How Sight Words Help Pre-Readers

Boost early literacy skills using this important tool

sight words
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Sight words, or high-frequency words, are basic, commonly used words in the English language that cannot be sounded out when reading them. They make up a large percentage of words that are found in beginning reading materials. As children learn to read, they are encouraged to memorize sight words so they are immediately recognized (on sight) and do not need to be decoded in any way.​

While the words themselves are basic, they are generally broken down into different levels of difficulty based on how common the words are. Children and emerging readers learn different, more difficult sets of sight words as they become more advanced in their reading skills. There are lots of ways parents, caregivers, and educators can build up a child's bank of sight words, including playing memory games and working with flashcards. (For more information on working with sight words, read Sight Words for Preschoolers.)

The most common resource for sight words come from Dr. Edward Dolch. He compiled a list of 220 words that are used most often in the English language (estimates range from 50 to 90 percent of the time). Dolch divided his list by level (pre-primer, primer, first grade, second grade, and third grade) and by nouns and non-nouns.

Dolch's Pre-Primer Sight Words


Some of the words listed actually can be sounded out (big, can, go, in, is, it, jump, look, me, not, play, red, run, see, three, to, up, we, and you), but they are still included as on the list as words that all readers should know on sight, without having to sound out.

The table below features some words from Dolch's original list, as well as other words that are a good start for young children (preschoolers and kindergarteners to learn):

Common Basic Sight Words for Preschoolers and Kindergarten


Note that the term sight words is sometimes interchanged with the term sight vocabulary, but they have slightly different meanings. A sight vocabulary actually refers to all of the words that a reader of any age may know on sight. Like sight words, the words in a sight vocabulary also need no decoding but may include names among other terms.

A quick note about early childhood development. Just because these words are available for your child to learn, it doesn't mean he or she needs to learn them. If your child is taking an interest in reading, certainly go ahead and review these words, but don't feel pressure if your child is not interested or doesn't seem to be understanding just yet.

Also known as: high-frequency words