Sight words are common words that are not entirely phonetic. For example, “the” is a sight word. “The” has a phonetic component /th/ and an irregular component /e/. Thus, the student needs to break the phonetic aspect of the code and then map the sounds to a familiar word. All sight words have at least one irregular component.
Or at least they should. Students should not memorize or repetitively practice words like play, it, me, say… etc. because these words are totally phonetic. They are not true sight words. In contrast, words like there, have, they, would… etc. all have at least one irregular component: these are the kind of sight words students should practice. In addition, kids need to practice spelling sight words.
How to teach sight words:
1) Teach your student phonics. With phonics your student can break the phonetic aspect of sight words.
Unfortunately, many kids are expected to memorize long lists of 100+ sight words. This is not an effective method for learning. Children need to master phonics. You can teach phonics at the same time you teach sight words.
When you introduce “have,” for example, your student should know letter sounds. Thus, you can tell your kindergartner to sound “have” out. You can say explicitly, “There’s an irregular component in this word or something a little weird, but, for the most part, you can sound it out. Give it a try.” She might get it right: h-aaaaa-vvvvv. If, she says “havy” you can say “The e is silent. This says have.”
Later on, as your student learns more sight words, during sight word review time, simply encourage your student to “Sound out these common words. Then make a sound tweak to match the sounds to a familiar word.” In this way, the child might read “have” as “havy” and then realize that it’s “have.”
Steps to reading sight words:
- Sound out the sight word.
- Make a sound tweak to match the sounds to a familiar word.
The more phonics knowledge your student acquires, the better she will be at sounding out sight words, identifying the irregular component, making the sound tweak, and finally saying the correct pronunciation.
2) Kids should practice about 10-15 sight words per lesson. This allows them to gain more exposure to these common words.
There are some phonics programs that advocate no sight word review. While systematic phonics instruction is by far the most critical part of learning to read, I believe sight words still have a place in instructional time. Here’s why: kids need to learn to spell sight words. In addition, early readers may struggle with sight words if you don’t clearly teach them that these words require a sound tweak.
Thus, I recommend creating a small sight word pile around 10-15 words. This activity should only take 2-5 minutes. If you go over this time, move on. Phonics is too crucial and you don’t want to spend inordinate amounts of time on sight words.
Keep these 10-15 sight words with you for your student to review daily. Have her read and spell the sight words. Once she develops some familiarity with the spelling of a particular sight word, cover the word, and have her try to spell it from memory. This will help her spelling tremendously. If she knows how to spell sight words, she’ll write more confidently.
3) Introduce 2-4 new sight words at a time.
I see many people bombarding kids with too many sight words. Kids need to learn gradually one step at a time. When the student masters his list of sight words, with accuracy rates of about 75% or above for all 10-15 words, then you can introduce 2-4 new sight words. Be sure to take some sight words out of the pile to keep the total count to 10-15 words.
Thus, a beginner will only review 2 sight words per lesson (typically words like the and from). When he’s mastered these, you can introduce 2-4 more (making his list something like: the, from, they, to, you, have). Once the student reads these words with 75% accuracy, you can again introduce 2-4 more sight words (making his list something like: the, from, they, to, you, have, of, one). Continue on in this manner until his total flashcard review stack equals 10-15 words. After his stack reaches 10-15 words, start taking old sight words out.
4) Teach only real sight words. Do NOT teach totally phonetic common words like play, time, am, at, must… etc. Instead, teach only words that break the phonetic code in some way.
Kids are often sent home with long lists of sight words that are not comprised of sight words at all! A true sight word is a word that breaks the phonetic code. “Play” for example, is totally phonetic: the /ay/ regularly says the long a sound. Kids need to practice real sight words like the, have, from, would…etc. These word require sounding out AND a sound tweak.
Some examples of good sight words to teach include: the, of, from, they, you, your, would, could, have, thought, through, been, there, their… etc. All of these words require a sound tweak because there is at least one irregular component.
I hope these tips were helpful. For a printable apple tree pdf with sight words.
Reading Elephant offers printable phonics books that can help kids practice the most common phonics sounds.