What are Sight Words?

When a reader masters sight words her memory automatically brings the sound and meaning of the word into the person’s consciousness. The action is so unconscious that she doesn’t even realize it is happening. In fact, researchers found that when they presented readers with illustrations of some sight words along with the written word s, the readers could not avoid looking at the words. They used the written words rather than the illustrations to determine meaning because their brains were “trained” to read these words.

E.W. Dolch and Sight Words

While any word that a reader is exposed to repetitively can become a sight word, E.W. Dolch wanted to identify key words that are used most frequently in all children’s texts. Through his examination of a wide variety of children’s books, Dolch was able to pinpoint the words that are most often used by authors of juvenile texts. He believed if children could learn and easily identify these words then they would be able to read 50 to 75% of any text.

Dolch’s list of words includes 220 words he calls “service words” as well as 95 frequently used nouns. The “service words” are high frequency pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and verbs. Using this larger list, he created smaller lists of specific words he recommended that children learn at each grade level. Dolch organized these lists based on the regularity with which each word was used in the books he surveyed. He believed that the more frequently a word was used the earlier a child should be taught it. Therefore, the highest frequency words are on the pre-primer list which Dolch recommends children master before the end of first grade.

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