Why are sight words important?

Dear Reading Teacher,

How do I teach my daughter words such as, the, said, you and was?  I’m confused about how to go about this because it’s not possible to “sound out” these words.  Her teacher gave me a sight word list so I can work with her at home, but how am I supposed to teach these words?

Dear Parent,

You’re right.  Sight words can’t be sounded out because they don’t follow general phonics rules. Sight words are important.

The top 100 sight words make up 50% of the words we read in books! 

There are several ways to help your child recognize sight words in books. (1) Read patterned books to your child. Patterned books contain many high-frequency sight words and this provides an opportunity to learn what these words “look like” in books. Rhyming books, in particular, are a great resource for teaching and learning sight words. Children are engaged and will often start reading on their own, after listening to a “rhyming” book several times.  Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss books have higher than average sight words and I have had several students who were struggling with this skill learn sight words very easily using these resources at school and at home. However, please use what works best for your child, and read books she finds engaging. This will help her focus and persevere as she is learning this essential skill.  (2) Reread your child’s favorite books daily. It’s important for children to be engaged when listening to others read, and one of the best ways to do this is by choosing a favorite book. Consistency is key. Please read every day for at least 20 minutes. Listening is a skill that will help your child develop “automaticity.”  As you are reading your daughter is learning vocabulary, sentence structure, tone, fluency, sight words and embedding that knowledge. Reading the same book daily, while your child listens provides many opportunities to increase all reading skills.   (3) Play with words in games.  One sight word game my students all enjoy is Sight Word BINGO. As each student wins I have them point to each word and read it. I also use the word in a sentence and have them repeat the sentence as a group. Students love reading their BINGO sight words and, learning together.  (4) Echo read with your daughter. Echo reading is exactly what it sounds like.  Read one sentence at a time, pointing to each word.  Have your daughter reread the same sentence and point to each word.  When you have read the same book a few times change roles.  Have your daughter be the “teacher” and read first while pointing to each word, while you are the “student.”  (5) Write sentences together.  Make them short and sweet so your child is successful.  Focus on structure not handwriting, and choose one or two sight words per week. If you’re not sure how to begin, use “sentence starters” with your child and have her “fill in the blank.”  For example, (a) I can…….. (b) The dog is…… (c) I like to……(6) Use flashcards. Do what is motivational for your child, and for some students, flashcards are very engaging. I prefer to teach sight words in context for a number of reasons, however, I am always open to what works best for each student. While it is not my personal preference, I know that flashcards can be a supplemental resource that is effective for some students.

In a nutshell, sight word knowledge, develops over time, from repeated exposure, and many practice opportunities to read and listen.  Using engaging resources that motivate students to read on their own is not only effective, but essential if you want to instill a love of reading and learning.


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