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High Frequency Words & Sight Words

What's the difference?

· sight words,high frequency words
  • A sight word is a word that does not follow the rules of spelling or syllables. These words are not decodable (you have to recognize it by sight; you can’t sound it out.)

  • The is a sight word. It does not follow a decodable spelling pattern. In other words, no matter how much phonics your child has learned, sounding out the word will not be possible.

  • A high frequency word is usually a decodable word that students need to know in order to be fluent readers.

  • Like is a high frequency word. But it does follow the typical CVCe pattern.

High-frequency words are the most commonly occurring words in print. Fry's Instant Words and Dolch Words are examples of high frequency words (the, of, and, to, in, etc). Sight words are words that are recognized "at first sight". Any word can become a sight word once a student can read it instantly.

How to practice sight words & high frequency words

Use your child's list from his or her teacher and write the words onto index cards. Make a stack of the cards your child can read automatically, a stack that they recognize after a few seconds, and a stack of unknown words.

Practice known words quickly. Also practice writing these words (using chalk, pen, marker, writing in sand or salt, etc.)


Practice semi-known words by using them in a simple sentence. If the word is “here”, you can write out “I will go here”. Have your child continue to practice these words to identify them quickly. Only practice as many as your child can handle. This may be one a day or up to 5 words a day for some children. The goal is to learn them without frustration.


Use the same steps above for unknown words. Discuss the “meaning” of unknown words by using them in a sentence to link the word to something your child knows.


Write it, read it, cover it. Ask your child: "How many more times do you have to write until you know it?

  • Research shows that we relate what we hear or see to things we already understand. You may have to explain what a sight word means! (for example, if the word is “in” you might say “Put this piece of candy IN the candy jar.”

  • The goal is to store these words in long term memory.

  • How much you attend, how much you care, how much you encode, what you do with it, how you organize it-how well you access it depends on how well you stored it in the first place. Attaching the meaning of a word will allow your child to access it through meaning and visual cues.

For more information on memory and learning strategies see: