How to Teach Sight Words
Some teachers have been led to believe that teaching sight words is antithetical to explicit systematic phonics instruction. I would argue that a reasonable approach to reading instruction would focus on phonics and supplement with sight words and rimes instruction.
Why Teach Sight Words?
Sight word instruction involves rote memorization of non-decodable high frequency words (outlaw words), word families (rimes), and common Greek, Latin, and English affixes (sight syllables). Although most of the rimes and sight syllables are decodable, their high frequency in text makes rote memorization desirable. The goal is reading automaticity.
Sight word instruction is not a substitute for explicit, systematic phoneme awareness and phonics instruction. The “Look-Say” reading method is not an efficient nor effective reading methodology.
Why is sight word instruction important?
Because older students generally have a more advanced vocabulary and bank of sight words than do younger students, it is important to draw upon these strengths to improve reading ability. It would not be wise to “start from scratch” with remedial readers. Teachers shouldn’t narrow instruction to solely remediate phonemic awareness and phonics deficits. Remedial students should quickly “fill in the gaps” as indicated by sight word diagnostic assessments through concentrated practice. The teacher should teach to these deficits concurrently with other program components.
Why don’t some students know the sight words and how does this affect their reading?
Some students have auditory processing, visual processing, or language processing problems which interfere with rote memorization of sight words. Inability to discriminate between speech sounds (phonemes) may have prevented fully developed phonemic awareness. Students may have difficulty in identifying the symbols or with the spatial arrangement of letters in words. Others may have problems connecting the alphabetic symbols to meaning.
Since phonemic awareness is a prerequisite to effective reading, students who lack this ability will have severe problems learning how to pronounce words sound by sound (decoding) and spell words (encoding). Inability to automatically process non-decodable outlaw words and non-decodable sight syllables retards reading fluency. Students spend time trying to pronounce words and syllables that are impossible to decode. Inability to rapidly recognize the analogous relationships of the rimes also retards reading fluency.
Can remedial readers with learning disabilities learn sight words?
Yes. The phonemic awareness and phonics instructional strategies will help students build on their strengths to ameliorate their relative weaknesses. A multi-sensory instructional approach will be particularly beneficial. Individual sight word study cards with large print can assist remedial reading students.
Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activities, phonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 flashcards, posters, activities, and games.
Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.
Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.