Grade Level Application of Dolch Sight Words

While Dolch created specific lists of sight words to learn at each grade level, each Dolch word list is only meant to provide parents and teachers with a road map and sequence for helping children acquire the words that they will encounter most frequently in their reading. Each list is merely a recommendation. If a child masters all of the words on the grade level list before the end of the school year, parents and teachers should feel free to move on to the next list. Similarly, if a child does not commit all of the words on a list to memory by the end of the recommended school year, adults working with the child should continue to help him or her learn all sight words on the previous year’s list before moving on to the next grade level’s list.

Kindergarten -1st grade

The heaviest emphasis on mastering sight words should come in the primary grades. Because a few words are used so often in English language texts, providing children with access to them gives them tremendous advantages as developing readers. Sight word mastery is one of the keys to fluent reading. Young children already have these high frequency words in their verbal vocabularies. Teaching them to read the words simply requires connecting each sight word in the child’s memory to the written version of the word.

Dolch’s pre-primer list of 40 words is recommended for students in grades K and 1. This list includes the most frequently occurring words in children’s books. A, and, for, in, is, it, said, the and to are the building blocks of this list. After learning the pre-primer list, children should be taught the primer list. This list consists of 52 words and includes at, be, but, came, did, do, he, into, no, on, saw, she, was, with and yes. Concurrent with learning the pre-primer and primer lists, children are also encouraged to commit Dolch’s list of 95 high frequency nouns to memory. This list includes nouns often used in children’s daily lives such as brother, sister, ball and goodbye as well as those used for special occasions that are particularly important to many youngsters (birthday, party, cake, Christmas, Santa Clause).

While Dolch recommended that children learn all of the words on the pre-primer list by the end of first grade, other sources suggest that children learn all 220 of the “service words” as well as the 95 frequently used nouns by the end of the first grade. Parents and teachers should set goals for their children’s sight word learning based on their individual needs, interests and abilities.

Grades 2-3

At grades 2 and 3, parents and teachers should continue to reinforce and teach any sight words from earlier lists that their children have not already acquired while at the same time moving on to Dolch’s second and third grade lists. The words placed on these two lists are not seen as often in children’s texts as those on the previous lists, but are still essential to reading grade level literature. Dolch’s second grade list contains more complex words such as always, before, which, would and your. The third grade list features many high frequency words that cannot be easily decoded by the reader and therefore must be memorized. This list includes about, clean, laugh, myself and together. Since Dolch created his lists in 1936, there are a two words on these lists that are rarely used in modern children’s texts: upon(2nd grade list) and shall (3rd grade list). Many educators have removed these words from the lists of sight words because they are used so infrequently.

Grades 4-12

Because most students will have learned to read Dolch’s sight words by the fourth grade (read about 4th grade sight word strategies), teachers in the upper grades primarily focus on ensuring that students can spell these words in their writing. While many children may learn to read sight words quite quickly, they often have difficulty spelling them correctly in their own writing. This is especially true for homonyms such as their, they’re and there. Children need additional reinforcement to correctly use sight words when creating their own written pieces.

Sight words are also essential to the instruction of English Language Learners (ELLs, also known as ESL students) at the upper grades. Sight words are not only critical for learning to read the English language, they are also the building blocks of conversation. Focusing instruction in the ESL classroom on sight words benefits ELLs in the same ways that elementary level instruction does. It provides these students access to at least half of the words they will read allowing them to concentrate on decoding and learning more complex English vocabulary.

View the full archive of sight words articles.