Science of reading research has demonstrated that children learn to read through a process called orthographic mapping. This is where the brain maps (connects) the sounds (phonemes) to the letters (graphemes) in a word. Orthographic mapping allows students to take an unfamiliar word and turn it into a ‘sight word’. This is where a sight word can be immediately retrieved from the brain.
Therefore, in order for tricky words to truly stick, we have to help early readers connect the sounds to the symbols that represent those sounds.
Orthographic mapping is a far more effective way to teach young learners to read and spell high-frequency words. Rather than using sight word activities to simply memorise common words which you might find on a dolch list or fry sight words list, orthographic mapping will help students master those same words in a fraction of the time. Whether they are kindergarten students, first grade students, second grade students or even older students of any grade level, throwing out the traditional sight word list and teaching high-frequency 'sight words' through the orthographic mapping process instead, is the perfect way to equip our young learners with spelling knowledge, rather than spelling lists.
The Orthographic Mapping Process
In order to successfully map words, students must have the ability to orally segment a word, as well as some knowledge of letter-sounds.
The process for orthographically mapping new words is as follows:
1.Say the word and tap the sounds in the word. How many sounds altogether?
Show boxes/circles to represent each sound. No letters (graphemes) at this point.
2. Discuss the sounds
- The first sound in ‘said’ is /s/. Touch the first dot or box.
- The second sound in ‘said’ is /e/. Touch the second dot or box.
- The third sound in ‘said’ is /d/. Touch the third dot or box.
3. Map the word
Discuss which letters make each of the regular sound.
- The first sound is /s/. What letter do we use to spell ‘s’?
- The last sound is /d/. What letter do we use to spell ‘d’?
- The middle sound is /e/ but we don’t use the letter ‘e’ to spell this sound. We use the digraph ‘ai’.
This is where students may draw a little heart over the tricky part of the word.
4. Discuss any words with similar spellings (if possible) and/or reasons why that particular spelling is used.
Take the tricky and make it sticky!
As much as I have loved a good classroom password in the past, we know that simply asking students to memorise words isn't evidence-based. So, how can we still have the fun of a classroom password but align it to best practice?
Take the tricky, and make it sticky! This is a really fun way to give students a little extra practice with important words!
This free download can be used with or without post-it notes to focus on the tricky spellings in target words. Use as a display to support your explicit lessons, OR as a classroom password alternative. Students tap each of the sounds as they enter and/or exit your room!
Download your free posters here.
Free printable worksheets & posters
You will find loads of free phonics assessment tools and free printables for mapping high-frequency words in the Freebee Library.
Here are just a few examples of what you'll find!
Tricky Word Mapping Mats
More lesson plans & printable activities for high-frequency words
There is also a wide variety of activities and lesson plans for high-frequency words over at Mrs Learning Bee. They will allow you to put a spin on traditional methods of 'sight word practice' and instead help students to master a wide range of different words using evidence-based practices!
Many also target other areas of early development (e.g. fine motor skills) as well!