Teaching Core Words

How do I Teach Core Words?


There are two ways to teach the technical aspects of reading: phonics or the whole word approach. When I trained 30 years ago, it was generally accepted that a mixture of both was best practice. However, in recent times the DfE’s focus has been on synthetic phonics to the exclusion of other methods. Unfortunately, not all children learn to read this way, particularly those with Down’s Syndrome. It is therefore essential that teachers in Special Ed are familiar with both methods. Introducing Core Words is one way to do this. These words are sometimes known as Dolch Sight Words and the website: DolchSightWords.org explains what these are as well as providing free lists of the words. They say:

“The Dolch Word List is a list of commonly used English words that was originally compiled by Edward William Dolch, PhD and published in his 1948 book, “Problems in Reading”. Edward Dolch compiled this list based on children’s books of the period, and selected 220 “service words” which children need to recognize in order to achieve reading fluency. Dolch excluded nouns from his main list, but did compile a separate 95-word list of nouns.

Many of the 220 words in the Dolch list cannot be “sounded out”, and hence must be learned by sight. Hence the list is often referred to as “Dolch Sight Word List“, and the words on it, as “Dolch Sight Words”.”

These ‘core words’ then, are not the same as the common exception words like ‘are’, ‘you’, ‘some’, ‘house’ or ‘they’, that do not comply with phonic rules but they are high frequency words in the sense that they occur most often in any text. Some can be sounded out using phonics and some need to be learnt as whole words.

Zoe Tillotson
English Advisory Teacher



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