Dolch Sight Words

In 1936, Edward William Dolch published his list of what he called “Sight Words.” Dolch, an advocate of the ‘whole word reading’ approach, argued that his list of 220 words were used in up to 75% of all school texts, libraries, newspapers and magazines. This is why I made sure to point out that the year was 1936.

Ours is a living and constantly changing language. What was common in storybooks then may not be as common for today’s children.

Critics of this list argue that memorization is tough work for kids. It also discourages decoding and using phonemes.

Why are Dolch Sight Words important?

Well, even if you account for the societal changes since 1936, these are still very commonly used words.

The words are still important. But, modern day pedagogy and data tells us that we should be teaching our kids a different way.

Fifty years ago, children were routinely given flash cards of these sight words and just told to memorize them. Now we know that is not possible for all students.

At the time when children were being encouraged to memorize these ‘sight words,’ it was thought that reading would then come easier to them. Since the Dolch list was very commonly used words, his philosophy was that if those words were memorized, children could then focus on the other, less familiar, words in the text that they were reading.

Again, critics of a ‘whole word approach’ disagree with this.

Are Dolch words still taught?

Yes, but with less emphasis on memorization. The list can be quite useful if children are direct taught with an explicit phonics approach. Phonics is a way of teaching children how to read and write. It helps children hear, identify and use different sounds that distinguish one word from another. Phonics involves matching the sounds of spoken English with individual letters or groups of letters.

What ages are Dolch Sight Words for?

Dolch sight words are used in pre-K and primary grades.

I will say this–If, by 3rd grade, your child is struggling with the Dolch sight words, I strongly suggest an evaluation for learning disabilities. Reading problems tend to explode around 2nd or 3rd grade and you want to close that gap as soon as possible.

That’s not to say your child should have them memorized by second or third grade. However, he/she should be able to read them by that age. If they cannot, then there may be some decoding or phoneme issues.

What are the Dolch Sight Words?

The list contains 220 service words (non-nouns) plus 95 high-frequency nouns. These words comprise 80% of the words you would find in a typical children’s book and 50% of the words found in writing for adults.

Some teachers use the 1000 Instant Word list prepared in 1979 by Edward Fry instead of Dolch’s list.


Dolch list: Service Words

Pre-primer: (40 words) a, and, away, big, blue, can, come, down, find, for, funny, go, help, here, I, in, is, it, jump, little, look, make, me, my, not, one, play, red, run, said, see, the, three, to, two, up, we, where, yellow, you

Primer: (52 words) all, am, are, at, ate, be, black, brown, but, came, did, do, eat, four, get, good, have, he, into, like, must, new, no, now, on, our, out, please, pretty, ran, ride, saw, say, she, so, soon, that, there, they, this, too, under, want, was, well, went, what, white, who, will, with, yes

1st Grade: (41 words) after, again, an, any, as, ask, by, could, every, fly, from, give, giving, had, has, her, him, his, how, just, know, let, live, may, of, old, once, open, over, put, round, some, stop, take, thank, them, then, think, walk, were, when

2nd Grade: (46 words) always, around, because, been, before, best, both, buy, call, cold, does, don’t, fast, first, five, found, gave, goes, green, its, made, many, off, or, pull, read, right, sing, sit, sleep, tell, their, these, those, upon, us, use, very, wash, which, why, wish, work, would, write, your

3rd Grade: (41 words) about, better, bring, carry, clean, cut, done, draw, drink, eight, fall, far, full, got, grow, hold, hot, hurt, if, keep, kind, laugh, light, long, much, myself, never, only, own, pick, seven, shall, show, six, small, start, ten, today, together, try, warm

Dolch list: Nouns

(95 words) apple, baby, back, ball, bear, bed, bell, bird, birthday, boat, box, boy, bread, brother, cake, car, cat, chair, chicken, children, Christmas, coat, corn, cow, day, dog, doll, door, duck, egg, eye, farm, farmer, father, feet, fire, fish, floor, flower, game, garden, girl, good-bye, grass, ground, hand, head, hill, home, horse, house, kitty, leg, letter, man, men, milk, money, morning, mother, name, nest, night, paper, party, picture, pig, rabbit, rain, ring, robin, Santa Claus, school, seed, sheep, shoe, sister, snow, song, squirrel, stick, street, sun, table, thing, time, top, toy, tree, watch, water, way, wind, window, wood


Dolch Worksheets

I am including some worksheets here for you to try. These worksheets were designed with a multisensory approach in mind. The child can repeat verbally, color, make sentences, cut out, trace with their finger, point, and more. Modeled after the Orton-Gillingham approach, it involves much more than memorizing a flashcard.


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