How to Use High Frequency Word Games in Reading

High frequency word games can be a quick and efficient way to help students develop a greater vocabularly of sight words. (If you are not sure about the difference between high frequency words and sight words, I explain that in the first part of this series.) This blog post shares 6 of my favorite high frequency word reading games.

First, a few words of caution about high frequency word games…

Practice in context:

High frequency words are best practied in context, which means within a complete text (book, song, readers’ theater, poem, etc.) Too often students can read a word in isolation, yet don’t recognize it when they see it in a book, surrounded by words. The first post in this series shares some tips for practicing high frequency words in context.

It is also true that students can read some words within one text, but not recognize them in another text or in isolation. That’s why it’s helpful to do a small amout of work with words in isolation, as well. This helps students recognize the words across multiple contexts. (But the majority of the time should be spent reading words in context, not in isolation.)

Be efficient with your time:

As a teacher, you never have enough time in your instructional day, yet there is SO much for your students to learn! The high frequency word games listed below are engaging for kids, but quick enough to be a small part of a guided reading or word study lesson (typically 5 minutes or less.) They are also fun for a parent, volunteer, or paraprofessional to use briefly with students. And all of these games are simple enough that they can be added to literacy centers for kids to play on their own, once they are familiar with the games.

Help your students learn efficiently:

Students enjoy learning when they feel successful – and this sense of accomplishment spurs more learning! It is imporant to use this to your advantage. Only teach a few new words at a time (like 1-3 words) and have students practice them within a group of known words. This allows students to become even more automatic with the known words, and to focus their mental energy on just a few new words.

And now, on to the high frequency word games…

My Pile,  Your Pile (for 1 player)

Preparation: Write one high frequency word on each of 10-15 cards. (You can repeat a new word 4-5 times. So if your student is learning “like” you might have 5 cards with “like” plus 6 cards with other familiar words.)

How to Play: Quickly show a word to the child, then face it down (so they can’t see it.) You want them to read the word quickly, rather thank thinking slowly about the word. If they read the word within 1-2 seconds, the card goes in their pile. If they miss, it goes in your pile. Or for another option, when they are slow to name the word, you can tuck it back in the pile for a second chance. The winner is the person with the most cards. (This is a game where the student typically wins!)

Photo of My Pile, Your Pile high frequency word game. Teacher is holding a blue card with the word "can" written on it for the child to read quickly.

Snap! (for 2-4 players)

Preparation: Create decks for each player, with 10-20 cards per deck. Write a high frequency word on each card – you can repeat some targeted words. Instead of using the same color for all cards, use different markers (or cards) to sort the cards more easily after the game.

How to Play: First, shuffle each deck of cards. Players turn over their top card and read the card quickly. Then they check to see if another player has the same word. When two players have the same word, the first one to say “Snap!” gets both cards. Play until all players have read their cards.

Photo with two piles of cards on the table (one pink, one blue) and the top card on each pile says "can."

Tic Tac Toe (for 2 players)

Preparation: Draw a tic tac toe board on a white board or paper.

How to Play: Play the tic tac toe game using high frequency words instead of X and O. Encourage the student to write the word quickly and efficiently. You might write the two words above the game board as a model of correct spelling. The winner is the first to get three in a row.

Photo of tic tac toe being used as a high frequency word game. The game board has the words "can" and "go" instead of X and O. Two pencils are resting on the paper.

Memory (for 1-4 players)

Preparation: Write several high frequency words on cards, writing each word on two cards. (Limit the game to 6-8 words to keep it quick and keep in manageable.)

How to Play: Lay out the cards in rows (making a 3X4 or 4X4 grid). Players take turns turning over two cards and reading them quickly. If the words match, the player gets another turn. If they don’t match, turn the cards back over and allow the next player to have a turn. The winner is the student to get the most matching pairs.

The memory game is laid out in a  3X4 grid of blue cards with the blank side up. Two cards have been flipped over to show the word "go."

Trail Games with a blank game board (for 2-5 players)

Preparation: Find or make a blank trail game board. You might add directions on a few spaces “Roll again,” “Move back 2,” etc. Create word cards for students to read before moving along the trail.

How to Play: Pin each turn, players read a word card, roll a die (or spin a spinner), then move along the trail. The first player to reach the end of the trail wins.

(Variation) Trail Games with words on the board: (for 2-5 players)

Preparation: Write high frequency words in the spaces on a trail game board. You might also add “Move ahead 2,” “Move back 2” or “Roll again” to a few spaces. (To save time, you can purchase pre-made trail games from my store.)

How to Play: Players roll a die (or spin a spinner), then move along the trail. They must read the word (or follow the direcitions) on that space. The first player to reach the end of the trail wins.

The high frequency word trail game has a trail printed on a fall scarecrow background. Each soft on the trail has a different high frequency word on it. The game board has a red and a green marker to mark the progress of the players.

Trail games are quick ways to practice high frequency words.

Bingo/Lotto (for 2-5 players)

Preparation: Add high frequency words in each box of a 4X4 lotto board. Create a few variations with words in different locations. (You can use more than 16 boxes in your game board, but the game takes longer that way.) Also create cards (for calling words) using the same words that were added to the game boards.

How to Play: The “caller” reads a word from a card. (The caller can be the teacher or students who take turns being callers.) If players have the word that was called on their board, they cover the space (with a math counter, square of paper, penny, etc.) The first player to cover the full board is the winner.

The photo shows two custom made lotto boards, each with a 3X4 grid. One box on each board says "FREE." Each remaining box in the grid has a high frequency word in it.

Remember to limit the time spent practice high frequency words in isolation. These quick games will help you provide efficient, focused practice of the words. And, your students will have so much fun with the high frequency word games, they won’t even realize they are learning!

When you use these games, along with lots of reading of continuous text, high frequency words will rapidly become sight words for your students!

Remember to pin this post so you can refer to these games later!

Text says "6 Quick and Easy Games for High Frequency Words." Includes a photo of two stacks of word cards. The top card on each stack says "can."

2 thoughts on “How to Use High Frequency Word Games in Reading

  1. Oh my. Thank you so much. I have a son 51 years old with Down Syndrome who has decided to learn to read. I am having success but these games will add to what we are doing. Thank you so much.

    1. How exciting for you to help your son learn to read! I am glad my suggestions have been helpful.

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