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Comparing the Dolch and Fry Sight Word Lists

Learning high-frequency words by sight is a critical part in learning to read.  As you search for sight word lists for your child to study, two different lists come up: Dolch Sight Words and Fry Sight Words. What are these lists? How do they differ? Do you choose one list or do your kids need to study both lists?

Let’s start at the beginning.

What are sight words?

Sight words are the most common words we teach young kids to learn by heart. Think of the most common English prepositions, conjunctions, adjectives, adverbs, verbs and articles and you’ll know the words that are on the list. They are words such as “an’, ‘blue’, ‘and’, ‘come’, ‘who’ and ‘does’.


Dolch sight words flashcards

Dr. Seuss is a good reference point for sight words. In fact, every word in Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat is a Dolch sight word.

How many lists of sight words are there?

Parents have some choices when it comes to choosing lists of sight words. They are:

  • Dolch sight words, created by Dr. Edward William Dolch in the 1930s and 40s.
  • Fry sight words, developed by Dr. Edward Fry in the 1950s.
  • Top 150 written words, a list of the 150 words that occur most frequently in printed English, according to the Word Frequency Book.
  • Common Core sight words, a new variation that combines Dolch and Fry sight words into new combinations of lists.

Dolch sight words

The list of Dolch sight words is the most commonly used list. It contains 220 ‘service words’ and 95 high-frequency words. He based the list of the most common words in children’s books during the 1930s and 40s. He left out commonly occurring nouns and narrowed his list to 220 words that are found in different kinds of written pieces – not just stories.

Later he added a list of 95 nouns that occur most frequently.

Fry sight words

In the 1950s, Dr. Fry developed an expanded sight words list for grades 1 – 10. He later updated that list in 1980 from the most common words that appear in reading materials used for grade 3 – 9. The Fry sight words list is larger in size with 1,000 most commonly used words. In learning all 1,000 Fry sight words kids can read about 90 percent of the words in a typical book, be it fiction or non-fiction.

What list should you choose?

Rather than give you a straight answer, let us give you a breakdown of where the lists are similar and where they differ. That should help you decide which list is right for your children.

  • The first 100 words on the Dolch list and the Fry 100 list have a combined 130 words, so we can tell there’s a lot of overlap.
  • 70 of those words are both on the Dolch 100 list and the Fry 100 list.
  • Only 9 words on the Fry 100 list are not on the Dolch 220 service words and 95 noun words list.
  • All words on the Dolch 100 list appear on the full Fry list of 1,000 words.
  • Dolch and Fry used different sources for their words, which explains the slight differences in sight words. Dolch looked at words that students in kindergarten to grade 2 were reading and Fry looked at words for the older student group of grades 3 to 9.

Dolch and Fry sight words flashcards

We’ve created sets of flashcards for your kids to practice the Dolch sight words and the Fry sight words.

Fry sight words flashcards