Wednesday, April 11, 2018

How I Use Frequency Lists

This post is in partnership with our latest podcast (will post before 9:00 pm TONIGHT) which you can check out over at In our podcast, we were discussing Bob Patrick's idea of Collective Memory which we all use in a variety of ways at our school. What came from this is the ultimate question of how we choose vocabulary to focus on and why.

I will do my best to link to all my resources as well as others that I know of at the bottom of the post. If you can think of others (for any language), link to them below!

What kind of frequency list do you have? What kind of frequency list should I have?

There are a lot of frequency lists out there. They all serve different purposes and have different origins. So, the tempting answer is, "ALL OF THEM!" Of course, this isn't practical and I certainly do not look into each frequency list when I create or adapt material. Rather, I look into some favourites depending on my purpose and what I'm creating. That being said, there are many types of frequency lists and we should know about them:

  1. Teacher Created - This can be any kind of frequency list that teachers have had a hand in creating. Latin has the 50 Most Important Verbs and many languages have "super seven" or "fab five" sets of verbs that are fairly common.
  2. District/Locally Created - This may be a list of words that you must look at when teaching/preparing a lesson. They may be agreed upon at a variety of levels. 
  3. Literature Based - This is the vast majority of frequency lists. They are based in frequency of words in certain types of literature. Here are a few types within the Latin language
    1. Classical Literature - There are a good number of lists like this. They often take their frequency numbers from a given number of authors within the Classical Canon. 
    2. Medieval Literature - There are some lists like this that, unlike the previous, focus on literature solely from the Medieval period. 
    3. Mixed Literature - There are a growing number of lists that use authors from both the Classical and Medieval period. These are the lists I prefer. 
  4. Author Based - These lists are ones based solely on a singular author. They tend to take into account an author's entire body of work (if available) to create frequency lists. 
  5. Novella Based - Often these lists make use of other frequency lists and are more a vocabulary list than a frequency list. However, slowly, we are beginning to see requests for and examples of frequency lists within novellas. They are based solely on a single book and its uses of various words. 

So... Which ones do you use and when?

Ultimately it boils down to what I am doing/creating, but I do have a few tried and true frequency lists that I really like:

  • Essential Latin Vocabulary by Mark A. E. Williams - I use this one for almost every project. I like the way it is divided up by frequency, alphabet, and in categories. It did have a learning curve to using it, but once I got that down, it was very easy to use. I often pair this up with Lewis and Short's dictionary. I like the combination because I can check both the frequency and uses of a word to ensure it is the right word that I'd like. I also use it when working with authors. I can check the frequency of the words they use to determine if I need to adapt a piece of writing. 
  • 50 Most Important Verbs - This was created with much discussion by a group of Latin teachers. It is a really good list of words that most often come up within classroom discussions. It is not based on frequency of text/literature, but what we find kids most often wanted to use in our rooms and what we needed to communicate with them. I like this list when I am beginning with a new group of kids or when we are discussing things we've done, like to do, etc. 
  • Dickinson's Core Vocabulary - This list is quite long, and I have not explored all its uses, but I do like to use it when I'm looking for a particularly frequent word from Classical Literature. 

Okay, well, how do you use them, especially together?

When I use a frequency list it is to: adapt a piece of literature, write a novella, or create a vocabulary list for a unit. Here is a quick rundown of how I might use these resources in each of the instances. 

Adaptation of Literature

  1. Read the literature as is, with a translation next to it (make your own). 
  2. Make notes on the words your students already know. 
  3. With the remaining words, check frequency and categorise them: words to target, icing words, words to change
    1. Words to target become your vocabulary words. They are high frequency and/or key to understanding the unit as a whole. 
    2. Icing words are words that are key to the literature, but have little/no use outside of it for your students. They are fine to acquire, but not required. 
    3. Words to change are words that are not high frequency and have an alternative word that is high frequency. You will want to check the dictionary for these changes to ensure your new words mean the same thing (i.e. is the word used in the same way? is it used with similar words?) 

Writing a Novella

  1. In this instance, I'll start with the 50 MIV. I usually start here because I know it is a list that many teachers reference and many students will already know/be learning. 
  2. If I need a verb/word not on the list, I will usually go to the vocabulary lists my students already have. 
  3. When considering other words, my first stop is the Essential Latin Vocabulary to check for frequency and see other words that might work and then I go to Lewis and Short to look at its uses and other synonyms. 

Preparing a Unit for Students

This process is a little more free for me. When it comes to conversation, we'll use what words we need and want. I am not too picky about frequency, unless...
  • I know what literature is coming up. 
  • I know already that a word is high frequency.
Either way, I almost always, if I'm not sure, check the dictionary for uses of the word to help make sure I'm using it correctly. 

List of resources

  1. 50 Most Important Verbs
  2. Essential Latin Vocabulary
  3. Dickinson's Frequency List
  4. Dickinson's Vergil Frequency List
  5. Super Seven (listed in many languages)
What other frequency lists do you know about? Share them below or on social media with the hashtag #steppingintoci

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