Sight words are high frequency words in the English language. They can be useful for children to learn, especially those who are just getting started with reading, because memorising them frees up attention for a harder word that is more complicated to sound out and understand. Children who struggle with learning difficulties, including specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia and dyspraxia, may need additional support when it comes to developing strong literacy skills. Teaching sight words, even if it requires some extra effort and time from the child, can make a huge difference in their ability to keep up with peers in the classroom.
How you learn depends on who you are as a learner. A child who is a strong reader from an early age may find he or she acquires the sight words effortlessly through repeat exposure from extensive reading. When parents spend a lot of time reading children’s books to their youngsters, they are also introducing sight words since more than 75% of the average book written for children is made up of them.
Other children might not meet most sight words until they learn to read in first or second grade. They are typically introduced as part of phonics and spelling lessons and used by teachers to facilitate strong reading skills. Sight words are important for understanding English and that means the bilingual child and English as a second language adult learner
can greatly benefit from covering them in early vocabulary lists. Of course, for adult learners, Dr. Seuss may not be the most appropriate method of introduction so it is recommended that anyone teaching adults
investigate other options, such as a touch-typing course
in which students learn to recognize and type sight words on a computer.
How children learn to read
Children develop pre-literacy skills
including individual sound, letter and word recognition, via conversations with their parents and being read to from an early age. Teaching young children their ABCs and singing songs with repeated vowel sounds and silly anecdotes provides the foundation upon which they can master the skills they need to tackle reading and writing.
In order to read a word, a child must be able to first recognise and then map the letters it contains to the sounds they represent. By de-coding and sounding out a word, he or she can gradually recognize a familiar term or learn a new word’s meaning. It takes a lot of cognitive energy and attention to go through this process, which can be quite slow in the beginning as very few words will be familiar to the child.
That’s why teaching words which are likely to show up in the majority of sentences a child encounters, is so important. If you remove part of the challenge in every reading task, you allow a child to focus on the unfamiliar word(s) and this can lead to great gains in learning vocabulary as well as the positive emotions that come when children successfully find meaning in early reading endeavours.
Which words are sight words?
Sight words are sometimes referred to as Dolch words because of the man who first recognized them and assembled them into the list most parents and educators teach today. Edward William Dolch published his list of sight words in 1948 while he was working at the University of Illinois. In order to create the list, he used children’s books, looking for the most common words they contained.
In order to cut down on the work involved in teaching a young child an extensive list of vocabulary, he narrowed the sight words down to 220, notably leaving out nouns. This means today’s sight words are comprised mostly of service words such as prepositions, common adjectives and even verbs. Dolch eventually released an additional list of 95 nouns, which can also be useful sight words for children to learn.
Tips for teaching sight words
There are many ways to teach sight words—here are just a few ideas!
1. Look for them in books. Recognition is required so learning and acquisition can take place. Draw a child’s attention to a word by looking for it in children’s books. You can start with Dr. Seuss books as they contain a lot of them! Repeat exposure, pointing a word out and talking about it provides a much better introduction than simply giving a child a list of terms to learn.
2. Hang them around the classroom. Keep the sight words “in sight” as best you can. Certain words such as and and the will be hard for children to miss but calling attention to print that contains them is key. You can create big posters of a word, talk about the letters it contains and spend time focusing on its meaning.
3. Help children use them. Teaching children to write sight words, whether it be through illustration, plain old spelling drills, or repetition on a keyboard as they learn to touch-type can cement learning. A word can be written in isolation or as part of basic sentences. Make it fun for students to learn as positive emotions during classroom lessons make it easier for new words to be retained.
4. Re-visit them regularly. Teaching a word over and over again may seem pointless but repeat exposure will eventually do the trick. Children need plenty of practice reading and writing sight words before you can consider them learned. Children with specific learning differences such as dyslexia may especially benefit from “overlearning” new words.
5. Introduce an online typing course. There’s no reason why a young child of age 6 or 7 cannot learn to type at the same time as he or she is learning to read and write. The significant factor is that the hands are mature enough to sit comfortably on a keyboard. In fact, typing can help facilitate learning when it comes to reading, writing and spelling skills.
If the words they are drilled on are also sight words, as is the case for many early modules of the Touch-Type Read and Spell course, you can ensure the child receives repeat exposure which greatly enhances their chance of word recognition during regular reading activities.
When learning words is hard
For children who struggle with learning difficulties such as dyslexia
, sight words are not always that easy to learn
. Learning any word is tricky but as sight words tend to be somewhat generic vocabulary, they are less amenable to the mnemonic devices dyslexic students sometimes use to remember vocabulary.
If a teacher is aware of the learning difficulty, they can ensure the child receives extra help. However, it can be somewhat embarrassing when a student needs to work to keep up with his or her peers. Introducing a self-study or directed learning measure that can be completed at a pace set by the learner, after class and at home, may be the solution. For more information on how to use TTRS’s course for teaching reading and sight words to struggling readers, just get in touch
with our team!
How do you teach sight words to your learners? Leave us a comment and join the discussion!
By Meredith Cicerchia