Children enter our classroom somewhere in the wide range of reading abilities, no matter what grade you teach. And even as an elementary school teacher of intermediate grades, it wasn’t long before I became intimately familiar with DOLCH words.
Along with being a “what,” DOLCH was actually a “who.”
Dr. Edward William Dolch, Ph.D., created what we now know as the DOLCH Word Lists. Although created in the 1940s, his list of high-frequency words has held up incredibly well over time. These high-frequency words are also known as “sight words,” and are foundational to building beginning reading skills.
These DOLCH word lists are to be used to reinforce skills students are learning through a strong reading program. These words, especially at the beginning levels, are most frequently used in reading material for children. And for the most part, students already know these words as part of their everyday language, so DOLCH practice reinforces connecting the sounds they know to the printed words they read.
Since all kids are English Language Learners, these DOLCH lists are incredibly flexible. Although I teach older students, I found that I relied on these DOLCH lists each year, depending upon the needs of my students. For the most part, students are on a spectrum of reading skills where most fall somewhere in the middle; however, there are always the outliers, and I love the DOLCH words to use for the kids who need that extra help.
The Pre-Primer and Primer word lists are intended for use at the Kindergarten and First Grade levels. The lists are then broken down into grade levels through the fifth grade level, and they are included below.
My son’s first grade teacher called her DOLCH words the “No Excuse Words,” and students were to practice a set of them each week. If they tested through a set correctly, they moved on to the next list.
The DOLCH word lists available below are set up for this kind of assessment through the third grade. There is a column with the word, a column to mark if students spelled them correctly – either orally or written on a separate sheet – and a place for students to rewrite a missed word correctly. The word lists are also in alphabetical order.
These lists would also be a good addition to the assessment that usually occurs in the beginning of the year. Test students on a chunk of the sight words at your grade level to get a feel for their grasp of these frequently used words. Test each student orally, marking the words as they read them or spell them correctly. Or, test them all at the same time by calling out words while they write them down, but keep in mind to separate their understanding of the words from their spelling of the words.
Use some or all of them to supplement your spelling lists, either for the first few weeks or months, or all year long. Spelling activities can deepen understanding of how these words are used, and reinforce the reading curriculum they already experience each day.
It will mean little if students read a dry word list, even memorizing how it looks and is spelled, but has no understanding of how to use the word in context of everyday reading. So why not make it fun?
One of the most common ways students can practice these words is by using flashcards. They’re easy to make – 3×5 cards, laminate, punch a hole in one corner and put them on a ring. Each student has a set at their desk or keep sets at your Reading Center or in your Small Reading Groups, along with activities to practice.
But what about other uses for these flashcards?
Take the words off the ring, and choose three or four to put in the pocket chart. Use other picture cards or sight word cards to fill in the blanks to make a sentence that makes sense. Have students write down the sentence on a piece of lined paper.
Take two sets of cards from the same list. Shuffle and lay them out, upside down. Students take turns flipping over two cards per turn, trying to find cards that match. If they find a match, they must say and spell the word, then they get another turn.
Remember “Win, Lose or Draw?” What about Pictionary? Students can choose a word from their DOLCH list or cards and sketch it; the first to guess it correctly from the sketch wins! In small groups or partners, students can use lapboards and dry-erase markers. For a whole group game, use an overhead or chart paper. Be sure to reinforce the NO TALKING rule, though – no hints!