Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

School Name

Annsley Frazier Thornton School of Education



Major Advisor

Dr. David Paige

Second Advisor

Dr. Mary Ann Cahill

Third Advisor

Dr. Grant Smith


This study examines the relationship between socioeconomic status, oral language, graphophonemic knowledge, and sight word acquisition in first-grade students. Previous research has shown that a relationship exists between socioeconomic status and oral language as well as between oral language and reading. The present study built on the research by extending these relationships to include high-frequency sight words, the words frequently targeted in early reading instruction. Across their first-grade year, 46 students were assessed on measures of receptive oral language, graphophonemic knowledge, and sight word knowledge. Students made significant progress on all measures indicating that first grade was a time of rapid growth in oral language, graphophonemic knowledge, and sight word acquisition. Multiple regression analysis revealed that oral language accounted for 37.6% of the variance in sight word acquisition in winter and 25.9% of the variance in spring, which establishes that oral language is related to sight word acquisition. When an analysis of covariance was used to control for the impact of socioeconomic status on sight word acquisition, the results were significant; socioeconomic status also influences sight word acquisition. Mediation analysis revealed that graphophonemic knowledge reduced the impact of oral language on sight word acquisition from .556 to .225. Together these findings show that both socioeconomic status and oral language impact the acquisition of high-frequency sight words. Therefore, direct instruction in high-frequency sight words in needed in early elementary classrooms. Further, because oral language impacts sight word acquisition, primary classrooms need to be language-rich environments where students have opportunities to hear complex vocabulary and to participate in productive talk.