Dolch Sight Words – The Complete Beginner’s Guide

What are sight words?  Maybe you’ve heard the term but aren’t quite sure what it means.  Sight words are the most common words in the English language.  Most of these words cannot be sounded out phonetically and must be memorized by sight.  They also cannot be easily depicted in pictures.  It is essential that children learn their sight words to become good fluent readers.

Who is Edward Dolch?


Edward William Dolch, Ph.D. Image Courtesy of the University of Illinois Archives, Faculty Portraits, RS 39/2/25

Edward William Dolch, Ph.D. (1889 – 1961) was a Professor at the University of Illinois from 1919 to 1940. His work was published prolifically as he researched the areas of word meaning, reading, spelling, and the teaching of reading.  Partnering with his wife, he also wrote many children’s books.

In the 1930’s, Dolch conducted research to find out which words were used most frequently.  He came up with a list of 220 words in 1936 and published them in his book Problems in Reading.  Dolch called these words “service words” because they were used most frequently in all writing regardless of the topic.  It is believed that he coined the term “sight words” and he is sometimes referred to as “the father of sight words”.

Dolch’s Sight Words

The Dolch sight word list is divided by grade levels pre-primer through third grade.  Children should be able to read all the sight words by the end of first grade, but will not know how to spell all of them correctly until the end of third grade.

His list of 220 words consist of adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions, pronouns, and verbs.  He did not include nouns in this list because nouns change with subject matter, school curriculum, and each child’s individual interests.  However, he did create a separate list of 95 nouns that were common at the time of his research.

Dolch theorized that children who could read a core group of words by sight would have an easier time reading and a higher comprehension level.   I think we can all agree that children also have greater confidence and enjoy reading more if they feel that it is not a difficult chore.

Why Are These Words Still Used Today?

You might be thinking that the 1930’s was a long time ago.  Times have changed since then.  Why would we still use the same list of sight words today?  Shouldn’t we update the words we teach our children to be more in tune with the twenty-first century?

The fact of the matter is that 50-75% of all words in children’s books today still contain the same basic words as in the 1930’s.  To build on that point, all of print media including magazines, news articles, books, etc. use the same basic words.  I think of them as the words we couldn’t do without.  After all, how could we string our sentences together without words like a, the, we, is, to, be, and the word I?

How Can Kids Learn Sight Words?

Children can learn sight words in a myriad of different ways.  Here are a few suggestions:

Computer games – Kids love to learn by playing games.  If you look online you’ll find computer games that teach and reinforce sight words.

Sight word activities and games – Sight word bingo is a favorite.  Sight word games and activities and classroom resources can be found online and in teacher supply stores.

Drill and practice – Use Dolch sight word flash cards for daily practice.  Ten minutes per day over time and your little ones will be on their way to reading sight words proficiently.  A word of warning here though:  Flash cards can be a great way to teach sight words, but kids need to practice the words in sentences and as a part of real text, so don’t rely on flash cards alone.

Good old fashioned reading – Children learn their sight words by reading.  Dr. Seuss challenged himself to write a book made up entirely of sight words.  His creation was the infamous The Cat in the Hat.  High-frequency words make up 75-90% of all Dr. Seuss books and other “learning to read” books.

So there you go.  Play those sight word games and practice those flash cards!  But most importantly, get your kids to read, read, read!


Here are the links to my Dolch sight words resources:

Dolch Sight Word Lists

Dolch Sight Word Flash Cards

Dolch Sight Word Bingo

Sight Word Practice Worksheets

Sight Words Worksheets

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