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Forget the 100-word rule!

Michele Dufresne

Last week, the principal of our local school asked me what I thought about the district’s mandate that kindergartners learn a list of 100 words. Did I think it was appropriate? The short answer? No!

I see how confused educators are about how to reach that goal. Many teachers try to divide the word list over the course of the school year. Each week, students go home with a section of the list and practice the words diligently with their families. Would you be surprised to discover that students forget the words from the previous week as they try to learn a new set?

So what is appropriate to teach kindergartners? Young children need to learn that reading is fun, engaging, and something they are successful at. Nothing is worse than discouraging children and making them feel like they are failing. We cannot have a one-size-fits-all curriculum. Literacy learning needs to be meaningful and appropriate. Children who have a limited background with texts need to experience the power and joy of real books.

Learning a core of sight words is important, but the words need to be selected carefully and taught responsively. Marie Clay tells us that “New words will be acquired through reading books and others will come from daily writing” (Literacy Lessons: Part 2, page 40). The words you teach should be ones kindergartners see frequently in books and want to use in their writing. For some students, learning the first few words may come quite slowly. They need to develop a system for remembering. If you try to teach too many words at once, you will just create a huge muddle.

How about this? Instead of a kindergarten goal of learning 100 specific words, give them a goal of reading 100 books? Maybe even 180 books? One for each day! That’s a goal that all kindergartners can achieve, whether they’re at the beginning of their journey as readers or well on their way to proficiency.