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Key Words

‘Key Words’ are the most frequently occurring words in the English language and research has shown that very few of these key English words form a very high proportion of the words in everyday use. For example, just 12 words make up ¼ of the words we read and write every day and only 100 words make up ½ of the words we read and write every day. So the idea behind the Key Words reading scheme is that if children are taught these 100 key words first, then they will find it easier to learn to read.


View the entire Key Words with Peter and Jane series
How does the Key Words with Peter and Jane series work?

The Ladybird Key Words  with Peter and Jane series introduces the key words gradually and repeats them frequently. This builds confidence in children when they recognise these key words on site (also known as the ‘lock and say’ method of learning). The Key Words with Peter and Jane series has 12 levels, each with three books: a, b and c.
Series a: gradually introduces and repeats new words
Series b: provides further practise of these same words but in a different context and with different illustrations
Series c: invites children to start writing the words and introduces reading using phonics, enabling children to read increasingly difficult words

What are the first 100 key words?

a and he I in is it of that the to was all as at be but are for had have him his not on one said so they we with you about an back been before big by call came can come could did do down first from get go has her here if into just like little look made make me more much must my no new now off only or out over other out right see she same their them then there this two up want well went who were what when where which will your old

Download a poster of the first 100 Key Words

Downloads and Teacher Resources
The history of Key Words

The books were written by British educationalist William Murray and first published by Ladybird in 1964. William had worked with children all of his life and had always emphasised the importance of praise and a positive environment to get the best results in learning. He wanted all children to succeed in reading but had found that a significant proportion of children in the UK were having difficulty, so he set out to simplify the learning process.

He wanted to know which words children needed to learn first and which were used most regularly in our everyday language. Little research had previously been conducted on early English usage in the compilation of children's first readers or reading schemes. He teamed up with a senior educational psychologist, Joe McNally, and over the next 3 years they compiled their groundbreaking research in early literacy known as 'Key Words to Literacy'.

The English language has 400,000 words, 240,000 are main words, but most people use 20,000 words. They discovered that of those 20,000 words, relatively few made up a large percentage of all we use each day. If children could learn these "Key Words" first, he knew that it would be easier for them to read, write and spell.

William Murray was commissioned by publishing visionary Douglas Keen to write the "Ladybird Key Words Reading Scheme" of 36 books. The early books taught children to recognise whole words on sight, with a repetitive vocabulary to build fluency and confidence. As the scheme progressed the phonetic approach was introduced.

The distinctive and colourful artwork was also key to the books' success. William worked alongside illustrator Harry Wingfield to create the characters Peter and Jane, who were based on two children who used to play in the artist's street.

Since they were first published, the Key Words books have gone on to sell over 90 million copies throughout the world; helping generations of children learn to read with confidence.

If you have a specific question about reading with your child that isn’t answered here, please do contact us on Facebook, Twitter or via email and we will happily answer your question.

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