The learning resource First 130 High Frequency Words in Cartoons consists of two books:
- a guide to HFWs (Multisensory Guide)
- an activity pack (Activity Sheets and Flash Cards)
The Multisensory Guide provides an ‘at-a-glance’ breakdown of visual hints for high frequency words (HFWs) introduced in Year Reception and Year 1. It reveals that each HFW, whether phonically regular or irregular, can be a story hidden inside a cartoon, and that it has a shape that can be recognised. Colour is introduced to emphasise letter (not sound) patterns, where these are visually identifiable, e.g. words within words (‘am’ and ‘me’ in ‘came’ and ‘name’; ‘an’ in ‘can’ and ‘can’t’, etc.) Using the above principles, the child is encouraged to engage in a range of practical, multisensory learning activities that strengthen their HFW knowledge and result in confident rapid HFW recognition. The Activity Sheets and Flash Cards book supplements the guide. It has removable/detachable worksheets that can be displayed around the house.
As sounding out is the most reliable reading strategy, learning tricky words by sight is not recommended to children who make the expected progress in Early Years and Key Stage 1 literacy. However, the method presented here works well for children with specific learning difficulties (SpLDs), especially those who are significantly behind their peers in reading and spelling assessments. Children with dyslexia take longer to break the phonemic code; for some, the goal of becoming a fluent phonemic reader may require years of specialist instruction.
Sight word recognition equips SpLD children with an initial bank of HFWs they can rely upon. As an example, once the child has learned the visual pattern ‘the’ (using a cartoon of two heavy elephants overlaid on the word ‘the’), the pattern becomes regular to them, not tricky. They now remember how to recognise ‘the’ as well as how to read ‘them’, ‘then’, ‘they’ and ‘their’. The visual cue ‘the’ is thus temporary, becoming part of the child’s bank of decodable words.
Rapid identification of HFWs improves reading fluency. Children with SpLDs begin to experience early reading success and start enjoying literacy activities. Importantly, parallel with the visual instruction, a structured and intensive phonemic decoding programme should be used as part of specialist support at school or home. In this sense, the visual reading method supplements phonemic decoding instruction, rather than replacing it.
Children, with or without dyslexia, who are successful at sounding out regular words should be encouraged to do so every time they encounter a new word. The reason why both decodable and tricky words have been turned into visual cues in this book is to help the children accelerate their early literacy skills. Being able to rapidly read words and make up simple sentences during writing tasks boosts their self-image and minimises the chances of losing early enthusiasm for literacy.
Multisensory instruction gives children more than one way to make connections when learning words. It targets visual skills (observing how letters within words unfold/reveal themselves through a story), motor (tactile) skills (tracing the letters within words on the background that relates to the story) and auditory ones (listening to the connecting story, engaging with it, answering questions, predicting what might happen next, etc.) Not every HFW story will inspire the child to use all of their senses (taste, smell, touch, sight, hearing and movement), but it will encourage them to engage with the material in more than one way.