Archive for the sight words vs high frrquency words Category

Older Children Struggling to Read – The Nonsense of the Dolch Sight Words List – Controlled Vocabularies

Posted in Phonics vs Look/Say, sight words vs high frrquency words | 1 Comment »


Genuine Sight Words are those few words that break phonics rules, and yet, some sight words are necessary in order for children to read sentences at a beginning-reader level.  

So that children can begin to read simple sentences, sight words first appear along with short-vowel words that consist of just three or four letters. 

The question, then, is not

Should we teach sight words? 


Rather, the two-fold question is

1) How many sight words are there?


2) What should determine whether or not a word should be classified as a genuine sight word? 


Let me stop here and explain the Candy 4WAY Phonics reasoning behind sight words.  The very limited list of sight words used in the Candy 4WAY Phonics Program is just one of the factors that separates Candy 4WAY Phonics from most other reading programs sold in America.  

Most educators agree that sight words are “those words that do not follow regular phonetic patterns and rules.”  Therefore, Sight Words are words that your child must memorize – not sound out– but memorize


I partially agree with this definition. 


There certainly is a list of genuine sight words that must be memorized, but that list is much smaller than most reading programs promote.  This is because of two reasons: 

FIRST, the long lists of sight words in most other reading programs include words that can be sounded out.   


SECOND, many words labeled as “sight words” that appear on these long word lists are placed on those lists because they are words that appear frequently in children’s books such as the I Can Read Book Series


As a result, words such as:  lookawaydown,  and  jump are often taught as sight words when, actually, they can easily be sounded out.   


If you can believe it, there are actually over 300 of these UNNECESARY, so-called “sight words,” and they are taught regularly in our public schools as words that need to be memorized as WHOLE words.  These so-called “sight words” appear on millions of word walls every year and on what is referred to as the Dolch Sight Word List.  

At Candy 4WAY Phonics  we emphatically believe that words should NOT be classified as “sight words” simply because they appear frequently in popular, easy-to-read children’s books.  

This is why the Candy 4WAY Phonics Program presents a fraction of the number of sight words that appear in other curriculums.  Furthermore, we only include genuine sight words in our program—those words that actually break phonics rules.

Fortunately, children are usually very adept at recognizing which words follow the rules and which words break the rules.  If you’ve been a parent for very long you are probably keenly aware that children are very good at knowing who broke a rule, exactly what rule they broke, and everyone else who got away with breaking that rule. Likewise, children are also very adept at recognizing when a word breaks a phonics rule and which phonics rule that word broke.      


At Candy 4WAY Phonics, we teach just 58 sight words throughout our program. Only 33 of those words also appear among the 315 sight words listed on the Dolch Sight Word List. 

In other words, the Dolch Sight Word list includes 282 words that CAN be sounded out. That’s 282 words that children are required to memorize as WHOLE words that they could have learned to sound out!


EVEN MORE SAD is the fact that in far too many American classrooms, where children are subject to the Dolch controlled-vocabulary list, a student’s reading level is determined by how many of these Dolch Sight Words he can recognize.  For example, the following ridiculous criteria is used by American educators to determine the reading levels for millions of elementary students: 


0 – 75     –      ESTIMATED READING LEVEL is Pre-primer

76 –  120  –     ESTIMATED READING LEVEL  is Primer

121 – 170  –    ESTIMATED READING LEVEL is 1st Grade

171 – 210 –    ESTIMATED READING LEVEL is 2nd Grade

 Above 210 – ESTIMATED READING LEVEL is 3rd Grade or higher            


If you think this is a fluky, nonsensical way to determine reading level, I couldn’t agree with you more.  Look, for example, at the free 4th Grade Reading Test offered on the Candy 4WAY Phonics  website.  In that reading test, you’ll see words such as: 

canopies     scarce     silent     interrupted     potent     fervors     foliage     fierce

You’re not going to find any of those words on the Dolch Sight Word List, and, yet, children who have been assigned with a 3rd grade reading level are going to encounter hundreds of these types of words during their 4th grade school year.  A child who has been trained to memorize all the WHOLE words on the Dolch List isn’t going to have a great deal of time left over to learn to sound out  words like canopies and foliage

 A phonics-trained student, however, will easily be able to read words like canopies and foliage along with words such as: 

canonization        cancerous        candidacies        canoodled 


folklore    follicular    manifoldness  and  portfolios


A child who has spent his days tediously learning to recognize high-frequency WHOLE words and is stuck daily reading boring I Can Read Books that focus upon such WHOLE words, will have mastered a whopping 1,216 words by the end of 3rd grade and 1,554 words by the end of fourth grade.  

In comparison, a child who has spent his days with the Candy 4WAY Phonics Program , systematically gaining the skills to sound out every word he encounters by daily studying and learning to blend all the letter combinations that make up words, will have mastered the skills necessary to sound out an estimated 30,000 words by the end of 3rd grade and over 40,000 words by the end of fourth grade. 

Moreover, the Candy 4WAY Phonics Program  even shows children how to “sound out” the sight words.

Is it true that sight words can be sounded out?

Genuine sight words cannot be sounded out using regular phonics rules, but they can be sounded out using a pronunciation key.  The Candy 4WAY Phonics Program includes a Sight Word Pronunciation Guide explaining the pronunciation symbols given for each of the 58 sight words in the program.   

To make it even easier, the Candy 4WAY Phonics CD-Rom Program (which sells for just $19.97) includes an Audio CD-Rom by which parents can hear every letter and every word and every sentence in every daily phonics lesson, eliminating all the guesswork as to the correct pronunciation of all the letters and blends that make up words.)   

In summary, at Candy 4WAY Phonics  , we DO NOT agree with the number of sight words that most curriculums promote.  The standard Dolch Sight Word List used by a great many educators grossly overloads the minds of children with tons of needless whole-word-memory tasks!

Moreover, reading studies now show that any kind of approach to reading that does not include a strong phonics focus is risking failure for a larger percentage of our children.

Simply put, children are never going to love reading if they can’t read. 

Many children of normal intelligence are simply not capable of memorizing thousands of WHOLE words, and yet that is most certainly what is happening in one classroom after another as children are taught to memorize WHOLE words instead of learning to sound them out. 

Sadly, when children of normal intelligence cannot read, they are at risk of being labeled ”learning-disabled” and then, even more sadly, they become locked in with the label:  “special-education.” 

On the other hand, once a child has approached words from a “sounding out” process, that child will find it much easier to read every word on every page, including all the genuine sight words! 


Carol Kay, President

Candy 4WAY Phonics