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by Erica Fischer on Jun 9, 2015

Incorporate High-Frequency Words in Your Classroom!

Last week, Langchatters met to discuss how the concept of high-frequency words can inform language instruction. They shared their thoughts about which high-frequency words are most important and offered advice on how to draw students’ attention to high-frequency vocab. Participants also brainstormed ways to help students build their vocabulary beyond high-frequency words and reflected on how the role of high-frequency words changes as students’ proficiency increases. Lastly, Langchatters noted potential risks of focusing too heavily on high-frequency vocab.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to last week’s discussion, whether you were soaking up the first days of summer or taking a break from pesky end-of-semester grading! We would also like to extend a big thank you to Thursday’s moderating team: John (@CadenaSensei), Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), Laura (@SraSpanglish), Amy (@alenord), and Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell)!

Question 1: Which high-frequency words are most important?

Participants weighed in on which high-frequency words should be considered most important, and several instructors cited common verbs. @SraSpanglish wrote, “I’m all about the verbs” and shared a link with 10 essential verbs for Spanish: @ShaneBraverman also places emphasis on “words that have the most meaning, like verbs and nouns,” adding, “[Prepositions] have meaning, but [are] smaller in comparison.”

Some participants discussed the relationship between sight words and high-frequency vocabulary. @SraSpanglish wrote, “[From] my son’s kindergarten experience, he seemed to start with the highest frequency [words] for sight words…?” @doriecp commented, “[Yes], high frequency words are usually taught as sight words,” sharing a link to explain the distinction:”
@SraSpanglish noted, “The specifics can be filled in with circumlocution [and] cognates or self-selected vocab!” and @alenord agreed, writing, “High frequency words should support [comprehensible input] and circumlocution.”

Instructors also commented on the difficulty of determining high-frequency words in certain languages. @TPSLatin wrote, “I have found making the [high-frequency] vocab list [for Latin] so tricky this year. [Should instructors consider words with] 1st century [or] 21st century [high-frequency]…?” @magisterb480 commented, “That’s the thing. Do we really need all the words for death and armies? :-)”

Question 2: How do you draw students’ attention to high-frequency words in your teaching?

Participants had lots of ideas about how to highlight high-frequency words in the classroom. We have shared their top suggestions with you below:

  • Frequent Use: @Marishawkins underscored the importance of using high-frequency words with great frequency: “I keep using them. And reusing them!” Similarly, @ShaneBraverman tries to “draw attention to words [his students have] seen before,” noting, “[Students] start to remember them as we use them more and more.” @alenord underscored the importance of frequent use by students, in particular: “[This may] not be popular belief, but [student] don’t remember [something] best because I USE it a lot. They remember it best if THEY USE it a lot.”
  • Flashcards: Other instructors suggested use of flashcards to reinforce high-frequency vocab. @oowwoo recommended “[flashcards] made with Quizlet,” and @Sralandes suggested Anki to those using flashcards, noting, “[This] site uses [a Spaced Repetition System (SRS)] to help learners remember vocab.”
  • Music: Langchatters also mentioned the potential of music to reinforce high-frequency vocabulary. @SrtaOlson advised “[making] call and response chants [or] songs for students to sing or listen to that notify [students] of a new task with [high-frequency] words included!” She added, “Playing [students] popular American songs in Spanish helps [them] pick up on vocab! Versions with lyrics across the screen are best!” @mturt said, “Agreed – [Music] is a HUGE motivator for my students, too.”
  • Posters and Word Walls: Still others cited posters and word walls as sources of vocabulary reinforcement. @CadenaSensei said, “I’ve seen [teachers] make posters of their ‘Top 10 Verbs’ to hang in classroom for [students’ reference]. I’ll be making some next year, too.” He shared “a blog post by @mike_peto on posting high-frequency verbs in [the] classroom” @lovemysummer posted a link to a blog post about word walls in her classroom:” Additionally, @spanishplans provided an example of what a verb word wall might look like: @alenord, however, questioned the use of word walls to display high-frequency vocabulary, writing, “I actually think that word walls shouldn’t be [high-frequency] words, [but] rather other things that need more support.” She added, “If I have to post it for kids to use it, it isn’t high frequency enough.”
  • Student Input: @TPSLatin recognized the importance of student input: “[If] I’m picking the right [high-frequency] words, then [students] are naturally drawn to them. Better yet, they can help me make the list.” @VTracy7 said, “[Agreed]. My [students] always remember what is important to them [and] are far more apt to use vocab that negotiates wants and needs.”

Question 3: How can we help students build their vocabulary beyond high-frequency words?

Looking to help student expand their vocabularies beyond high-frequency words? Langchatters suggested personal dictionaries or student vocab lists and reading.

  • Personal Dictionaries and Student Vocab Lists: @oowwoo suggested “[personal] dictionaries [where students] write [a] word [and] then draw a picture [to illustrate it].” @SrtaOlson proposed having students “[create] their own vocab lists for a unit maybe and having them look up definitions [or create] sample sentences!” Similarly @brandstaetterk1 recommended “asking [students] to perform tasks with a theme (travel, restaurants, etc.) and making them find the vocab they need.”
  • Reading: Many Langchatters recognized the benefits of reading. @tiesamgraf wrote, “[Reading] is the best way to increase vocab – [it is provided] in context and [personalized].” @oowwoo suggested “free reading followed [by] a mini book report.” She added, “I think ‘learning to read’ is the first stage, then after this base is established, [students] can ‘read to learn.’”

Question 4: How does the role of high-frequency words evolve as students progress in proficiency?

Participants noted that high-frequency words can serve as a base for students to continue to draw from over time. @kballestrini wrote, “[High-frequency] words are that core [students] can always reach back to in order for them to deliver comprehensible [messages] to others.” He added, “[They] also are those words that you (and their peers) can use for circumlocution to establish [the] meaning of new words.” @Mr_Fernie commented, “[We] need to keep adding new [high-frequency] verbs as students progress and we must continually recycle the older ones.”

Langchatters acknowledged that high-frequency words can also change over time. @brandstaetterk1 wrote, “[What you consider high-frequency] evolves within the themes that you are teaching ([as they become] more specialized [or] advanced).” @alenord agreed, observing, “Because TASKS are different and the contexts we want [students] communicating [through evolve], [what we consider high-frequency] MUST change.”

Question 5: What are the risks of focusing exclusively on high-frequency words?

Participants acknowledged that too much focus on high-frequency vocab carries risks. @brandstaetterk1 pointed out that student individuality could be compromised: “Focusing exclusively on [high-frequency vocab] takes away [students’] individuality. You are deciding words they should use [for] them.” Additionally, some commented that instructors could risk limiting student growth. @magisterb480 wrote, “Their vocabularies won’t increase [and] they’ll communicate like novices for too long if [high-frequency] words are used exclusively.” Students can also become too comfortable with high-frequency words, as @profepj3 observed: “A big thing I ran into this [year] was that kids didn’t feel comfortable expanding [in the target language because] they didn’t want to stray from [high-frequency] words.” @lovemysummer added, “They will be those people who say, ‘I took x [years] of [a foreign language and] can’t say anything except [the] Taco Bell menu.’”


Langchatters had plenty of thoughts about how the concept of high-frequency words can inform language instruction. They discussed their place in the classroom and brainstormed ways to emphasize them without compromising individuality and student growth. As always, #langchat left participants feeling motivated. With the school year coming to a close and final grading weighing heavily on instructors’ minds, #langchat offered a moment of reprieve and inspiration for next year. @profepj said, “I’m mixing some things up next year, and I’m looking to #langchat for ideas, too! Fresh start in August, for sure!” adding, “[#Langchat] is a place where I can come with frustrations and ideas and BOTH are welcome.”

Thank You!

Thank you to all those who continue to contribute to #langchat and to those who recently joined in for the very first time! Remember, #langchat now happens on Thursday evenings at 8pm ET AND Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. ET!

Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. If you wish to view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. Have a topic you’re eager to discuss? Send us your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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