Red Words By Heart

Posted by Brainspring on 16th Dec 2020

Red Word instruction is an essential part of every Phonics First® or Structures® lesson. Approximately 15% of the words in English are “non-phonetic” or do not contain regular spelling patterns. These words also make up 50% of all that we read and write, making practicing them necessary for automatic recall.

How we store words into our long-term memory is one of the most critical discoveries in recent reading research. Researchers suggest that when a word is familiar to you, you read it in less than 1/20th of a second. Proficient readers read approximately 150-220 words per minute. They have hundreds of thousands of words stored in long term memory, so they do not have to decode most words they encounter in texts. Instant word recall takes a tremendous load off decoding, which enhances fluency and comprehension. The more words you have stored in your sight-word vocabulary for immediate, effortless recognition, the better reader you become!

Red Word Memory Sequence

Words we learn are stored in our long-term memory for rapid recall when we read and write. There are two reasons we have to use a memorization strategy to store these words. The spellings of these words are either irregular, meaning they are not spelled with conventional phonics patterns, or contain advanced phonics patterns that you do not know or have not learned yet. In order to memorize a word, it must go through our memory processors to be forever “imprinted” in our long-term memory.

In Phonics First, our Red Word procedure facilitates and secures this memory sequence. First, we teach the word using multisensory steps to put the word’s pronunciation and spelling sequence into short term memory. Short term memory is designed only to hold information temporarily. When the Red Words are taught, they are put into our working memory, where the words are practiced in the Red Word review over a period of time. With this repetition of review, the word finally enters long-term memory for automatic recognition and recall. Once words go into our long-term memory, they are never forgotten! But, everyone’s memory is different, so words will not go into long term memory at the same time for everyone. That is why Red Word review is so important!

Orthographic Mapping and Enhancing Permanent Word Storage

Non-phonetic spelling patterns make Red Words challenging to learn and very difficult for students to master for quick, automatic word recognition. We can further enhance permanent word storage during Red Word instruction by having students look closely at the connection of the word’s phonemes to graphemes through Orthographic Mapping. Orthographic Mapping is when the brain attends to the sequence of sounds in a word’s pronunciation to anchor the sequence of graphemes seen in that same word’s spelling. This helps students more effectively store those words into long-term memory.

Brainspring has added Orthographic Mapping into the introduction step of Red Word instruction. When kids understand the parts of the word that contain regular and irregular spelling patterns, they’re better able to orthographically map these words into long-term memory for automatic word recognition. A fun way to understand these tricky words is to show which spelling parts of the Red Word must be memorized by heart.

Begin by determining the number of sounds heard in the word. Then, show the spellings of each sound. Draw a heart around the part of the word that is irregular to show which part of the word must be memorized.

Below are some examples of “Red Words By Heart” Mapping


Written by Samantha Brooks, MSE, CDP

Samantha is a Brainspring Instructor.


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