What are Sight Words

Sight words are written words that are automatically identified by sight, rather than typical decoding skills.

In 1948, Dr. Edward William Dolch published a book entitled Problems in Reading, which devoted an entire chapter to sight words.  After researching the most frequently occurring words found in reading material of preprimary and primary grades, Dolch developed the Dolch Sight Word List. It is compiled of 220 words which are grouped and presented by level of difficulty according to grade (e.g. preprimer, primer, kindergarten, first, second, and third grade).

Sight words remarkably make up over 50% of the words used in all reading materials. Their frequency of occurrence is due to their ambiguity, as these words are used in all writing regardless of subject matter. Many of these sight words cannot be sounded out phonetically (e.g., what), nor can they be illustrated to add a visual cue to the learning process (e.g, the). Therefore, their mastery relies on memorization.

Dolch also created a list of the most commonly used nouns in children’s books. The fact that students will encounter these words more frequently than any other words in print emphasizes the importance to recognize them on sight, and the need to read them without hesitation.

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