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The word list of high frequency words used in elementary school is usually the sight word list from the Dolche-list. The list can be obtained from the attached website. Most children master the list by the end of the third or early fourth grade, but I have worked with students who had to take longer to learn them.
The words are often used in combination to help the child learn to use them in sentences. I have seen some programs that offer different frequency words, but I am most familiar with the Dolche list from my profession.
The Dolche list is divided into five sections beginning with pre-primer and ending with third grade. As mentioned above there are other lists out there but I believe the Dolche list is most common.
Much research has shown that it is not the number of words or the kinds of words that students have to know or remember, but it is the actual use of vocabulary words in context that have a greater chance of being retained in long-term memory.
I absolutely agree with epollock. It is not the memorization of words that is important for students. The words must be learned, and the most effective way is repeated use of the words in a meaningful context. For example: children learning the multiplication tables might memorize that 2x1=2, 2x2=3, 2x3=6, and etc., and they are fine as long as the equations are given in order. If memorization is all that has occurred, however, the student will not be able to tell you the equations if the order is mixed up. Learning them will enable the student to answer correctly regardless of the order, and this learning will stay with them.
The Dolch (not Dolche) list introduces basic sight words. It is understood that by third grade when students begin to attend what is known as "upper elementary" MOST of the Dolch list should be known correctly because they correspond to most of the words that appear in textbooks and storybooks. Therefore, if a student is keeping appropriate and continuous exposure to reading (with no learning disabilities) the child can certainly know how to use write and apply these words with no problem by the end of the Third grade.
In the United States, children should be reading without difficulties by third grade, if there are no learning disabilities and effective reading instruction has been provided. In schools that use sight word memorization, this "gateway" is no different. By the third grade, if the student is not reading competently, then the teacher should begin the process of Response to Intervention or whatever mechanism the school has in place to determine whether learning disabilities are at issue. If an entire heterogeneously grouped (non-special education) class is not demonstrating grade-level reading as a whole, then the principal needs to determine whether the teacher is providing competent reading instruction.
I'll repeat what has already been said and then add a new perspective. Yes, the high-frequency words should be taught in lower elementary and learned by third grade. However, as a fourth and fifth grade ELL (English Language Learner) teacher, I am still frequently teaching my students high frequency words they were supposed to have learned in second and third grade. Because of their language barrier, they didn't learn them well enough when they were taught, and they obviously struggle with reading fluency without knowing those words. Most of my time with my ELL kids is spent focused on reading, and a good part of our reading time is focused on those high-frequency words. They must learn them!
I guess #8 picks up on the vital importance of learning such high-frequency words at the time they are taught. They are so essential and act as foundations to the rest of that child's reading. Also, I share some of my other editors' concerns about simple memorisation. I don't agree that this is a cure-all, as short-term memory and long-term memory are obviously two very different things, and it is so important to get knowledge that is in our students' short-term memories into their long-term memories through regular and repeated use, again and again.
I agree that simple memorization can function as a learning tool for high frequency vocabulary, but it isn't the best one in the kit. Reading them in context over time, and practicing them in written and spoken form up through the middle school years is the most important timing. By 7th and 8th grade, they should be functionally quite fluent, and the secondary years can then be used for adding to and broadening their vocabulary and its use.
Sadly, as with other teachers on the board, I find myself often teaching rather basic vocabulary to high school juniors and seniors. In my opinion, they aren't doing nearly enough reading and writing before they get to me.
In the elementary school where I worked we encouraged to have our children have the first 100 words mastered by the end of kindergarten, the first 300 by the end of first, and the remaining 200 by the end of second.
The words on the dolche list are selected because of both the frequency they appear in common language as well as the tendency to be undecodeable, meaning they do not follow conventional phonetic rules and are not easily sounded out.
Having a good foundation of sight words helps young readers develop their fluency, which correlates to comprehension.
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