Learning the "sight words" for word recognition is critical for reading success. The majority of the words used in written English follow certain rules which govern the relationship between the symbols and the sounds. We call that phonics.
Unfortunately, the words we use most frequently are irregular, and they are not spelled the way they sound, words like "said," "these" and "thought." These we call "sight words," because you need to be able to recognize them immediately.
Students who struggle with text really struggle with sight vocabulary. Learning sight vocabulary requires teaching and frequent re-teaching, as well as lots and lots of practice recognizing the words.
Dolch High Frequency Words.
There are couple lists, the Fry High Frequency List, made up of 600 words, and the Dolch High Frequency Words, made up of 220 high frequency words and 95 nouns frequently found in children's books. The Fry list is ranked from most frequently used to least frequently used (of the 600 words, not all 240,000 or so according to Boston University.
I have a personal preference for the Dolch list: at 220 words it is far more manageable, and the Dolch words represent about 75% of all words we encounter in writing.
Direct Instruction Programs, like Wilson Reading or SRA, teach some sight vocabulary in each lesson, and are sure that students see those words as they are learning to "decode" the regular words which conform to the phonetic rules of English.
Using the Dolch High Frequency Words.
The word lists for Dolch High Frequency Words begin with pre-primer words, the words most frequently used to "glue together" the nouns and verbs we use to express ourselves. There are five levels and a noun list: Pre-primer, Primer, 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd grade and Nouns. Children should have all of the Dolch Words mastered before they begin second grade.
Assessment: The first step is to simply present the words, beginning with the pre-primer words on flash cards (follow this link) and testing until a student can recognize no more than 80% of the words on each level list. Check off the words the students know on the checklists provided.
Practice in Context: Leveled reading programs, such as Reading A-Z or SRA will provide lists of sight vocabulary and lists of new vocabulary either on the cover or on the page (Reading A - Z) where the item is found. Use the checklists to track which words you are using as you complete each list. These checklists can also be used to write and monitor IEP goals. There are enough columns to collect data over several weeks.
Drill and Games The flashcards can also be used for practice as well as games or concentration.
- Dolch Around the World: Present pairs of students each of the flashcards. When a child gets it right, he or she moves on to the next student and they compete to recognize the card first.
- Dolch Concentration: have two sets of cards. Have students play with a limited number of cards including some you want them to learn.
- Dolch Snap: Have students time each other with a stop clock, to see who can read them the quickest.
Dolch High Frequency IEP Goals
- "When presented with flash cards, John will read 32 of 42 (80%) of Pre-primer High Fequency (Dolch) Words, 3 of 4 consecutive trials."
- "When presented with flash cards, Susan will read 90% (36) of the First Grade Dolch Words, 3 out of 4 consecutive trials.