Holly Shannon, M.A.T., Elementary School Teacher

Sight Words: ‘Learning to Read’ Process


Learning to read is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Sight words, phonics, familiar book reading, shared reading….all of these methods are excellent tools to teach children to read. The method by which one child learns to read can be vastly different than the method that another child learns to read. Sight words are an important part of this entire process.  

Back when I was learning to read, I had a set of sight words, in a little wooden box, which I worked to memorize.  I can still remember the hardest word in the set: ‘could.’ (I shared this memory with my beginning readers….they love hearing that their teacher once learned to read, too.) These memorized sight words gave me a foundation for reading new words.   

As beginning readers read a brand new book, the sight words they know provide a support structure for their learning.  For example, if a new reader is reading, “I like to jump and slide,” she will have a much easier time sounding out or using picture clues to figure out ‘jump’ and ‘slide’ if the other words are known sight words. 

Start by obtaining a list of sight words either from your child’s teacher or by looking up ‘Dolch Sight Words.’ These are words children encounter frequently in their books and often can not be sounded out. Use index cards to make flashcards.  Start small and slowly add words when your child has mastered some words.  Keep it light and fun….it shouldn’t feel like drill and practice to your child, but more like a game.  

To help your children learn sight words and make it feel like a game, try any or all of these methods:
  • Your child can arrange the sight words (5-10 at a time) in ABC order.
  • Use the flashcards to make a circle or a shape on the floor. Your child can sit in the middle, pointing and saying the words. He can rearrange the shape and say the words again.
  • Tape up the cards around the house by the actual object or a picture of the word. 
  • Make your own sight words BINGO game.
  • Sight word concentration/memory: make 2 of each word, flip upside down, find matches.
  • Play “Go Fish” with the flashcards.
  • Guess my word.  Write the words on the list.  Give clues to what your secretly chosen word is, and your child eliminates words until they have figured it out.  Sample clues:  My word has more than 3 letters; my word has only one syllable; my word doesn't have double letters; my word doesn't rhyme with "man".  Clues like this can be adjusted to child's ability level while teaching multiple reading skills at the same time.
  • Make silly phrases by arranging and rearranging the words:
    My cat likes you.  You like my cat. Etc. 

    Whichever method your child uses to learn these sight words, keep the mood positive and fun. Beginning readers need slow, incremental steps and tons of encouragement along the path to reading.

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