Sight Words and Dolce Words

At Symbols, we talk a lot about sight words. When you pick your child up from a lesson, you may hear them talking about the “sight word” they learned this lesson. But what are sight words? You may have also heard of dolce words, and be wondering, what’s the difference?

Sight Words

A sight word is a word that frequently comes up in reading that needs to be recognized by sight, rather than stopping to sound it out phonetically. At Symbols, we use a pair of glasses as the sight word sign, as we have to use our eyes instead of our ears!

The definition of a ‘Sight Word’ is quite specific, which is important because our students at Symbols require this kind of predictable clarity. The definition makes sure that words that are categorized as sight words meet one or all of the below requirements.

  1. The most basic definition is that sight words are not phonetic, which means that they cannot be sounded out. A good example of this is the word “friend.” Since the “i” is silent, if a child tried sounding out this word, we would get an odd-sounding version of it, where the “i” was said aloud. Similarly, if a child were trying to spell this word, they would most likely write it as “frend” because the “i” makes no noise, and they would not know to put it in.
  2. Sight words are either above or out of the sequential order of the phonetic development for the student, but the word is at a frequency level that requires them to know how to read it now. For example, the word “they.” This word uses the second level pronunciation for ‘th’ – (the first a student would learn is /th/ as it sounds in the word thumb.) “They” also uses the higher level spelling for the long vowel sound of /a/. However, it is a very basic word that comes up quite often, so the student needs to be able to read and write it early on. So, we would isolate the word and teach it as a sight word.
  3. The patterns in the word, though they may be phonetic, conflict with phonics rules that the student initially learns as generalizations to guide their decoding and spelling. For example, the word ‘skate’ – it can be sounded out, and it is clear that it has a /k/ sound, but how would we know whether to use ‘c’, ‘k’ or ‘ck’ when spelling it?  They all sound the same, so we would need a strategy for successful spelling with this sound.  The rule is:  ‘c’ says /k/ before a, o, u, ‘k’ says /k/ before e, i, y and ‘ck’ says /k/ after a short vowel sound.  Since the word ‘skate’ conflicts with this pattern, a student would think that the ‘c’ should be used, as the /k/ sound is before an ‘a.’ Therefore, the word needs to be isolated and classified as a sight word so that the student knows it is tricky and may require more time to get it right in spelling.

Dolch Words

Dolch Words may be phonetic, but they also may not.  It’s not about the phonics for this category!  The classification of a word being labeled ‘Dolch’ is about the frequency of the word showing up in text at a given level.

So….what’s the difference?

The difference between sight words and dolce words can be confusing, which is why it is important to understand the definitions of each. Most schools use the term ‘Sight Word’ loosely when what they actually mean is the term ‘Dolch Word’. Dolch Words are words a child needs to know to have a proficient understanding at a given level of reading.  Without quick access to these words, their ability to understand the text would not be solid, even though they may be able to read other words within it.

 Finally- Why are Sight Words important?

Being able to automatically recall a word positively influences a child’s reading fluency, which in turn helps them have better comprehension. As well, by eliminating the need to decode these words, the reader is able to focus on other words that are more difficult and less familiar. Beyond this, sight words offer important clues about the meaning of a sentence.


Rob Wahl