If you’ve been given a long list of words for your K-1 student to memorize, you might wonder: what are sight words? Why are sight words important?
What are sight words?
Sight words are common words that break the phonetic code in some way. These are the words that are on almost every page of text. For example, “there” is a sight word, because it is 1) common and 2) breaks the phonetic code. If “there” were spelled phonetically, it would be written “thair“ or “thare.” Since it’s both very common and irregular, K-1 students must memorize “there.” Play” is not a sight word. Though “play” is common, it is completely phonetic. “Play” should be read sound-by-sound.
When do students learn sight words?
Typically, students learn sight words in K-1. Of course, there is some variation by school. Ideally, by mid-second grade, every child should be done learning sight words. Second graders shift into reading words that are more phonetically complex, and less common.
Should I teach sight words in a certain order?
Absolutely. Sight words should always be taught in a strategic order. They should be taught from most common to least common. “The” for example is very common, while “build” is less common. It would be foolish to teach “build” before a child knows “the.” When a child is taught sight words out of order, it is very difficult to find texts they can read. If a child cannot read leveled books, their confidence suffers. Teach the most common sight words first so children can read leveled books!
How do I teach sight words?
In general, sight words must be memorized. Children should only learn 2-4 new sight words at a time. Once they’ve mastered a handful, they can begin to learn more. Avoid giving children long lists to be memorized all at once.
How do students practice sight words?
K-1 students can practice sight words with a whole range of activities. However, students need access to books, sentences and flashcards that contain their sight words.
Why is my student having difficulty learning sight words?
I could write a whole post on why many K-1 students struggle to learn sight words. Let’s say you’ve done all the sight word review activities, and still, the sight words don’t stick. If your student is struggling to learn sight words, my recommendation might surprise you: focus on phonics. All sight words contain at least one phonetic component. Some students need access to that one phonetic component to decipher sight words. Without any phonics knowledge, many students, especially dyslexic students, seem “blind” to sight words.
Take away this seeming “word blindness” by giving them phonics tools. You might have a student who simply won’t read “there” until he knows “th” and “er” phonics. One student I worked with didn’t learn “the,” until he had segmentation skills and extensive practice with “th.”
Why do some sight word lists contain phonetic words?
Many phonetic words are common. “He” is phonetic, but is often taught as a sight word. It’s okay to teach a handful of phonetic words as sight words, but don’t overwhelm your sight word list with phonetic words. Many students bring home lists full of phonetic words—meaning they have to memorize tons of words that they should just be reading sound-by-sound. Sight word lists with phonetic words like “pick” “play” and “nine” should be avoided.