Dolch Word List and Activities

Dolch’s word list contains the 220 most frequently written English words used in the mid-twentieth century. It was compiled by Edward William Dolch and first published in his book “Problems with Reading” in 1948.

Further research resulted in Fry’s frequency word list, which now contains the top 1,000 frequently used English words, but the Dolch word list and activities are still important. English Teacher Online recommends a combination of both for young learners to become fluent in English.

Reading Revelation

Dolch’s word list represented a revolutionary moment in teaching reading. His list still has a frequency rate between 50 and 75% of all words found in library, schoolbooks, newspapers and magazines.

Dolch recognized that by learning just 220 service words, students of English could easily improve their fluency in reading English.

Many of his words are phonetic, meaning they can be sounded out, like c-a-n (can) or b-i-g (big). Other words that can’t be sounded out are called sight words. The 220 service words include pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and verbs, many of which are difficult to explain with pictures. He also identified the 95 most frequently used nouns, which are easy to teach using picture flash cards.

The Dolch list is still used in many schools around the world. The 220 service words have since been divided into grade levels so school children can learn and memorize them at the appropriate age.

Educators introduce the noun list first because it is an easy way to teach phonics.

95 Noun List by Dolch

The nouns can be taught using colourful flashcards at a very early age. Each flashcard has a picture on one side with its corresponding word on the other. The noun list contains these word;

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, sun, table, thing, time, top, toy, tree, watch, water, way, wind, window, wood

It’s easy to start teaching the noun list at preschool level by showing a card and asking, “What is this?” As progress is made you can use the same cards to teach the phonic (pre-reading) sounds.

Phonic Sounds

Once your child can identify the nouns – start to introduce the phonic sounds associated with each noun, such as “a-a, apple” and “b-b, baby”. Use “i-i, iguana” for sounds that don’t appear on the noun list.

Some of Dolch’s nouns are phonetic words such as, s-u-n (sun) and c-a-t (cat). Nouns are concrete objects which are easier for young minds to understand – that’s why we teach them first – so your child can associate the abstract phonic sounds with real life objects. Eventually, the service words will build on and around these nouns.

Service Words

Introduce the service words when you think your child is ready to start learning sentence structures. Many of these words are abstract and can’t be taught so early.  They must be learnt through conversations rather than with pictures.

You will notice that “an” appears in the grade 1 list of words. If you feel your child is able to understand the difference between “an apple” and “a dog” at preschool level, you are welcome to try. The list was divided as a guide or reference for parents (and teachers) interested in knowing which words are usually mastered at what level.

Pre-School Words by Dolch

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

If you don’t want to buy the flashcards, you can have fun making them at home. Take these six cards; a, I, is, it, see, the.

Help your child rearrange the words and learn sentence patterns like;

It is a ______

I see the _____

Use the nouns to quickly create lots of meaningful sentences with preschool learners.

It is a ball.

I see the rabbit.

Play with the cards until your child can recognize all of the preschool group of words.

I run home.

We jump up and down.

Where is the big yellow ball?

Do not rush your child and remember that all children learn at different speeds. If you don’t work at the students own pace, negative thoughts about reading may emerge in the child’s mind. It is so important to keep the learning lighthearted and fun.

Kindergarten Words by Dolch

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

These words can be added during kindergarten. They build on the preschool list enabling students to make many more fun sentences.

I like __________. (to eat, jump, run, etc)

He ran with me.

It is my new red bike.

The box is under the tree.

Grade 1 Words by Dolch

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

Children learn to socialize at school. Help your child make sentences like;

Give him the ball please.

Let her have a go.

Thank them when they are good.

Grade 2 Words by Dolch

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

Students start to construct complex sentences in grade two.  Help them use conjunctions like because, before and but.

I want the ball because I like to play.

I like fish but I don’t like fire.

Wash your hands before you eat.

I always wash my hands before I eat.

Grade 3 Words by Dolch

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, nine, only, own, pick, seven, shall, show, six, small, start, ten, today, together, try, warm

With the introduction of this last group of words on Dolch’s list, your child will soon be able to read the most frequently encountered words in the English language.

Always remember that some students learn faster than others but these are the words children should be aiming to learn and read fluently by grade three.

As a parent, it is a good idea to identify your child’s needs and work with the teachers to keep learning on a schedule. Students often learn to read in leaps and bounds so don’t push them too hard. Work at a steady pace and keep encouraging them, especially when they overcome particularly difficult words.

“Reading needs to be a fun activity because it is the foundation stone of children who become lifelong self-learners.”

As always, we are here to help so please leave a comment or email:

Author: Teacher Steve

Teacher Steve is 52 years old, happily married but has no children of his own. He's a fully qualified teacher who has been teaching English in sunny Thailand for over 15 years. Teacher Steve loves to write and decided to start English Teacher Online, in December 2016, to help students study English for free. He works tirelessly so that students can become fluent in English, empowering them to work and travel the world. You can also watch him teaching live at

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