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How to Teach Sight Words

Sight Words

Which sight words should we teach?

Some teachers have confused sight words with high-utility, high-frequency words. Teachers might pass out the 100 word Fry list, the 220 word Dolch list, or the various Rebecca Sitton word lists.

Still other teachers have confused sight words with word tests, such as the Slosson or San Diego Quick assessments.

From the outset, it must be stated that sight word instruction is not a substitute for explicit, systematic phoneme awareness and phonics instruction.

What are sight words?

Sight words are high frequency words which have been decoded and practiced to the point that both reading and spelling are characterized by automaticity. The sound-spelling correspondences have be orthographically mapped by the reader such that recognition and production are wholistic, not part by part as originally learned.

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 sight word acquisition. 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 struggling 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. As David Kilpatrick has noted, phonemic awareness is not simply the precursor to phonics instruction. Blending and segmenting certainly are necessary to phonics instruction; however, phonemic isolation and substitution are also essential skills that many good decoders lack. Without solid phonemic awareness and phonics foundations, students will struggle to achieve the levels of automaticity needed for fluent reading and good comprehension.

Sight words instruction is important, but tossing out a deck of flashcards and expecting that rote memorization will teach a struggling reader to learn to read well simply will not achieve that end.


Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

Pennington Publishing provides two reading intervention program options for ages eight–adult. The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is a full-year, 55 minutes per day program which includes both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). The word recognition components feature the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spelling Independent Practice 4. Heart Words Independent Practice 5. The Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables 1ith comprehension and word fluency practice for older readers. The program also includes sound boxes and personal sound walls for weekly review.  The language comprehension components feature comprehensive vocabulary, reading fluency, reading comprehension, spelling, writing and syntax, syllabication, reading strategies, and game card lessons, worksheets, and activities. Word Recognition × Language Comprehension = Skillful Reading: The Simple View of Reading and the National Reading Panel Big 5.

If you only have time for a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) program, the The Science of Reading Intervention Program features the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities, plus the sound boxes and personal word walls for an effective word recognition program.


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