Priority Words are the highest frequency words among the Core Words that form the basis for the program. Priority words are your source for extending proofreading practice to students' daily writing across the curriculum. Priority Words, sometimes referred to as “no excuses” words, are words that students are always accountable for in their everyday writing. The Priority Words designate a minimum competency for spelling. They do not designate all the words students would be spelling correctly in their everyday writing, nor alter the as-usual 100% accountability for every word on the final copy of a writing-as-a-process paper.
The highest-frequency word is the, so the is the first word to go on a Priority Word list in first grade. Then the next sequential words on a high-frequency word list are added to the Priority Word list. The number of Priority Words grows over time, from level to level, as students develop as spellers and writers. The list of words is cumulative---once a word is added, it stays.
At grade levels above grade one, the Priority Word expectation must begin with a realistic number of words so that students can be successful. To determine this, look at a frequency-of-use list. Begin your Priority Word expectation with a sequential list beginning with the and including each sequential word up to the word that you anticipate students will likely miss in their writing. Students should perceive the expectation as easy. .
Once the decision has been made regarding the number of words with which to start a Priority Word list, clearly state the expectations for spelling Priority Words. You may wish to have students write what they understood you to say. This ensures that they understand their new spelling-in-writing expectation and its consequences.
Students must be provided with an alphabetical list of Priority Words. How is this best achieved without having to remake the list each time a word is added? Many teachers choose to use the Spell Check cards that complement the SPELLING SOURCEBOOK Series. Use a colored marker to highlight students' current Priority Words on the cards. A regular highlighter makes a permanent mark on the coated paper. However, Priority Word lists can be teacher-made references.
Pace the addition of Priority Words. The number of high-use words added at one time and the frequency of the additions depend on the difficulty of the words and the ability of the students. At year's end, the correct spelling and use of all Priority Words recommended for the grade level should be routine with students. Remember, Priority Words are a minimum competency for spelling in everyday writing. The goal is not to have an extensive, challenging Priority Word list that students spell and use correctly in writing--just sometimes, or even most of the time---but all the time.
In addition to the Priority Word requirement, students can be held accountable for topical words. Topical words are those words students need for a particular writing assignment. These words are expected to be spelled correctly on that one assignment, or during the exploration of that one unit. Then they are retired.
You may wish to add words to the Priority Word list permanently, such as your name, the name of your school, or the name of your city. These should be words students use often in writing. Write the words on a chart and post it in the classroom.