What High Frequency Words Are and Why They are Important

Examples of the flashcards for Dolch and Fry sight word lists

High frequency words are those words that are commonly used in everyday language. Some teachers refer to high frequency words as sight words. Or words that children need to learn by sight.

This common misconception that high frequency words can only be learned by sight comes from the ideology that these words do not follow a phonetic pattern. And, that they are exceptions to the English language.

As I have learned through my research, this is simply untrue. And, I will touch on this a bit below.

For now, let’s take a look at the two lists that most educators rely on. These are the Dolch Sight Word list and Fry Sight Word list.

If you are here to download the sight word flashcards, you can do so by selecting the button below :).

The Dolch sight word list was compiled and first shared by Dr. Edward William Dolch in 1936. The list is made up of 220 “service words” and 95 nouns, for a total of 315 words.

The Fry high frequency words list was compiled in the 1950s and is made up of 1,000 words that are commonly used in text. Children are encouraged to learn these words in chunks of 100. As stated over on Sight Words, “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”.

Both of these lists were created with the idea that children should memorize or recognize the word as a whole. Versus using phonics or other decoding methods to help them say the word.

Sight Words vs. High Frequency Words

High frequency words are often referred to as sight words. Or words that we learn to recognize by sight.

However, there is actually a clear distinction between the two. A sight word is any word that we have memorized and can recall without needing to sound it out. On the other hand, high frequency words are those words that appear most often in text.

High frequency words will become sight words, or at least that is the end goal. But, not all sight words are high frequency words.

For example, the word ‘distinction’ is a word I know by sight. But, it is not a word that you will find on either the Dolch or Fry list of high frequency words.

High frequency word examples and sight word examples. Examples of words that make up both sight words and high frequency words are the words you, the and him. Examples of sight words that are not high frequency words are doubt, biscuit and composed.
High frequency words should become sight words. They are the most common words that we will find in text. Any word can become a sight word, but this does not make them a high-frequency word.

Why “Sight Words” are Taught

The high frequency word lists were created, based on the words that appear most often in text. Learning these words help children put sets of words together to be able to read sentences.

Children typically will learn the sounds that letters make and then move on to blending letters and learning CVC words, such as hat, top and bit.

Many of the high frequency words on both lists introduce new rules to the English language that children have not been exposed to yet.

An example of this would be that the letters “ea” together make the long e sound, such as in “eat” and “read”.

Learning these words are necessary as much of our text is made up of high frequency words. They are so common in our language and learning to recognize them quickly will help to build a fluent reader.

Rote Memorization vs. Phonics

There is a debate amongst educators and professionals, alike. Should high frequency words be taught through memorization or incorporated with phonics instruction?

Many teachers have been told that most high frequency words are an exception to the English language. That students should learn these words by memorizing them.

On the other hand, programs and publications, such as the Science of Reading and Uncovering the Logic of English stress the importance of learning to decode words.

Those that believe in rote memorization argue that children will learn to read more quickly. As the kids will learn to recognize words that appear frequently in text.

Those that believe in phonics and decoding words say that children need to understand how words are formed. So, that they can go on to be proficient readers.

As someone on the outside looking in, with a child of her own. I have to wonder, why can’t we incorporate both?

Phonics is such an essential part of learning how to read.

So, when phonics plays a role in high frequency words (such as words like this, how and after), I can’t comprehend why we wouldn’t want to incorporate a phonics lesson for these words. And then, follow up with flashcard and other practice methods to really drive the lesson home.

As a matter of fact, I tried this method with my own kid, using words that end in “ay”, such as play, day and say. She enjoyed the activities and was also able to quickly figure out any high frequency word that ended in “ay” afterward.

While, I am not an expert in the field, I have seen the benefit of utilizing both.

Activities for Teaching High Frequency Words

If you are an educator, you may already be aware of these activities to help your students learn their high frequency words.

However, if you are a parent, wondering how you can help your kid with their “sight words” then this list will give you some ideas.

As a parent, we expect much of our kids learning to be completed at school. But, keep in mind that classroom sizes can range from the teens up to 29 or more students.

Any one-on-one, individual intention we can give to our kids will help them tremendously.

Here are some things we can do with our little learners to help them learn their high frequency words:

  • Purchase or rent books from the library that specifically focus on “sight words”. We have enjoyed these Bob Books that are perfect for beginning readers. We also have this set of books from First Little Readers.
  • Incorporate fun word-building activities. When I think back to my school days, the lessons that really made an impact were those that were hands-on.
  • Create games to play with your kids that have “sight words” in them.
  • Use worksheets. Educators rely heavily on worksheets (sometimes too heavily). But, they can be used to help with high frequency words.
  • Use flashcards. I do actually like to use flashcards as a way to make sure that my child is being exposed to the words on a daily basis. I have created a free set of flashcards that you can print right off and start using today. I like to print these words on colored paper to make them a little more fun.

Sight Word Lists

Like I mentioned at the beginning, there are two primary lists that educators focus on. The first is the Dolch sight word list, created in 1936 and then the Fry sight word list, updated in the 1950s.

If you would like to see the words that make up these lists, I have entire posts dedicated to them that you can find here:

Free “Sight Word” Flashcards Download

I took the time to create several sets of flashcards for each high frequency word list. Every word from both the Dolch sight word list and the Fry sight word list has been added. Simply, choose which list you’d like to download below.

Examples of the flashcards for the Dolch sight word lists that are included in the download.
Dolch Sight Word List
Image showing the Fry high frequency word lists that are included in the free sight word download bundle.
Fry High Frequency Word List

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