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Teaching the Basic Sight Words Required for Kindergarten Readiness

written by: Elizabeth Wistrom • edited by: Jacqueline Chinappi • updated: 3/2/2012

Looking for activities for teaching sight words? For pre-k students, recognizing the basic sight words required for Kindergarten readiness is often the first step in learning how to read. This article will help you to understand why sight words are important, and provide you with activity ideas.

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    What are Sight Words?

    The term "sight words" is typically used in reference to a list of words which appear frequently in everyday writing and reading. Since many of these words can not be "sounded out," it is suggested that identifying them by sight can assist in developing a high mastery of reading. This is what makes teaching the basic sight words for kindergarten readiness is so important.

    There are two widely accepted lists of words. The first is known as the Dolch List of Basic Sight Words. This list of 220 words was compiled by Edward William Dolch, PhD. and was first published in his 1948 book Problems in Reading. Edward Dolch based his list on words found commonly in children's books of the 1930's and 1940's. The basic list does not include nouns. There are 95 identified nouns which are detailed in a separate list. While learning all 220 words is a crucial goal for those learning to become fluent readers, a smaller list of 5-10 words should be the focus of activities aimed at teaching basic sight words for kindergarten readiness to pre-k students. According to the Dolch list, the top ten most frequent words, listed in order of decreasing frequency, are:

    • the
    • to
    • and
    • he
    • a
    • I
    • you
    • it
    • of
    • in

    The second commonly referred-to list is the Fry's Instant Word List. Published in The Reading Teacher's Book of Lists (1993), the list was created by E.B. Fry, J.E. Kress and D.L. Fountoukidis, and may also be found in the book 1000 Instant Words: The Most Common Words for Teaching Reading, Writing and Spelling (Fry, 2004). This list contains 1,000 high frequency words which are divided into groups of hundreds. Once again, it is best to keep the list to a maximum of 5-10 words for beginning readers. The top ten words on the Fry list are as follows:

    • the
    • of
    • and
    • a
    • to
    • in
    • is
    • you
    • that
    • it

    As you can see, there is considerable overlap between the two lists of basic sight words for kindergarten. Therefore, instruction designed for teaching sight words for pre-k students should really include all 12 words (the 8 which appear on both lists as well as the 4 additional words.)

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    Ideas for Teaching

    Repetition and practice are the key to learning and teaching sight words for pre-k students. This is because the ultimate goal of the sight words required for kindergarten readiness is to make recognition automatic. Here are some possible suggestions:

    • flash cards
    • online games geared for beginning readers
    • board games which not only introduce the sight words, but allow for repeated practice
    • sight word bingo
    • reading Dolch literature books
    • for more ideas, visit mrsperkins.com/activities.html

    In her article "Developing Phonemic Awareness in Young Children" (Reading Teacher, 1992, 45(9), 696-703. EJ-442 772), Hallie Yopp offered several recommendations for conducting phonemic awareness activities which are helpful to keep in mind when teaching sight words with pre-k students:

    • Keep a sense of playfulness and fun
    • Use group settings that encourage interaction among children
    • Encourage children's curiosity about language and their experimentation with it
    • Allow for and be prepared for individual differences
    • Make sure the tone of the activity is not evaluative but rather fun and informal
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    By taking time to concentrate on teaching the basic sight words for kindergarten to pre-k students, you are giving the children in your care the opportunity to increase both their fluency and their reading comprehension. This will surely put them on the path to literacy!