The concept of heart words can be very useful. Heart words are quite simply those words we know by heart. This means that we don’t have to spend time decoding them; we can retrieve them from our memories automatically. While this concept sounds a lot like sight words, heart words refer to a smaller set of words that we set out to teach to beginning readers. These are high-frequency words—words that appear most often in print and therefore are most critical when first learning to read. Teaching heart words can also be especially useful for words with irregular pronunciation.
When teaching heart words, it’s important to note that most of them have only one irregular part. Stressing this point makes it clear to students that they can use their phonics knowledge to decode most parts of a troublesome word. Take the word “said,” for example. “Said” has three parts: “s,” “ai,” and “d.” The first and third parts are regular, and most students will be able to decode these. It’s only the middle part that’s particularly challenging. Pointing this out and teaching the “ai” letter-sound correspondence in “said” several times will help it stick in students’ memories. Remembering this irregular word is easier if the focus is on learning just the one irregular part of the word by heart.
Learning heart words involves lots of practice with them. Teachers often give students lists of high-frequency words to study, and practice activities with these words can help students remember them. Parapros can play a big role in this. They can quiz students with flash cards or word lists. They can play games like heart-word bingo or help students make their own heart-word rings or word boxes. Students can then use these words to build sentences. A note of caution, however: these activities will be helpful only if they’re preceded by direct teaching, review, and practice of sound-spelling regularities and irregularities.
Teachers and parapros often create classroom sound or word walls to display new letter-sound correspondences or, for older students, new words that students are learning. A sound wall for younger students would illustrate the relationship between phonemes and the different graphemes that represent them, while also pointing out the ways in which the mouth produces those sounds. As students learn new grapheme combinations for producing phonemes, more examples get added to the sound wall. For older students, words relating to a topic in science or social studies might get added to a word wall as these new terms are introduced in class. Word walls help students remember new words and spell them correctly in their writing. The figure below shows a simple word wall based on a theme.
Word Wall Template Based on a Theme