An analysis by Oxford English Corpus/Oxford English Dictionary determined the most commonly used words in the English language and listed these words, ranking them by frequency of use. Apparently the first 25 words listed make up about 33% of all printed material in English, the first 100 make up about 50%, and the first 300 make up about 65%.
I have made 2x3-inch flashcards of the first 100 most commonly used words, which will be kept in the "flashcards" drawer in the tutoring room. You can also easily find the list online: The First 100 Most Commonly Used English Words. This site also includes links to lists of the Second through Tenth 100 most used words.
There are a variety of activities that can stem from the list of the first 100:
- Have the student read the words. Since many of the first 100 words are sight words--words that readers should know by sight--use the flashcards to see if the student does recognize words like 'the' and 'you'.
- Dictate words for the student to spell, either orally or by writing.
- Dictate a word for the student to correctly use in a sentence, either orally or by writing.
- Have the student identify or count how many times the word appears on a page of a textbook or a paragraph from the newspaper.
Break the list into smaller chunks so your student isn't overwhelmed. Maybe a few words at a time for a level 1 ESL student, 10 words for an intermediate student. For higher-level ESL students and ABE students, it may be more appropriate to go with, for example, the Ninth 100 most used words and practice more challenging words like "particular" or "necessary".