Are you teaching sight words? You should start teaching sight words when you begin teaching the phonics sounds systematically. Sight words are common, especially in early books. They do not follow the standard rules of English. Instead, at least one aspect of each sight word breaks a rule. For example, “there” is a sight word, because although “th” is regular, the “ere” is not. If “there” were fully regular, we would write “thair.” Thus, sight words contain both regular and irregular components.
Some people advocate teaching sight words by sight, meaning the child looks at the word as a whole. If you teach this way, the student memorizes each sight word as if it were a logogram. Just as you look at a green mermaid and think Starbucks, the child looks at “would” and thinks would. While this method may work with many kids, it does not work with struggling readers. Instead, struggling readers need help identifying the piece of each sight word that is regular.
Thus, when you introduce “could,” tell the child explicitly that c and d are regular. You can even teach a generalization about most sight words: “Oftentimes, the first sound is regular.” This generalization will really help your struggling reader crack sight words. Do you have a struggling reader that looks at “the” and looks puzzled? With this student, explicitly tell him to crack the first sound /th/. Once he knows the first sound is /th/, he’ll likely identify “the.”
How common are sight words?
Sight words make up about 63-75% of early print. Thus, sight word knowledge helps struggling readers start in on books. In more sophisticated texts like adult fiction, sight words comprise 60% of print. Although sight words are common, the majority of your lesson should focus on phonics. Some kids simply will not recognize sight words until they learn phonics rules. For example, “said” is a sight word. It breaks phonics rules, as the pronunciation is really /s/ /e/ /d/. However, some kids will not be able to identify “said” until they learn the /s/ and /d/ phonics rules. The regular /s/ at the beginning and /d/ at the end will help struggling readers unlock “said.”
There are only about 120 sight words worth memorizing. In contrast, there are tons of phonetically regular words in English. This presents the complex fact that:
There are few sight words in English. However, these 120 or so words comprise 60% of text.
There is an abundance of phonetically regular words in English. However, these 400,000 or so words comprise 40% of text.
Phonics knowledge is critical for both phonetic and irregular words. Make sure you teach phonics rules systematically or one at a time. Kids who struggle need at least some phonics knowledge to unlock sight words. This may seem counterintuitive, “Aren’t sight words irregular?” Yes, they are irregular. However, there is at least one regular component in most sight words.
Dump truck sight word practice worksheets
In this activity, have students both read and spell the sight words out-loud. After they read and spell each sight word, have them color the dump truck for fun. Encourage your student to whisper the words aloud as they color. Here is the printable sight word practice worksheets:
Here is a visual of the sight word dump truck worksheet. Click above for the printable sheet.
To teach your student phonics, check out our systematic phonics books. These carefully written books guide your student through the English spelling code.
Kear, Dennis & Gladhart, Marsha (1983). Comparative Study to Identify High-Frequency Words in Printed Materials.
McWhorter, John (2003). The Power of Babel. New York, New York. Harper Collins Publishers.