Undeniably the early years of a child’s education are critical to her development as a reader. During preschool and the primary grades she is building the foundations for a lifetime of reading. One of the building blocks of a strong foundation in reading is sight words. The ability to easily identify and understand high frequency words in texts helps the young reader move efficiently and effectively through reading tasks. While it is important for young readers to master the core set of 220 high frequency words by the end of third grade, this does not mean that sight word instruction ends on the last day of the third grade school year. Sight word instruction should be an important part of the fourth grade reading program as well. Fourth grade teachers and parents should focus on three main approaches to sight word instruction: remediation, reinforcement and spelling of the pre-primer through third grade word lists and introducing the current fourth grade sight word lists.
Remediation and Developmental Sight Word Instruction in 4th Grade
As any parent or educator knows, each child develops at his or her own rate. While there are generally accepted benchmarks and milestones that we aim to help our children reach at particular points in their development we know that not all will reach them at the same time. This idea is especially true when applied to literacy development. Though parents and teachers focus reading instruction in grades pre-k through three at least in part on sight word recognition, not all children will integrate all of the words on Dolch’s lists into their reading and writing vocabularies during these years. Therefore, it is important to continue to spend time working with students in the fourth grade on developing recognition of the words on the pre-primer, primer, first, second, third and high frequency nouns lists.
For some students this means offering remediation instruction. These students have been exposed to the words before, but have not fully committed them to their vocabularies. They may need more time practicing identifying the words individually (by reading and writing them in isolation) and in context (by reading and writing them in full texts). Students with processing or learning disabilities often require additional time to learn sight words so remediation is an important part of their literacy instruction.
For other students developmental sight word instruction in the fourth grade is necessary. Some children simply do not learn sight words in the early grades. They may not have had consistent early educational experiences, as is sometimes the case with ESL students who are new to U.S. schools. These students do not need to be re-taught sight words; they are learning them for the first time. Fourth grade teachers and parents should work with these students using the beginning list of sight words (pre-primer) and work their way up to the third grade list of words. They should focus on teaching the children to identify sight words within context and in isolation using the same best practices recommended for the early grades.
Reinforcement and Spelling of Sight Words in the 4th Grade
Because many students come to fourth grade with mastery of most, if not all, of Dolch’s sight words parents and teachers of this group of children can primarily focus their instruction on reinforcing and spelling these 220 words and 95 nouns. Adults should continue to encourage fourth graders to use their knowledge of sight words when reading new texts. During guided reading they should point out and remind students of sight words appearing in texts. Teachers should also continue to make high frequency words a part of their classroom word walls.
In addition, fourth grade sight word instruction should focus on spelling. Once a child is able to identify a word in print, he can move on to making it a part of his own writing. Because these children have already integrated these high frequency words into their reading vocabularies they are ready to make them a part of their writing vocabularies. Spelling word lists in the fourth grade should be comprised primarily of the sight words from the pre-primer to the third grade Dolch lists. Parents and teachers can help students learn to spell these words by teaching them patterns of spelling. Many of the sight words (and English words in general) can be read and spelled using general patterns. When children learn these patterns they are better able to “work out” new words they want to read and write. Just as adults teach children to use phonemic patterns to “tackle” unfamiliar words in texts, they can also teach them to use the same patterns to spell. For example, a young reader is able to discover the word “ran”(primer) in a story when she is taught that it is the word “can” (pre-primer list) with the /k/ sound replaced by the /r/ sound. The same rule can apply to spelling. Similarly, children can learn to read and spell compound words by being taught that they are comprised of two shorter words. The word “myself” (third grade list) is simply “my”(pre-primer list) + “self”. If a child is taught to spell the smaller, high frequency words first he can then easily move into writing compound words.
Fourth Grade Sight Word Lists
Unlike the lists designed for earlier grades, there is no universally accepted list of sight words for the fourth grade. Different sources offer different lists of words deemed to be those appearing with the highest frequency in grade level texts. Parents and teachers should select the fourth grade sight word list that seems to most closely fit the texts they plan to use with their children as the basis for sight word instruction.
Though fourth grade sight word lists differ in content all of their creators seem to have used similar criteria for selecting the words. Most of the words on these lists are polysyllabic and many are compound words comprised of roots that are on the earlier Dolch lists. Most of the fourth grade lists include proper nouns and adjectives related to the United States (American, United States, English) and terms of address for men and women (Mr., Miss, Ms., Mrs.). In addition, the fourth grade lists feature a large number of frequently used contractions including I’m, can’t, and didn’t as well as often confused homonyms such as their, they’re and there.
Parents and teachers working with fourth grade students should use the same best practices suggested for the earlier grades to teach this age group their sight words list. Word walls, flashcards and reading sight words in context continue to be effective instructional strategies at the fourth grade level.
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