Back to articles Are You Working On Your Child's Sight Vocabulary?

Categories: Parenting

What is sight vocabulary? While many words in the English language can be read by emerging readers through various decoding skills or represented by picture, there are some words that simply must be learned by sight.

In order to become a reader, your child must be able to instantly recognize these "sight words". Also known as "service words" these words are pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and verbs which cannot be learned through the use of pictures.

Why is sight vocabulary important?

Sight words are service words which are necessary for understanding sentences. A reader who knows the Dolch words will recognize the majority of the words in a typical selection.

It is estimated that between 50-75% of all words used in school books, library books, newspapers, and magazines are sight words. In 1948, Edward William Dolch, Ph.D. presented a list of 220 words, excluding nouns, that were common to the beginning reading programs of the day in his book, Problems in
Reading, The Garrard Press. Today the list of high frequency sight words is commonly referred to as "The Dolch List".

The 100 most common words actually make up about 50 percent of the material we read! The 25 most common words make up about one-third of our written material. So you can see how mastering a list of sight words can be a huge part of teaching a child to read.

How do you teach sight vocabulary?

Many beginning readers learn "sight words" by reading them repeatedly in context. It is important to remember that learning the Dolch words in isolation, does not make a "reader" because sometimes a child can read the words from a list or flash card and not recognize the same word/s in a book or story. However introducing and reinforcing "sight words" through various activities is an important part of a strong balanced reading program and can help to boost a child's motivation and confidence.

First it is important to note that you do not need, and should not, focus on teaching a child all 220 words at once. Begin with a smaller, more manageable list, and gradually add to that over time.

The Dolch Basic Sight Vocabulary of 220 words is divided into 11 lists and can also be broken down to lists for various levels from preschool through Grade 3.

As students are introduced to new sight words, they should see them, say them, and spell them. Brain research suggests that as we involve more senses in acquiring knowledge, we are better able to retain and recall that knowledge.

One of the very best ways for children to become comfortable with high-frequency words is to have them engage in lots of reading. As your child read books that are easy and/or predictable, they will be exposed to high-frequency words hundreds (if not thousands) of times. The context of the sentence will help them recognize and practice these important words.


Deanna Mascle shares her list of Sight Word Resources and other Reading Strategies at