Dolch Words

by Betsy B. Lee, Ed.S.
Author of the A Funny Dolch Word Book series.
Mr. Dolch had a look in book after book.
He saw these words in every book,
Again and again when he had a look.
You will see these words again and again, and so
The words that he saw are good ones to know.

(This explanation with credit given may be copied for classroom use only. All other rights are reserved.)

Indeed, E. W. Dolch did a survey of many books. He made lists of 220 "service words" (pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and verbs) and 95 nouns which occurred again and again in children’s books.

Ideally, all of the Dolch words should be known by the end of first grade. However, E. W. Dolch divided his list into different grade levels. For example, "if" is on the third grade list. In his survey,he did not find "if" in many pre-primer through second grade books, but he found it in most of the third grade books. Think of these lists as a sequence for teaching Dolch words.

The lists don’t represent levels of difficulty–they indicate the frequency with which these words are found in written material. The words on the first lists are found more often than words on the next lists. The complete list of Dolch words can be found at the end of this article.

The pre-primer words should be learned first. It is hard to imagine any story without some of these words:

a and for in is it said the to

These words and other pre-primer words are in books on all levels.

The primer words should be learned next. We see these words in most books, but they don’t appear as often as the pre-primer words. The primer words include :

at be but came did do he into no on saw she was with yes

The first grade words should be learned next, followed by the second grade words and then the third grade words.

Why are Dolch words important?

  • Knowing Dolch words can help students avoid the frustration of trying to do the impossible. Phonics are great, but it is useless to try to sound out words that simply don’t follow decoding rules.
  • Dolch words are everywhere! Many of the Dolch words will be in anything that we read. If students know these words, they will know many of the words in whatever they are trying to read. These small successes help build confidence in reading.
  • Dolch words are often the guideposts for comprehension of the entire sentences. Knowing the Dolch words is like learning to crawl before learning to walk. The complete list of Dolch words can be found at the end of this article.
  • Dolch words are also called "sight words." These are words that need to be recognized instantly or "on sight" for smooth reading. Another reason they are called "sight words" is that many of them can’t be sounded out. Students just have to remember how "sight words" look.
  • Dolch words are helpful in ESL classes. Dolch words include forms of the irregular verb "be." In English as well as in many other languages, "be" is irregular, i. e. "am, is, are, were, was, have been, has been," etc. In ESL classes, it is much easier to learn forms of regular verbs, e. g. "walk, walks, walked, walking." Many of the Dolch words are basic conversational words. Similarly, Dolch words can build confidence for students in adult literacy classes.

What are good ways to teach Dolch words?

By the time children are old enough to begin reading, Dolch words are already in their speaking and listening vocabularies. Our goal is to help readers recognize the word on the printed page, i. e. how it looks. Some readers have difficulty noticing the similarity of "walk, walked, walking, walks." Others confuse "came" with "come." Some students reverse words such as "was" and "saw." Reversals are not necessarily a red flag for learning disabilities. Most beginning readers occasionally reverse a word.

Recognition of similarities and differences can help students learn Dolch words.

  • "Come" looks like "came."
  • "Went" looks like "want."
  • "Saw" and "on" are often read backward.

Use concrete objects to introduce the concepts of alike and different. Start with obvious comparisons and contrasts of concrete objects.

  • Two wooden ABC blocks: different colors and different letters on them,
  • Three red rubber balls: two big and one small,
  • Four small plastic circles that are the same size: three green and one blue.

When studying similarities and differences, teachers and worksheets often ask, "Which one is different?" They don’t focus on the thinking process of noticing the details that make it different. So, don’t just ask which one is different. Ask how it is different. You are aiming for precision of thought and perception.

The letters "c," "e," and "o" are sometimes mistaken for each other. Have students talk about exactly how they are alike and how they differ. Students might give a difference when asked for a similarity. If this happens, you might say, Yes, that is how one is different, but how are they same? How are they alike?" Students might give a similarity when asked for a difference. Your response should be, "Yes, that is how they are alike, but how is one different? How is it not like the others?"

People notice differences much more quickly than similarities. The recognition of similarities as well as differences is essential for reading. An effective strategy to memorize these similarities and differences is to discuss them. On my website, Learning Abilities Books, there are lessons and books which help children and adults develop better memory skills. [Note from Ruth: Be sure to see Betsy&rqsuo;s lesson plan for musical vocabulary links.]

After your students are comfortable pointing out differences and similarities of concrete objects, you can move to comparisons and contrasts of abstract figures: letters, numbers, and words. Saying the letter, number, or word is not the goal but it is just one of the comparisons or contrasts. Students need to take a good look at the letters, numbers, and words.

For example, how is "on" similar to "no," and how is it different? How is "went" similar to "want," and how is it different?

Use my worksheets at Learning Abilities Books or make your own. This page on my website has many details about this technique which was the topic of my master’s thesis working with children in Project Head Start. Here are some examples: Show only one row, below, at a time. If you make your own items, be sure the different item is sometimes first, or second, or third, or fourth.

  • 8 8 8 S
  • w m w w
  • c e c c
  • q p p p
  • w v v v
  • n n n m
  • 7 7 l 7
  • y y y v
  • 6 9 6 6
  • s z z z
  • 0 0 6 0
  • b d b b
  • was saw was was
  • no on on on
  • went want went went
  • came came came come
  • goes go go go
  • ate ate ate at
  • do do does do
  • the the three the

Create sentences with Dolch words.

This exercise is likely to result in early success because it only involves reading and not writing, which is a more complicated skill.

Create sentences using words in each list. You can neatly print each pre-primer word on a card. Think of simple sentences and give students words that form these sentences. Have the students arrange the cards to make simple sentences. They should create their own sentences without your help if possible. You might provide one sentence to get them started.

Here are some sentences made from the list of pre-primer words. After your students have had success with a few words, let them have a larger selection of words from the pre-primer list.

  • You can go. You can play. We can run.
  • It is big. It is yellow. It is funny.
  • Come and find me. Look for me. See me?
  • Run and jump. Look down. Look in here.
  • I jump away. We can play. Go and find it.

It is limiting to create such short sentences without words such "with," which is on the first grade list. If a student wants to create a sentence using a word that is not on the pre-primer list, include it in the group of cards. Decisions about this depend on the student’s needs and progress. You might include a few names of people if the student wants to do this.

Next, do the same with pre-primer words and primer words combined. Eventually you can extend this exercise to the whole list of 220 Dolch words and 95 Dolch nouns. However, pull out about 10 or 15 words at a time. But first, make sure that YOU can make a few sentences with this selection of words. Then give the cards to the student. It’s sort of like Scrabble with Dolch words.

After your students are successful with this exercise, you might want to follow the same procedure and ask them to write sentences.

When all is said and done, the main reason for knowing Dolch words is:

You will see these words again and again, and so the words that Dolch saw are good ones to know!

Here are the Dolch words.


a, and, away, big, blue, can, come, down, find, for, funny, go, help, here, I, in, is, it, jump, little, look, make, me, my, not, one, play, red, run, said, see, the, three, to, two, up, we, where, yellow, you


all, am, are, at, ate, be, black, brown, but, came, did, do, eat, four, get, good, have, he, into, like, must, new, no, now, on, our, out, please, pretty, ran, ride, saw, say, she, so, soon, that, there, they, this, too, under, want, was, well, went, what, white, who, will, with, yes

1st Grade

after, again, an, any, as, ask, by, could, every, fly, from, give, giving, had, has, her, him, his, how, just, know, let, live, may, of, old, once, open, over, put, round, some, stop, take, thank, them, then, think, walk, were, when

2nd Grade

always, around, because, been, before, best, both, buy, call, cold, does, don’t, fast, first, five, found, gave, goes, green, its, made, many, off, or, pull, read, right, sing, sit, sleep, tell, their, these, those, upon, us, use, very, wash, which, why, wish, work, would, write, your

3rd Grade

about, better, bring, carry, clean, cut, done, draw, drink, eight, fall, far, full, got, grow, hold, hot, hurt, if, keep, kind, laugh, light, long, much, myself, never, only, own, pick, seven, shall, show, six, small, start, ten, today, together, try, warm


apple, baby, back, ball, bear, bed, bell, bird, birthday, boat, box, boy, bread, brother, cake, car, cat, chair, chicken, children, Christmas, coat, corn, cow, day, dog, doll, door, duck, egg, eye, farm, farmer, father, feet, fire, fish, floor, flower, game, garden, girl, good-bye, grass, ground, hand, head, hill, home, horse, house, kitty, leg, letter, man, men, milk, money, morning, mother, name, nest, night, paper, party, picture, pig, rabbit, rain, ring, robin, Santa Claus, school, seed, sheep, shoe, sister, snow, song, squirrel, stick, street, water, way, wind, window, wood

Books by Betsy B. Lee

Little Lemon (Activities for Developing Motivation and Memory Skills)
A Funny Dolch Word Book #1 : Stories, Poems, Word Search Puzzles
A Funny Dolch Words Book #2: Stories, Poems, Fables, Sight Word Searches
A Funny Dolch Words Book #3: Stories, Fables, Sight Word Searches
A Purple Cow : How to Learn Colors
10,000 White Horses
Albert, the Apple-eating Appaloosa: Dolch Horse Stories
A Basic Guide to Writing, Selling, and Promoting Children’s Books

About the Dolch Funny Word Books by Betsy B. Lee, Ed.S.

"I’ve written some Dolch books which are designed for all ages. Excerpts can be found at Learning Abilities Books. "
— Betsy B. Lee, Ed. S. in School Psychology Learning Abilities Books

A retired reading specialist who is working with adult literacy wrote this review of the first book in my series of Dolch books. ‘I have enjoyed using A Dolch Funny Word Book in my adult literacy class. The first book in the series has given one of my students (a 47 year old man) a great feeling of accomplishment to be able to read an entire page without missing a word and there were NO SILLY KID’S PICTURES! These books have been a real blessing! Thanks.

— Betsy B. Lee, Ed. S. in School Psychology
Learning Abilities Books

See our additional tips on Practice with Abstract Sight Words

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