What Are Fry Words?

Learn how they compare to Dolch sight words

Children sitting with sight word cards
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The term "Fry words" refers to the list of 1,000 high-frequency words compiled by Dr. Edward Fry in 1957. The list was an improvement on the Dolch words list first published in 1936. 

Dolch Sight Words vs. Fry Words

Both the Dolch and Fry word lists were developed based on the most frequently-occurring words in the English language. The Dolch list is made up of 220 words and contains no nouns unless they can be used as another part of speech. (Dolch created a separate list of 95 nouns.)

The Fry list contains 1,000 words and includes all parts of speech. According to Readsters.com, both lists were based on secondary sources, but the Fry list was updated in 1980 to add words from a more recent word frequency count.

The Fry words list is based on the "American Heritage Word Frequency Book", whose 87,000 words are ranked by the frequency in which they occur in reading material for grade 3 to 9. 

Dolch sight words are based on high-frequency words that students in kindergarten through second grade typically would be reading. They are listed by age group, whereas the first 300 Fry words are listed by order of frequency. They are broken down into groups of 100 because Fry advocated focusing on a few words at a time until a student memorized the entire list.

How Can These Lists Be Used?

Both the Dolch and Fry lists are based on whole word reading. However, a study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in 2000, indicates that beginning and struggling readers see stronger outcomes when they are taught to decode words using phonics.

A recommended approach is combining explicit phonics instruction with either the Dolch or Fry list of sight words. This combination helps children build fluency quickly by providing a base of words they recognize on sight along with a method for decoding unfamiliar words.

When Should Fry Words Be Taught?

In a traditional school setting, Fry words are often taught as early as kindergarten. Once children are familiar with the alphabet and letter sounds, you can begin introducing Fry words. Start with only five to ten words. Once a student masters that list, add five to 10 more, but continue to review the previously mastered words.

Generally, children are expected to master 20 sight or high-frequency words by the end of kindergarten and 100 by the end of first grade.

In a homeschool setting, let your child's developmental readiness be your guide. Some children are curious, eager learners who are ready to start learning high-frequency words as early as three-years-old. Others may not be ready until first or second grade or even later.

For young children, you may wish to start with only a couple of words at a time, building up to the five- to ten-word range. Let your child's progress guide you. Move at a pace which allows your student to master the words without frustration successfully.

Ideally, sight words and high-frequency words should be taught as a supplement to phonics instruction.

First 100 Fry Words

The first 100 Fry words are ideally suited for students in kindergarten and first grade. The words are listed alphabetically below, rather than in order of frequency. They can be taught in any order. For younger students, it's recommended to start with short words that appear frequently in the text your students are reading, such as a, the, an, can, is, of, you, he, and I.  

a about all an and
are as at be been
but by called can come
could day did do down
each find first for from
get go had has have
he her him his how
I if in into is
it like long look made
make many may more my
no not now number of
oil on one or other
out part people said see
she sit so some than
that the their them then
there these they this time
to two up use was
water way we were what
when which who will with
words would write you your

Second 100 Fry Words

Both the second and third 100 Fry words are recommended for students in second to third grades. Again, it is helpful to teach the words in conjunction with those that appear frequently in the texts that your students are reading.

after again air also America
animal another answer any around
ask away back because before
big boy came change different
does end even follow form
found give good great hand
help here home house just
kind know land large learn
letter line little live man
me means men most mother
move much must name need
new off old only our
over page picture place play
point put read right same
say sentence set should show
small sound spell still study
such take tell things think
three through too try turn
us very want well when
where why work world years

Third 100 Fry Words

Once the second 100 Fry words are mastered, children can move on to the third batch of 100. Again, continue teaching the words in groups of five to ten, and move on as each group is mastered. 

above add almost along always
began begin being below between
book both car carry children
city close country cut don't
earth eat enough every example
eyes face family far father
feet few food four girl
got group grow hard head
hear high idea important Indian
it's keep last late leave
left let life light list
might mile miss mountains near
never next night often once
open on paper plant real
river run saw school sea
second seem side something sometimes
song soon start state stop
story talk those thought together
took tree under until walk
watch while white without young

Tips for Teaching Fry Words

Help your children master the Fry words quickly and easily by making learning fun and keeping them engaged. Try some of the following activities.

Concentration: Make two identical sets of cards for the words your student is learning. Mix the cards and place them face down one at a time in even rows. Two or more students can play together, taking turns flipping over two cards each turn. They must read aloud the words they turn over. 

If the words match, the student gets to keep that pair and take another turn. If not, play passes to the next student. After all the matches have been made, the child with the most pairs wins.

Go Fish. Again, start with two matching sets of word cards mixed together. Deal three to five cards to each player, depending on how many are in the set. Students take turns calling out one word in their hand and asking one other player if he has the match.

If the student gets a match, he gets another turn. If not, play passes to the next player. After all the word cards have been matched, the student with the most pairs wins. 

Bingo. Create bingo cards with both mastered words and new words placed randomly on the cards. As you call out words, the students should put a marker over the word if they find it on their card. The first student to achieve a bingo with five words in a row, vertically or horizontally, wins the game. 

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Bales, Kris. "What Are Fry Words?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 8, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-are-fry-words-4172325. Bales, Kris. (2021, February 8). What Are Fry Words? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-are-fry-words-4172325 Bales, Kris. "What Are Fry Words?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-are-fry-words-4172325 (accessed June 2, 2023).