Sight Words/High Frequency Words

Teaching Sight Words

What are sight words/high frequency words and how do I teach them?

Teaching these types of words has often been a struggle for me. I love phonics because there are rules and patterns that make learning words that follow those rules and patterns "easy." But sight words? It took me a while to figure out that, although the terms sight words and high frequency words are often used interchangeably, there is (sometimes) a difference.

High Frequency words are the most commonly occurring words in texts.  So, in these types of lists you will get words that can be sounded out and words that cannot be sounded out.

Sight words. People vary as to how they define sight words. Some say they generally they are words that you can't sound out so you learn them by sight. Others basically define them as high frequency words. The key is just that these are words that children learn to identify by sight very quickly.

I'm struggling right now with my 8 year old as she is not yet a fluent reader  and I'm trying to figure out how we're going to approach teaching sight words so I wanted to pull together resources that I've used in the past and are considering using now. Although I'm struggling now, I can tell you, from experience, barring a learning disability perhaps, consistency is the key.  Ironically, I kind of had myself more together when my oldest kids were younger, I was much more consistent. But I guess as more kids came along and all these new bright and shiny methods and resources came out, I gotta away from the old fashioned techniques, consistent techniques that brought success with my older kids.

The big idea behind teaching sight words is to provide consistent (daily) review and practice.  In this area, I always relied heavily on flashcards to introduce and review and games and activities to make the words stick.

So, below are some resources you might find helpful.

Lesson & Teaching Tips - This site has a wealth of information regarding teaching sight words. There is a step by step lesson outline as well as games and flashcards. I would definitely make this one of your first stops.

Scholastic Tips for Teaching High Frequency and Sight Words

High Frequency Words vs. Sight Words - some tips on teaching sight words. One thing she emphasizes is to "read, read, read."

How to Teach Sight Words

Word Lists & Flashcards

There are two main sources of sight word lists that have been compiled from research, and I'm sure you'll get familiar with one or both of them:

  • Dolch Sight Words
  • Fry's Lists
"The Dolch word list is a list of frequently used English words compiled by Edward William Dolch, a major proponent of the "whole-word" method of beginning reading instruction. The list was prepared in 1936 and was originally published in his book Problems in Reading in 1948.

Dolch compiled the list based on children's books of his era, which is why nouns such as "kitty" and "Santa Claus" appear on the list instead of more high-frequency words. The list contains 220 "service words" that have to be easily recognized in order to achieve reading fluency in the English language. The compilation excludes nouns, which comprise a separate 95-word list. Between 50% and 75% of all words used in schoolbooks, library books, newspapers, and magazines are a part of the Dolch basic sight word vocabulary."(Wikipedia)

You will find Dolch words online that are arranged by Preschool (Preprimer), Kindergarten (Primer) and then by grades (up to grade 3). 

"The Fry Sight Words list is a more modern list of words than the Dolch list, and was extended to capture the most common 1,000 words. Dr. Edward Fry developed this expanded list in the 1950s (and updated it in 1980), based on the most common words to appear in reading materials used in Grades 3-9. Learning all 1,000 words in the Fry list would equip a child to read about 90% of the words in a typical book, newspaper, or website." ( The Fry's List is usually broken down into lists of 100 Words.

Here are some places you can find those words lists (and in some cases flashcards and other learning resources to use to teach the words on them). One useful thing as well, is to grab or make a checklist of the words so you can mark off when your student has mastered them. 



Other Resources

  • Quizlet - Be sure to stop by Quizlet (one of my favorite sites) for digital flashcards sets for the different word lists. I love quizlet because not only do they have the flashcards (made by users and you can make your own) but they also have tests and games that you can do for any word list that is on there or that you make. I use this site for all subjects and often make my own card sets.
  • YouTube - Search for videos on either word list

Games/Activities - This links directly to the games page which has a lot of neat game ideas and even some printables for some games.

One of our favorite games is "Bang!" At, she calls it Boom and this was always one of the kids' favorites. Essentially you take a jar or bag and put the sight word cards in it along with cards that say Bang (or boom). Your child picks out cards one at a time and reads them until they either finish all the word cards or get a Boom card. If they get a Boom card, they have to put all the cards back into the bag and start over. This one always got giggles as the kids were nervous that the next card would be a Bang.

As you can see at the site above, you can take old favorite games like Bingo, Tic Tac Toe and Hangman and modify them by the addition of sight words. I've always done this in reading and math (esp. with math facts) and games are such a great way to get practice in that kids often get so involved and forget that it's about learning and not just the fun.

Sight Words Online Matching Games - five different levels arranged by grades, starting with preschool, kindergarten, grades 1-3.

Sight Word Notebooks

Over the years, we've dabbled in making sight word notebooks and I was never successful in keeping them up. But I'm a big fan of notebooking (or at least attempting it) especially with the use of foldables so I went searching for some to get ideas and found some neat things. I'd like to give it a try with my 8 year old because she loves foldables (unlike most of my kids except my oldest who used to love them).

Check out my Sight Words Pinterest board for notebooking ideas as well as tons of other resources such as games to help your child master sight words, in shaa Allah.

TJ Sight Words Pinterest Board