Teaching Heart Words / Sight Words

How to teach ♥︎ Heart Words ♥︎ so they stick

What’s this change in terminology about? We always called them “sight words”… now we hear these high-frequency,  strangely spelled words referred to as a variety of names, including “heart words”.

Have you ever heard something to the effect of: “you can’t sound out sight words“? If your answer is “yes”,  I’d love to show you exactly how to do just that! Not only is it possible, but it’s what each learning brain needs to do in order to learn to read and spell words automatically. 

In this half-hour video you’ll find the following:

  • an explanation of  what is meant by the terms ‘heart word‘ and ‘sight word
  • a brief description of how we learn to recognise words effortlessly – as if ‘by sight’: orthographic mapping
  • me demonstrating a strategy to teach new heart words to learners
  • some suggestions for different practice activities learners can engage in to help them learn these words ‘off by heart’

Here are some time points in the video below, to help you find what you need:

  • ➤ 0:15 Reading words ‘by sight’ – orthographic mapping
  • ➤ 2:57 How we have been teaching ‘sight words’ – rote memorisation
  • ➤ 3:35 How we really read words ‘by sight’
  • ➤ 4:55 Orthographic mapping
  • ➤ 7:25 The alphabetic code
  • ➤ 8:40 Different kinds of words
  • ➤ 12:34 An order for introducing high frequency words
  • ➤ 14:57 Demonstration: a strategy for teaching heart words
  • ➤ 27:11 Suggestions for practice activities


Further down this page you’ll find a printable one-page ‘how-to’ guide to download so you can try it out!  ⬇︎⬇︎ You’ll also find links to some excellent further reading and resources (such as the Phonic Books phonically organised high frequency word poster I show in the video. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Heart Words – please come back and let me know how you get on. You can leave a reply at the bottom of this page. ⬇︎⬇︎

Heart Word teaching routine:

Download a handy reference guide to help you put this strategy into practice:

Useful links to learn more:

Phonic High Frequency Word Chart

Phonic Books UK

Also check out the range of excellent “Free Teaching Resources” listed at the left side of the Phonic Books website. 

A New Model for Teaching High Frequency Words

By Linda Farrell, Michael Hunter & Tina Osenga, for Reading Rockets

Heart Word Magic

By Really Great Reading

2 thoughts on “Teaching Heart Words / Sight Words”

  1. Thanks Emma. Very helpful and lovely to see someone affirming the way I teach. We put a red heart around the new or irregular sound instead of on top.

    1. That’s great Jan – there are no rules about how to highlight the new / irregular parts. I prefer just using a different coloured pen myself, to highlight the ‘stand out’ part. I think it’s important that there is consistency across classrooms within one school though, and it helps if school and any external support are doing the same thing.

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