Should I teach my child sight words?

Yes!  Sight words (sometimes called high frequency words) are words which a reader can identify by their appearance, even if the reader doesn’t know phonics.  They are often little words like “a” and “and.”  Some of them follow the rules of phonics, but some don’t.

Reading tutor with 4-year-old

Why is knowing them important?  According to Dr. Edward B. Fry who did extensive research on English words,

  • 25 sight words make up about one-third of all words published.
  • 100 words comprise approximately one-half of all of the words found in publications.
  • 300 words make up approximately 65% of all written material.

In the 1940s, Dr. Edward W. Dolch published a list of about 300 words commonly used in children’s books published in the 1920’s and 1930’s.  These became the first list of sight words.

In the 1990’s, Dr. Fry did further research and provided a list of 1,000 words which he called “instant” words.

By knowing these words, a child can read about 75% of almost any book written for children.  For example, knowing the Dolch words, a child can read almost

  • 88% of Ten Apples Up On Top by Dr. Seuss
  • 87% – Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
  • 78% – Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman
  • 78% – Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman
  • 82% – I Want to Be Somebody New! by Robert Lopshire
  • 83% – A Fly Went By! by Mike McClintock
  • 78% – The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
  • 81% – The Cat in the Hat Comes Back by Dr. Seuss
  • 75% – One fish two fish red fish blue fish by Dr. Seuss

Lists of these words are available free on many websites.  Search for either “Dolch words” or “Fry words.”  You can buy cards printed with these words on them.

In our next blog, we’ll talk about ways to teach sight words.

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