Most every reading teacher places some value on sight words instruction; however, just what teachers mean by sight words varies more than the flavors at the local ice cream parlor. Reading specialists describe two methods of “word attack”: word identification and word recognition. Sight words are the word recognition side of the coin. Some mean high frequency reading words and trot out Fry or Dolch word lists. These words consist of those most frequently found in basal reading series. “By the end of second grade, your child must have memorized the top 200 words.”
Other teachers see sight words as high utility spelling words. You can spot these teachers by their prominently displayed “No Excuse” spelling words on a colorful bulletin board. Thanks to Rebecca Sitton, these collections of words are the words that children most often use in their beginning writing. “By the end of second grade, your child must have mastered the spelling of these words in their writing–no excuses!”
Still other teachers understand and teach sight words as word family (rimes) words. A rime is a vowel and final consonants in one syllable, such as “ick.” The rime usually follows an initial consonant, e.g. “t,” or consonant blend, e.g. “tr,” to form words, e.g., “tick” or “trick.” Teachers using rimes have their students memorize what these chunks of words look and sound like and then apply these to other starting consonants (called onsets) to recognize or say new words. “By the end of second grade, your child must know every one of these 79 word families with automaticity.” Get a comprehensive list of rimes and terrific learning activities Word Families (Rimes) Activities.
The last group of teachers view sight words as Outlaw Words. That’s right… stick ’em up, cowboy! These words break the law, that is they break the rules of the alphabet code and are non-phonetic. Words such as the and love are Outlaw Words because readers can’t sound them out. Unfortunately, many of our high frequency and high utility words happen to be non-decodable. Linguists tell us that these are holdovers from our Old English roots.
So Which Sight Words Should We Teach?
Although reading research clearly supports systematic explicit phonics as the most efficient instructional methodology, as a reading specialist I support a Heinz 57® approach to sight word practice. Although not a substitute for explicit phonics instruction, memorizing key sight words does makes sense to promote reading automaticity. And, as a bonus, parents can be helpful partners in practicing sight words with their children. Although oftentimes well-intentioned parents frequently do more harm than good when they teach their children to blend improperly (think “buh-ay-nuh-kuh” sound-out for bank), practicing sight words is almost foolproof.
For older students, say second-graders or reading intervention students (think Response to Intervention Tiers I and II), these Outlaw Words and Rimes Assessments with recording matrix provides teachers with the data they need to effectively differentiate instruction.
And here are some terrific Outlaw Words Activities and Word Families (Rimes) Activities to make sight word practice fun in the classroom. Also check out the phonics materials and activities found in these articles: Phonics Games and in How to Teach Phonics. Finally, check out these related Phonemic Awareness Activities.
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 game cards, 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.