I don’t know about you, but when I first started hearing about Heart Words, I asked myself… “Ok, what’s all the hype about?”
So of course I did a deep dive of research. I spent the better part of the year doing a lot of research, learning, and to be honest, a lot of unlearning. I quickly realized the many benefits of Heart Words and why they are so impactful to students for the long term.
Throughout this post you are going to learn all about what they are, their impacts, how to use them, and of course why I teach Heart Words using a multisensory approach.
What Are Heart Words?
Heart Words are a method for teaching high frequency words. If you’re like me, I was taught in school that students needed to “memorize” these words. Well, naturally I tried that approach and found that either students couldn’t seem to store those words no matter how many times we learned about them, or if they could read them, they couldn’t write them. Talk about frustrating for us teachers, and even more, the students!
So when I began hearing about the science behind the Heart Word Method I thought, yes, that makes sense. Instead of simply getting students to memorize every one of these words by sight, we break it down for them. We categorize them into heart words, the ones that are irregularly spelled, and flash words, words that are spelled phonetically.
With heart words, we teach them to notice the sounds and the sounds that aren’t phonetic, we teach them to know these “by heart”. Teaching this way, coupled with a multisensory approach, students can have HUGE success. Keep reading to learn exactly how to implement this in your classroom in no time!
How Do I Use the Method?
Just like we teach our students to decode words, we’re doing the same thing with Heart Words! We’re teaching students to use phonics to decode the parts of the word they can and to remember the irregular parts “by heart”.
Let’s look at an example of the word ‘said’. It is a heart word.
We start by providing context for the word. “I said it’s time for music.” This helps students have a real world, concrete example to refer to in their brain when they see it. Next, we think about the parts of said we can sound out and which parts we have to learn by heart. Then we are going to use the process of orthographic mapping to map the word ‘said’ using our word mapping mats to support us in the process.
First, we tap out the sounds we hear in the word ‘said’. Like shown below, there are three sounds in ‘said’. We can use phonics knowledge to determine the first and last sound in the word ‘said’. The middle sounds like a short /e/ but we actually spell it ‘ai’ which says /a/. THIS is the tricky part we need to learn “by heart” so we put a heart over the top of the ‘ai’.
Check out how we map the word said below using this method and the word mapping mats.
If you are interested in the science behind orthographic mapping and more research about Heart Words, here are some books I suggest starting with. This is just a very small set of amazing Science of Reading texts. You can learn more about my favorites HERE!
*Note that this list contains affiliate links which means if you purchase a book, I get a small commission at no cost to you.*
Some words are flash words instead of heart words. This means that the high frequency word is fully decodable to students and there are no irregular parts of the word. Some examples of those words are:
Some words are heart words that will become flash words for students. If students have not yet been taught a specific phonics skill, they may need to learn it by heart until they have mastered how to sound it out phonetically. For example if we are learning about the word ”play” and students have yet to be exposed to vowel teams, they will need to remember the “ay” part, by heart. Once your class has mastered the ‘ay’ vowel team, it would then become a flash word they can sound out quickly and easily.
A Multisensory Approach
The brain is a pretty complex organ that stores a lot of information. When it comes to reading and learning new words, using a multisensory approach helps to activate the brain in three areas – The part where meaning is stored, where spelling is stored, and where sounds are stored.
In order for students to truly learn a word, they must attach meaning to it. Teaching words in context is a good way to do this and having students use it in their own sentence is great too. Once they learn a new word, providing ample opportunities for students to keep hearing, seeing, and using it will all help them turn that high frequency word into a sight word.
Spelling plays a pretty big part in truly memorizing that word as well. Chances are if you can spell a word, you can read it. Sometimes you can read a word but not know how to spell it, so being able to do both will ensure true mastery.
Sounds are important for learning any new word, so of course the high frequency words are no exception. Connecting sounds in a word to the letters in the word is called orthographic mapping. David Kilpatrick, a reading researcher and author of Equipped for Reading Success defines orthographic mapping as ‘the process the brain uses to permanently store words into long term memory’. That speaks to the importance of learning those crucial sounds in a word, no matter how “irregular” they may seem. It’s why we use it heavily in our method for teaching heart words and why they have such impact.
In many of the books I mentioned before, including the Orton Gilligham training, they discuss the importance of a multisensory approach just like mentioned above. So what are some easy ways to incorporate all the multisensory fun? Check these out!
Sky Writing – Students will use their pointer and middle finger to ‘sky write’ each letter as they say the letter. Then they will say the sound, and repeat for each letter until their word is completely spelled. I also like them to “sky draw” the heart above the tricky part of the word too!
Building Words – This simple activity is engaging for students and can be used with many different types of manipulatives. Some of my favorites to use are: magnetic letters, Wikki Stix, Legos, letter erasers, letter beads, etc. Have kids build their word and place a cute heart eraser on top of the part they should memorize by heart!
Word Hunt- Help solidify student’s understanding of their newly learned words by having them go on a word hunt! Pull out colored highlighters and let them search through phonics poems, or grab highlighter tape and have them search through their books to find their words. You can even play a game of I Spy around the room!
Sensory Writing – This is always a fan favorite and can easily be pulled out when going through your new Heart Word routine. After teaching about the new word, have students write the word with their finger in things like sand, shaving cream, sensory bags, playdough, and more. Your students will go CRAZY and it’s definitely a memorable experience to help download those words in their brains!
Musical Words – Here’s an educational play on musical chairs – have a game of musical words! This is a great morning meeting or end of day activity. Place the words around your rug or classroom, play music and have students dance or walk around until the music stops. When it stops, they should be in front of a word, if not they can dash to one real quick, and they’ll read it out loud or to the person next to them. Keep playing until you’re ready to stop. Such a fun way to practice those newly learned words!
Rainbow Sound Writing– This is a twist on the rainbow writing we may be used to. Instead of having students choose a different color for each letter, have students rainbow write the different sounds in the word. For example, if we’re rainbow writing the word ‘said’, I would use red for the ‘s’, orange for the ‘ai’, and yellow for the ‘d’. I would also encourage students to write a heart above the ‘ai’ using their orange color as well!
Don’t Be Afraid to Incorporate Play
Now that we understand the importance of a multi-sensory approach and how students can master and move these words into their long term memory, we can get into all the FUN ways to help them! One of my favorite quotes when it comes to education is actually about play.
According to research by Dr. Karyn Purvis, scientists have discovered that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain, unless it is done in play, in which case it only takes 10 to 20 repetitions.
So powerful isn’t it? Now it can also be overwhelming thinking about how to plan for play in the classroom. So don’t think about it! I’m going to show you a few quick and easy ideas that can be used for ANY words throughout the entire year and can turn into easy routines students know how to do. The best part is these play activities can be used during whole group instruction, small group, centers, or even as individual work time! Check out this heart word activity pack HERE!
Fishing for Words
Of course I couldn’t have you read all of this and not give you a freebie! To thank you for subscribing, check out this awesome Lucky Words FREEBIE activity to get those kiddos playing and practicing those important words!
Boost Success with the Science of Reading!
Heart Word instruction is critical to helping students become great readers. But of course that’s not all! There’s so much involved in helping our students become fluent readers who also possess strong comprehension skills. With the Science of Reading, we can take all the complicated parts and make them FUN and easy to teach, so that all of our students become proficient readers. There are five essential components that the Science of Reading identifies as crucial for skilled reading: Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, Comprehension. Each of these pieces work together and if you need to do your own research on why it’s so important, you can learn all about the science HERE!
Do you want a ready to go, completely SoR aligned resources that will help all your students become master readers?? I’ve got you covered! Grab my GROWING bundle that is loaded with resources to help your kiddos practice crucial skills while freeing YOU from stress! You’ll get a complete sound wall, with an editable version to make it fit every students needs’, decodable readers, and countless literacy activities that will bring FUN and knowledge. And since it’s a growing bundle, you’re locked in for any and all the resources that will be added later, for FREE. Just go back and redownload all your new goodies to enjoy! So what are you waiting for? Grab it HERE!
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