A rethink of High Frequency Words within PLD’s Structured Synthetic Phonics Program

Our unique approach allows children to learn more high frequency words with less effort by teaching the right words at the right time and in the right way.

Following an extensive literature review, PLD has upgraded our approach to high frequency words (HFW). In a recent blog, a range of tips were provided to remove the confusion that surrounds sight words. Since that point, we have developed our approach further. Our 2020 approach to HFW tackles three commonly encountered issues:

  1. Teaching HFW in the order of frequency is important, however, the complexity and the composition of the words require a greater level of consideration for an early literacy learner.
  2. Applying a set of HFW to a year level (e.g. The first 100 words in Foundation, the second 100 in Year 1 etc) does not take into account the developmental level that students are operating at, and which HFW match the class’s phonic and phonemic awareness knowledge. 
  3. The existing evidence-base consistently argues for HFW to be presented within a SSP program. Although this is repeatedly stated, it is unclear how the amalgamation of phonics and HFW should actually occur. 

Download PLD’s Phonic Sight Word Sequence Charts below

It is in direct response to issues such as these, that we at PLD embarked on the following process:

Step 1: Rather than focusing upon individual HFW lists, we amalgamated the words that occurred within a range of HFW lists commonly used in Australia.

  • The collections differed in terms of how and when each list was created. The lists also differed in terms of the number of words contained on each list. For example, Fry’s (1999) 300 words reflect the most commonly used words in children’s literature. The Oxford 500 list (2008) contains the words commonly used by Australian children in their writing. For some lists such as the Magic list, it was difficult to source the origins of the list.
  • The amalgamation of the word lists totalled 574 words along with a number of similar words differing only in that a suffix had been added to the base word. 
  • Many of the words appeared on every HFW list, with approximately 60% of the words appearing on at least 2 of these lists.

Step 2: With the expanded HFW list, we organised the words not on the basis of frequency of occurrence, but in terms of their location within PLD’s SSP progression.

What this revealed was that the vast majority of the HFW could be taught within the SSP program. The majority of the words occurred within PLD’s Stages 1, 2 and 3. To assist the teaching of these words in Stages 1 and 2, the HFW were linked to early, mid or late phonic concepts within these stages.

Step 3: The remaining irregular HFW or complex words (with sophisticated or advanced phonic concepts) were clustered according to spelling patterns and frequency of occurrence. 

What many teachers will find surprising is that this is even possible with the majority of the irregular HFW. All words were then prepared to be taught using techniques based on advances in orthographic mapping theory or the ‘speech-to-print’ approach.

Step 4: All words were colour coded to illustrate the relationship between the sound and phonic structure.

A rethink of High Frequency Words within PLD's Structured Synthetic Phonics Program

In addition, 75 more HFW can be taught across Stages 1-3, by teaching the adding of suffixes which build on base words included in the lists above. For example, in Stage 1 children are taught the HFW ‘play’. Additional HFW ‘playing’ and ‘played’ can be easily taught by teaching the adding of suffixes to the base word.

Optional Screens are Available to Download in the Screening & Tracking Manuals


  • Bianca, J. L, Scull, J. & Ives, D. (2008) The Oxford Wordlist Top 500. Oxford University Press.
  • Magic 300 Words. www.magicwords.com.au 
  • Kilpatrick, D. A. (2016) Equipped for Reading Success. Casey & Kirsch Publishers, New York.
  • Dolch, E. W. (1936). A basic sight vocabulary. The Elementary School Journal, 36(6), 456–460.
  • Education Department of South Australia. (1984). Salisbury word list. In the Education Department of South Australia (Ed.) Spelling R–7 Language Arts (pp. 73–80). Adelaide: Education Department of South Australia.
  • Fry, E. (1980). The new instant word list. The Reading Teacher, 34(3), pp. 284–289.
  • Fry, E. (1999) 1000 Instant Words, Teacher Created Resources Inc. Laguna Beach Educational Books, USA.
  • PLD’s 7 top tips to remove the confusion around sight words.