Tag Archives: look-say reading method

What are Dolch words? Are they the same as sight words?

Yes, Dolch words are the same as sight words.  Many teachers expect beginning readers to recognize these words by the end of first grade.

Child looking at flash cards of two and three letter words.

Click on the picture to enlarge it.

The list of 220 Dolch words was compiled by Edward W. Dolch, Ph. D. in 1936 and published in his book Problems in Reading in 1948.  Dolch listed the most commonly used words in children’s books available in the 1930’s.  He then divided them into six parts:  pre-primer, primer, Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3 and nouns.

Dolch thought that if a child could read the words on his list, then that child could read fluently.  Even though many of the words on the list are pronounced according to the rules of phonics, some are not and do need to be memorized.  This is why the list is sometimes called sight words.  Many kindergarten and first grade classrooms have these words posted to the walls or have flash cards of these words.

Online you can find free copies of the list by searching for “Dolch words.”  You can also find flash cards, interactive sentences which pronounce the words for a child and spelling tests based on these words.

Few story books use just the Dolch words.  Dr. Seuss in writing The Cat in the Hat, tried but found it impossible.  However, he used just 236 words, many from the Dolch list.

Should I teach my grandson to read one word at a time, the way I was taught? Is this a good way?

If you learned to read in the 1950’s or 1960’s, you probably learned via the “look-say” method.  Your teacher wrote a word, such as “look,” on the blackboard.  She said it aloud.  You said it aloud.  You opened your reader to page 1.  There under a picture, was the word, “look.”  You read it aloud.  During the day your teacher referred back to the word on the board to help you remember it.  You repeated it.

The next day you did it again, except this time you added the word “see.”  When you turned to page two, there were both words, “look” and “see.”

2 Children reading books.  One is shown using a past reading technique and the other is using a more modern approach.By this method, children were taught to read words as whole units, much like Chinese children are taught their written language.  By the end of first grade, baby boom children had a reading vocabulary of about 150 to 180 words.  They might have been taught some phonics at this point, or phonics might have waited until second grade, or they might never have been taught phonics.  Students were expected to memorize thousands of words.

This “look-say” method was invented by Rev. Thomas H. Gallaudet, the director of a school for deaf and speechless children in the early 19th century.  Many schools adopted this method then, especially when it was endorsed by Horace Mann, the Secretary of the Board of Education in Massachusetts.  But after a while, teachers protested that their students couldn’t read.  And so teachers went back to a phonics-based approach until the 1950’s, when “look-say” became popular again.

There are several problems with this method of teaching reading.

  • With 50,000 words in everyday use in English, a student would never learn them all.
  • Nor could he read books which did not strictly adhere to the vocabulary list.
  • He would not learn word-attack skills to figure out new words.
  • But the biggest problem is that evidence was mounting by the 1970’s that another method, the phonics method, taught reading better.

Even so, “look-say” was not abandoned.  Instead in the 1980’s, it was wrapped into another reading instruction approach called “whole language” which ignored research supporting the superiority of a phonics-based approach.  Whole language focused on context, expecting the student to learn new words from the context of the other words in a sentence.  Like “look-say,” whole language was a haphazard approach.

So back to your question:  Should you teach your grandson to read whole words?  Sure, if you teach phonics as well.  But don’t skip the phonics.

Consider this:  You can teach your grandchild word after word after word, endlessly, or you can teach your grandchild about 41 letter/blend/diagraph sounds and about 100 rules.  Using the first approach, he’ll memorize several hundred words in a couple of years.  Using the second approach, he’ll master word attack skills that he can use on 80 percent of the words in the English language.