Looking at these numbers, it’s easy to see why children need to learn high frequency words!

The Fry 1000 Instant Word List is generally divided into smaller lists of 100 words. As a general guide, the first 100 words should be mastered during first grade. (Note – in most states, Kindergarten students are now expected to master anywhere from 20 to 50 of the first 100 words. This wasn’t the case when Fry published his list in 1996.)

The second 100 words should be mastered during second grade, and the third 100 words during third grade. The remaining 700 words should be learned by the end of elementary school.


It’s important to note that the Fry 1000 Instant Words are in order of frequency, not difficulty. There are tricky words early in the list, and there are easy words later in the list.

For most children, it’s best to learn the words in small batches of five to ten. For a struggling reader, it’s appropriate to work on learning the words in groups of three. Our Fry First 300 Words downloadable flash cards and online games are in organized in groups of ten.

How to Teach High Frequency Words

A powerful way to teach high frequency words is through multi-sensory learning, with practice and reinforcement through games. Multi-sensory learning includes visual (seeing), auditory (hearing), kinesthetic (doing) and tactile (feeling) activities.

Research tells us that if a child learns while using more than one sense, they are much more likely to retain the information.

If you’ve been wanting to help your child master high frequency words, A Family of Readers can help you get started today!

Visit our Resource Library to download your free Fry First 300 Words flash cards. Print out appropriate cards for your child’s grade level and explore the easy multi-sensory teaching and learning activities described below.

Multi-Sensory Activities for Learning High Frequency Words

Activity #1 Tap and Spell

Place the flash card flat on the table. Read the word. With your index finger, tap under each letter while saying the name of that letter. Read the whole word while sliding under it with your index and middle fingers. Repeat.

Activity #2 Trace and Spell

Place the flash card flat on the table. Trace each letter with a capped pen or the end of an unsharpened pencil, while saying the name of the letter. Read the whole word as you slide under it with your index finger and middle finger. Repeat.

Activity #3 Table Writing

Keep the card where you can see it. Use your index finger and middle finger to form each letter on the table. Say the name of each letter as you form it. Read the whole word while sliding under it with your index and middle fingers. Repeat.

Activity #4 Arm Tapping

Hold a flash card in your left hand. With your right index finger and middle finger, tap your left shoulder and read the word. Use the index and middle finger of your right hand to tap your left arm each time you say a letter, tapping and spelling your way down your arm to your wrist.

When you’ve finished tapping the letters down your arm, return to your shoulder. Slide your index and middle fingers down your left arm as you read the word from the flash card. Repeat.

Activity #5 Air Writing

Hold the flash card in front of you. Read the word. Use your index and middle fingers to trace each letter in the air as you say its name. Then “underline” the word with your index and middle fingers while you read the word again. Repeat.

Bonus Activity

Clip a piece of paper to a piece of #7 Mesh Plastic Canvas. Using a crayon, copy the word on to the paper, saying each letter as you write it. The mesh plastic canvas and the crayon will create raised letters. Trace each raised letter while saying its name. Read the word while sliding under it with your index and middle fingers.

These multi-sensory activities are a great way for your child to master High Frequency words and become a better reader. Help your child spend just a few minutes a day practicing these activities with a small group of words at a time. You’ll be amazed at how quickly they learn!

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