Sight Words
  • What Are Sight Words?

    There are two types of sight words. The first type includes decodable words that frequently occur in printed English (e.g., “and,” “like,” “get”). These high frequency words can be read by sounding them out, but they appear so often in text that learning to read them on sight will increase children’s reading fluency (Joseph, Nation, & Liversedge, 2013). Moreover, these words can provide a student access to connected text in advance of learning the phonics principles otherwise necessary for decoding them (Ehri, 2014).

    The other type of sight words cannot be decoded because they do not follow the typical letter-sound correspondences (e.g., “have,” “there,” “of”). These are irregular words and because they cannot be identified, they must be recognized automatically.


    What Sight Words Should Be Taught?  

    Several research-based lists of sight words are available for teachers to use when planning instruction or for families to use when working with their children at home. One of the most popular lists is Edward Dolch’s (1936) list of 220 basic sight words. Commonly referred to as the Dolch words, this list was developed as an alternative to longer sight word lists of 500 or more words. To be included on the list, a word had to appear on all three popular word lists of the early 1900s:

    • The Child Study Committee of the International Kindergarten Union’s (1928) list of 2,596 words
    • The Gates (1926) list of vocabulary for primary grade children
    • Wheeler and Howell’s (1930) list of 453 words most frequently used in beginning readers published from 1922 to 1929.

    The final Dolch list excluded all nouns, which are concrete and easily referenced in illustrations, and included an additional 27 words not found on the three lists mentioned above. Dolch cautioned that his list of words did not include all the sight words children might need to learn in the elementary grades, but the words represented the minimum that children should be able to read automatically.

    Another popular list of sight words is Edward Fry’s (2000) 1000 Instant Words. Fry’s list differs from Dolch’s (1936) in a few key ways. First, Fry’s list has been revised several times. What originally began as a list of 1000 words (Fry, 1957) was condensed to a list of 300 words (Fry, 1980) and, most recently, reintroduced as a modified list of 1000 words (Fry, 2000). In comparison, the Dolch words have not been updated since they were first introduced. Second, the longer list compiled by Fry is broader in scope. Among the resources used to develop the Fry list were the Dolch words and The American Heritage Word Frequency Book (Carroll, Davies, & Richman, 1971). As a result, the Fry list includes nearly all of the Dolch Words, with 19 exceptions:

    an ate call drink eight funny goes going he here
    hurt its long myself own round she thank up  

    The other words contained on Fry’s (2000) list represent the most common words in the English language organized in groups of 100. Fry suggested that his list of 1000 Instant Words be used as part of the comprehensive literacy instruction provided to beginning readers in elementary school as well as struggling readers in middle and high school.



    To find the full article and learn more about sight word instruction, visit the Iowa Reading Research Center.