Sight words and high frequency words are an important addition to a readers knowledge base because they account for a large number of words they will encounter and therefore assist with fluency and comprehension.

Sight words are words that can’t easily be sounded out, completely. A good example is the word “said”.

High frequency words are words that commonly occur in children’s reading and writing. Many of the high frequency words are sight words. Some high frequency words can be decoded, but children might learn them to automaticity because they see and use them so often. An example of a high frequency word that can be decoded is “from”.

Because some words are so frequent, it is very helpful for children to build a bank of words that they just know off by heart – to automaticity. Especially when reading.

For example, the most commonly occurring high frequency words (the top 25) make up about a third of all print material!

Knowing some high frequency words means an early reader will:

  • be able to read many words without having to stop and decode each one
  • be able to read more quickly and fluently
  • have cognitive capacity available to decode unknown words using their phonics knowledge and skills
  • have cognitive capacity available to construct the meaning while they are reading (comprehension)

Having a bank of high frequency words means an early writer will:

  • be more independent
  • have more cognitive capacity available to work out unknown words
  • enjoy benefits of producing text that others can understand
  • be more likely to produce a quantity of text, and more text means more practice, more practice means more the developing of more skills. The rich get richer.
How to build high frequency and sight word knowledge?
  • Get a list of high frequency words
  • Draw attention to high frequency words in books and writing
  • Specifically teach high frequency words
  • Use games and resources to teach and reinforce high frequency word knowledge
List of high frequency or sight words

The NSW DET has produced a handy list of Basic Sight words (and high frequency words). This a nice one pager, easy to print out and refer to.

Games and Resources for teaching and learning high frequency words and sight words

Starfish have created an excellent beginner sight words game, called Sea Life Sight Words Bingo.

It is based on years of experience and expertise, and is incredibly popular. It is so well loved, not just because of the cool sea-life counters but because it sets children up for success. It has just the right amount of first words – not too many and not too few.

Our game (above) is the best BEGINNER sight words game around.

We also have some other fabulous sight words games and resources worth investing in.

Zingo Sight Words is a good example.

First Words Magnetic Poetry is a great idea for the fridge.

Apart from the above, we recommend checking out the website Worksheet Genius, and its Common Words list.

This site gives you the ability to create your own flash cards, games, puzzles and word searches to support the learning of high frequency words.

You can even create your own handwriting high frequency word practice sheets. nb there are limited font options.

Key Take homes

All research clearly and strongly advocates the teaching of Phonological Awareness and Systematic Instruction of Synthetic Phonics in effective literacy programs.

High frequency and sight words are a valuable addition to a literacy program.

They do help with fluency and comprehension.

It is worthwhile devoting some attention to helping children build a bank of known sight words, as a support to reading but not a replacement for teaching phonics.

Kirstie