How to Teach Sight Words Effectively

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Did you know that there are over 220 sight words in the English language and that these words account for about 60% of the most frequently used words? That's why it is critical to teach children sight words.  

One of the most important goals in teaching children to read is developing and mastering sight words. Teaching sight words not only help children recognise these words without sounding them out and gives them a sense of success when reading.

But how do you teach sight words effectively? 

Girl Reading Sight Words

This post will provide you with a full rundown on how to teach sight words effectively, including introducing them, what order is best for teaching them, what age to start, and ten tips to help make learning sight words fun. 

What are Sight Words?

Sight words are the most common and essential words in a language. They are also called high-frequency words because they appear very often in written text.

When people refer to sight words, they refer to words that cannot be sounded out using phonics, but this is incorrect. Some sight words can be decoded by sounding them out; however, these words are still often taught as sight words as they frequently appear in written text, for example, “big”. 

According to David A. Kilpatrick, PhD

“A sight word is a word that is instantly and effortlessly recalled from memory, regardless of whether it is phonically regular or irregular. A sight-word vocabulary refers to the pool of words a student can effortlessly recognise”.

Importance of Sight Words

Sight words are the cornerstone of a child's reading. The more fluent and confident children are with sight words, the better reader's they will be.

Learning to read doesn't stop with decoding words by learning phonic sounds. A child must also confidently know their sight words.

The more automatic a child's sight word recall is, the better they can focus on other areas of reading. Suppose children don't have to worry about decoding or remembering a sight word because they have already learned them. In that case, they can better focus on decoding new words, understanding messages in stories, remembering what they've read and (most importantly) simply enjoying a book.

Which Words are Sight Words?

Sight words are often referred to as “Dolch” words because a man named Dr Edward William Dolch first assembled this list of the 220 most-used words and wrote about them in 1943.

He looked through various children's books for the most common words to create the list.

W.F. Dolch believed that teaching children to memorise too many words would be counterproductive and narrowed the sight word list down to 220 words, leaving out nouns. This means today's sight words are comprised mostly of prepositions, adjectives, and verbs. Eventually he released an additional list of 95 nouns. 

What is the Right Age to Teach Sight Words

You can begin teaching your child sight words around the age of 4 (start with words such as: is, it, my, me, no). Knowing the first 100 high-frequency sight words will provide your child with around 50% of the words they need to be able to read. 

Aim for around 20 sight words by the end of kindergarten and 100 words by the end of First Grade.

How to Introduce Sight Words

1.  Choose one word at a time.

2.  Show the word on a flashcard to your child.

3.  Read the word and then spell it.

4.  Ask your child to do the same – as they do this, get them to place their finger under each letter and then run their finger under the word when they say the whole word. For example, “Have H – A – V – E Have”.

5.  If your child can write the word, the next step is to get them to write the word down.

6.  Next, get them to read this word in a sentence.

Then it is a matter of practice, practice, practice. 

10 Tips for Teaching Sight Words

Tip #1 – Find the words in books. 

For a more substantial introduction, find the word in children's books. More exposure and repetition will make a more lasting impression than just giving your child a list of words to learn organically. Dr. Seuss books are great for this as they often contain many sight-words.

Tip #2 Place them on walls at home.

Keep the sight words “insight.” One way to help children learn sight words is to call their attention to them. You can make eye-catching posters and spend time focusing on the word's meaning and highlighting them as you use them in sentences during the day. 

Tip #3 – Help your child use them. 

Teaching your child to use sight words by writing, typing (see tip #4) and using in sentences all helps to cement learning.

Tip #4 – Introduce typing

Young children can learn to type right alongside their reading and writing skills. Provided your child has the muscle strength to type (age-dependent). Typing can be a great way to cement words that your child has already learned. 

Tip #5 – Practise them regularly. 

Once you introduce a word, it is important to continue teaching it in different contexts, such as reading books, songs and rhyming games.

Sight words are important, but it takes plenty of practice to memorise them. Children with learning challenges such as dyslexia may have an easier time remembering new words when they are overlearned.

Tip #6 – Have fun with games.

The use of games will keep your child engaged. Games such as Fly Swat Game are ideal for this. You can also check out the wide range of games available at This Reading Mama. 

Tip #7 – Use Manipulatives to teach sight words.

Manipulation is the process by which a sound is added to a word to make another word. For example, by adding the sound /c/ to the word ‘at’, the word becomes ‘cat’. Or removing the sound /c/ from ‘cat’, the word becomes ‘at’.

Tip #8 – Use a sight word app

There are plenty of sight word apps available, which are an excellent way for your child to practise their sight words and keep them engaged in the learning process. 

Tip #9 – Sing sight word songs.

Take a simple tune, like BINGO, and sing a song featuring a sight word. For example, “There’s a word that I can spell. And have is its name-o. H-A-V-E – have; H-A-V-E – have; H-A-V-E – have. And have is its name-o.”

Tip #10 – Use YouTube videos.

There are plenty of free sight word videos on Youtube that involve songs, rhyming games and stories. These are a great resources. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How many words should I teach per day? 

It is best to introduce 2- 3 words at a time and practise them. The next day review the previous day's words before introducing new words. If your child can remember the words of the previous day, then you can introduce three new words. Your child should have a solid knowledge of 30 – 40 sight words than sort of know 200 words. 

Should I use written words together with pictures? 

Unless your child has a cognitive delay, it is best to learn sight words without an accompanying picture. 

Should I correct mistakes immediately that my child makes them? 

Yes, if your child makes a mistake, stop and correct them immediately in a constructive, positive way.

How do I know if my child has mastered a sight-word? 

If your child can recognise the word quickly three times in a row for three days in a row, then your child has mastered that sight word. 

How much praise should I give my child? 

Of course, you want to praise your child but be mindful of heaping over the top praise. This can cause an unnecessary distraction. A simple “That's right” or “correct” when they know a word is sufficient. 

Should I be teaching my child sight words instead of phonics? 

No! Sight words supplement reading skills in kindergarten and first grade but are not meant to replace phonics instruction. Phonics teaches your child the rules for decoding and reading most words. Sight word instruction is a strategy that enhances children's ability to read familiar words instead of having them stop every time they come across an unfamiliar word.
If you want to teach your child to read, including introducing sight words, I recommend using The Children Learning Reading Program. It is a simple and effective method based on Phonics and Phonemic Awareness.

Reading is a discount ticket to everywhere

Mary Schmich

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