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Vocabulary at Combs

As a school, we value the importance of vocabulary by making words a priority in our classrooms, empowering our pupils, having fun and enriching the whole school. Our staff ensure to pounce on every opportunity throughout the whole school day, not just in an English lesson starter.

Words and vocabulary are much more than just a piece of the educational jigsaw; words are a constant. Since the beginning of mankind, language and words have evolved with us and are the lifeblood of humanity. Vocabulary surrounds, engulfs and guides us every day; without words we’d be lost.

The great thing about vocabulary is that it is extremely accessible for all pupils – it literally empowers them.  Pupils quickly become adept at using more complex language, varying verbs and adjectives, while developing a greater capacity to show not tell.  Quite quickly, ‘big’ will become ‘enormous’; ‘happy’ will become ‘elated’; and what was once ‘boring’ will become ‘mundane’, even ‘tedious’.

At school, vocabulary impacts on the curriculum because to comprehend what we read, to master mathematics or to make sense of science, geography or art, we must first understand the words that are used and what they mean. Vocabulary is key to learning and progress across the whole curriculum. This is why we begin explicitly teaching vocabulary in our Nursery and Reception classes and right the way through the school.

Every interaction, every conversation, every minute, every lesson, every day is vital – it’s about the sum of all the small parts and valuing the marginal gains of each interaction, taking pride in the micro-victories. We make the most of the time that pupils are with us in school.

Vocabulary in the Curriculum


Cornerstones is the overarching structure that provides the basis for our curriculum. The majority of our subjects follow this scheme and a small number are standalone. Alongside the High Frequency Words, Common Exception Words and Grammar terminology, the children at Combs vocabulary lists and expectations are planned through the topics that they are taught from Cornerstones and the standalone subjects have their set vocabulary lists.

Although, there are a number of formative and summative assessment systems in place, vocabulary is a key component to assessing the children’s abilities. Teachers use the vocabulary lists as an assessment tool to make sure pupil’s are secure at their age related expectations.

Common Exception Words


Common exception words, also known as "sight words" or "tricky words", are words that don't follow the usual spelling rules, or use unusual letter combinations to represent sound patterns.

They are common in both written and spoken language, but can't be decoded using normal phonics rules.



Year 1 and 2 Common Exception Words List

High Frequency Words


High frequency words (HFWs) are words that appear frequently in written texts and in the English language. They are also known as sight words because children are taught to recognize them "on sight". HFWs are one of the main types of sight words. They often have little meaning on their own, but they contribute significantly to the meaning of a sentence as a whole.

What are high frequency and common exception words?


If you have a child in Reception they will be beginning to learn their High Frequency Words and if you have a child in Year 1 or Year 2 they will be learning their Common Exception Words but your child will also be learning them if they are in Year 3, Year 4, Year 5 and Year 6!  Children have a list of these words that they are expected to learn to read and spell by the end of each year in primary school. These terms might be completely new to you, so below I explain what they are and how you can help them at home to learn them!


What are high frequency words?


These are words which are most common in the English language. It is estimated that around one-third of our written texts are made up of the 25 most common high frequency words! These words are important as they form a large part of any books they read and becoming familiar with them and recognising these words will help them to become a more confident and fluid reader. As they start to learn them, they won't need to spend as much time figuring them out and recognise them straight away, making their reading much more fluid.


What are common exception words?


Common exception words are words that are often tricky for your children to decode, as the language of them works differently to the normal spelling patterns and these words do not follow the common phonetic spelling rules children learn. Some examples of these are: said, says, were and busy. These are words that they will need to remember by sight rather than decoding them in the usual way.


How can you help your children to learn them?


In Reception, your child will likely have to learn around 45 high frequency words. They will practise these in class but the teacher will often send them home for you to help them with too. It is really important that your child learns these words as they will come across them a lot in their reading books. It would be even better if your child learns how to spell these words as they will find they use them a lot in their writing. Here are some ideas for helping them to learn them:

  • Print out a list of off the words in alphabetical order and work your way through them with your child, ticking them off as you feel they are comfortable with them.
  • Print out the words and cut them up into brick shapes and let them stack them to learn the words to make it a little more interactive and fun!
  • Use flashcards to test them on their high frequency and common exception words. Make it into a game or have a different set of them displayed somewhere in the house each week.
  • Find a word search with the words in and see if your child can find them easily.

As we all know English spellings can be notoriously difficult. The same sound can be spelt several different ways such as 'learn' 'burn' and 'fern' and words that are spelt similarly such as 'lord' and 'word' are pronounced differently. There are some rules that can help guide us on how to spell groups of words and perhaps why they are spelt that way but there are also quite a lot of exception words that simply don't follow the rules and need to be learnt by heart. The more your children practise and the more they read the more they will become familiar with spellings.