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In the English language many common words have irregular spellings or phonic patterns that do not code well. We often refer to these as “sight words” and teach students to recognize them by sight without sounding out the letters (LaBerge & Samuels, 1974). This work began with Dolch and Fry who thought we best learn through meaning and not decoding

Other researchers (Enri, 2005) have called for an expanded version of sight words that takes into account developmental stages in alphabetic principle and grapheme and sound mapping.


The concept of sight words began with Edward Dolch and Edward Fry who advocated for a meaning first over decoding first approach to reading. Dolch believed in having students memorize words and “guess” them by shape. In 1935 he published the Dolch “Basic Sight Word List” consisting of 220 words with no nouns. Dolch believed in teaching only sight words until second grade and then introducing phonics.

The list got arranged by frequency. The higher the frequency a word got used in English the earlier Dolch thought it should get introduced in school.

Edward Fry published his 1000 Fry Instant Word List in 1980 and followed this up with “Fry Phrases, or common phrases found in English. The list again ranked words by frequency.

Ehri (2005) suggests moving beyond sight words and irregular sight word rote learnign and recognizing sight words increase in developmental stages.

In Research

Ehri (1991) identifies four ways we learn to read words:

  • decoding-using phonics and graphemes
  • analogizing through patterns and rhymes
  • prediction-using other content to guess the word
  • knowing the word from previous exposure,

Ehri expands on a notion of sight words from it's roots int he “meaning first” over “decoding” first reading instruction. Any word read with automaticity and attention (LaBerge & Samuels, 1974) should be considered a sight word: “The process at the heart of sight word learning is a connection-forming process.” (Ehri, 2005, p[. 170)

  • pre-alphabetic phase-no letter to sound connection. Recognizing sight words by memory or contect.
  • partial alphabetic phase- Can recognize basic sounds and letter connections. Read first letter, last letter, and some CVC words
  • full alphabetic phase readers- when they recognize sound, letter, and phoneme connection
  • consolidated phase- memorized many sight words.

Sight word flash card and sight word teaching remains a popular intervention study in special education research.

In the Classroom

sight_words.txt · Last modified: 2021/10/14 16:54 by jgmac1106