Teaching Children Reading Begins with Dolch Sight Words

Teaching children reading, as you know, begins with Dolch sight words, the most frequently used words in kids reading. Teaching sight words with sight word games and songs makes learning them easy and fun. It's one of my favorite things to do, and I am excited to be able to share with you the strategies, games, and activities which have worked for my students.

It is absolutely essential that every child learn these words. In my 28 years of teaching, almost all of the struggling readers I have seen have had inadequate sight vocabularies.

Children can learn to recognize sight words at a very young age. They can - and should - learn words while they are learning the alphabet or even before. Most children learn to recognize their names at the age of three or four years. By teaching them the letters that make up their names, you have provided them with an essential aspect of learning often overlooked in education - context.

The brain is constantly seeking relevance and attempting to place new information into the context of what is already known. Letters of the alphabet have a clear purpose when children learn them in the context of what they already know - their names. Learning the alphabet first and then using the letters to build words does not make sense to every child!


Knowing Dolch words immediately on sight is important to reading fluency which is how smoothly students read. Learning Dolch sight words in context - repeated practice in sentences - develops fluency. This is the next step in learning to read, and it is an important one because it leads to comprehension which is the ultimate goal - that students be able to read for meaning.

When students have difficulty with comprehension, the first thing you should do is see if they have a sight vocabulary. If they don't, you have to help them get one. And I am going to show you how to do just that!

In order for children to learn sight words, they must have a lot of practice reading them. A lot! It is a challenge to keep them interested, and you must schedule time to work with them in small groups of six or less every single day.

As a Title I reading specialist I worked with small groups of at-risk students for whom I created a wide variety of games and activities using the Dolch words. As you can see from this Data Chart these games and strategies worked for us, and they will work for you, too, if you will dedicate time daily to use them with groups of six children or less.

The Words

Edward Dolch, who created the collection of sight words which bears his name, organized the words into lists according to levels, Preprimer through third grade. Clicking on the link below will take you to them.

Let the fun begin!


Another promise: If you start with the Preprimer list and sytematically build and use word walls , and if you spend time playing the suggested sight word games with small groups of students, you will see results.

Though Edward Dolch researched and created the most widely known collection of sight words, his is not the only list of high frequency words.

Edward Fry researched and published a list of words, too, which are called Fry Instant Words or Fry 1000 Instant Words. They are organized in groups by level, as are the Dolch words, and whereas Dolch's lists go only through third grade, Fry's lists are generally not meant to be mastered until the end of fifth grade. This makes them useful for those teaching children above the third grade level.

These words are organized into groups of 100, the first hundred roughly corresponding with first grade, the second with second grade, and so on through third grade. The final lists are generally mastered in fourth and fifth grades, though this varies of course with individual children.

First Hundred
Second Hundred
Third Hundred
Fourth Hundred
Fifth Hundred
Sixth Hundred
Seventh Hundred
Eighth Hundred
Ninth Hundred
Tenth Hundred

Regardless of which list you are using, playing sight word games and building and practicing word walls will get you and your students where you need to go.


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How to Teach Sight Words
Learning how to teach sight words is key to effective reading instruction. The protocol is the same for teaching first grade sight words, kindergarten sight words, or those for any grade level.

Sight Word Games
Sight word games are the best tool for teaching sight words. Especially effective are word wall games and songs that increase sight word memory.

Sight Word Oldies
Teaching sight words was never so much fun! Discover how to use oldies songs to help children learn and remember basic sight words.

Second Grade Sight Words
These second grade sight words can be used to fill your word walls for an entire year. They are the categories I used to build word walls for one year with second grade students as Title I reading specialist. Using these categories resulted in a total of 883 words on our word walls for the year with amazing gains in oral reading fluency

Word Walls
Word walls are the best method for teaching Dolch and other basic sight words as well as subject area vocabulary. Word wall activities, games, and songs give kids the essential practice they need for mastery.

Centers Give You Time for Small Groups

Sometimes it's hard to find a way to work with small groups of students. I used to think that centers were only for preschool and kindergarten until I figured out that using them would give me the chance to work with students in small groups so I could catch them up.

Whole group instruction is not the way to catch kids up.

Centers give meaningful experiences to the rest of the class while you are working with a small group of children, perhaps using some of the sight word and word wall games and activities presented on this website.

Suggestions for centers:

  • Computers
  • Art center
  • Listening center
  • Math center

The choices for centers are unlimited, of course. These are ideas of a general nature just to get your creative juices flowing. Once you practice the procedures with your students and they learn the routine, you'll wonder how you ever did without them!

The best thing is that it gives you the time you need to work with children who really need intensive work especially on sight words.