What are Sight Words?
What’s the most common word in the English language? It’s the. Imagine if every time you saw this word, you had to stop and figure out what it was. It would make reading even the simplest text very slow and painful. Being able to read the at first sight makes things a lot easier: no sounding out, no trying to remember. You recognize it just like your own name. Sight words are words like the. These words occur so frequently that readers, including very young readers, need to know them instantly.
So, why memorize these words rather than sounding them out? The sad truth is that many of the most common words in English do not follow the rules for sounding out words. Why, for instance, doesn’t the word was rhyme with has? Why doesn’t have rhyme with gave? Or the rhyme with she? Yes, learning to read English is tricky! This is why we set aside the most common words, designate them as sight words, and get children to memorize them…on sight.
Decades ago, an educator named Edward Dolch developed a list, used widely by teachers, of the 220 most common words in English. The words are broken down by levels: pre-primer, primer, first grade, second grade, third grade. This set of words does not include nouns. Therefore, Edward Dolch created a second list composed of 95 nouns. Some of the 315 words that comprise the two lists are very easy for kids to learn: a, I, it. Others offer more of a challenge. For instance, the pre-primer list includes you, said, and where.
Time to Play
Parents can perform a crucial role in helping children learn sight words, not by badgering or forcing them to run through endless flashcards, but by doing what children truly enjoy: playing games.
Here is a list of the 45 sight words we include in our Beginning Reader and Growing Reader pathways:
And, a, the, on, is, to, I, was, you, your, yes, no, do, they, with, that, are, said, girl, boy, were, this, look, like, want, has, of, what, see, go, play, here, very, good, his, her, there, where, have, walk, talk, know, blue, green, little
Here is a link to the two Dolch words lists
Using either list, pick six words you know your child needs to learn and use them in the following games. Slowly add new words and drop the old ones. Don’t expect to conquer the whole Dolch list or even our more limited list in a week or a month or even in six months. However, if you’re consistent and play the sight word games regularly, your child can become a sight word wonder!
Sight Word Twister: This is a version of the popular game, Twister. Write your six sight words on index cards — one word on each card. Then clear a space on a wooden or linoleum floor and tape each word so that they are all just a little bit apart from each other. Now the fun begins. Tell your child to find one of the words — have, for instance — and place an elbow on the word. Then they must put their knee on a second word and their nose on a third. You can go on to a fourth, fifth, or sixth word, or you can stop at three. The effort to twist and turn doesn’t need to be exclusively your child’s. In my experience, children want ME to play Sight Word Twist too, and I’m happy to comply. Children will play many rounds of this game, but it’s best to limit your play to two or threerounds per player. Better to leave them eager for more than risk their getting bored. If they are eager for more, they will happily play again in a day or two.
Pick the Word: Write your six words on index cards — one word per card. On a sheet of paper, list the six words twice — one list for you, one for your child. Next, place the index cards with the words facing down. You can take the first turn. After picking a word from your list, flip four of the cards so the words are showing. If you uncover the word you’re seeking, you can cross that word off your list. At the end of your turn, flip the cards back over, mix them up, and give your child a turn at flipping four of the cards. If on your first turn you did not find the word you wanted, you have to hunt for the same word on your next turn. If you found the word you wanted, pick a second word from the list. The first player to cross off four words wins. To make the game more challenging, you can turn over three cards per turn instead of four, or you can aim to find all six words instead of just four of the words.
Word Match Up: On a sheet of paper, write your six sight words three times. Your child’s job is to draw a line that connects each word to the two identical words on the sheet. After drawing a line that connects the first three words, it’s time to connect the next three matching words. Sounds easy, but here’s the hitch: your child cannot cross any line already on the page. The page gets pretty crowded with lines, so this is not an easy accomplishment. Try it yourself. The more you stumble and struggle, the more your child will enjoy the game.
Word Toss: Write each sight word on its own Post-it® and then stick the words on the floor. You can also stick them to a wall or a door. Get a soft toy, like a small stuffed animal, and stand a few feet away from the words. Choose a word and say it aloud. Your child must toss the toy so that it hits the right word. Your turn next. Your child picks a word for you to hit. The game is more fun if you miss, so don’t worry about having poor aim. You can play to see who reaches a set number of points or who has the most points after five or six rounds.
Games like these are easy to play, require very little equipment, and are highly effective. The more you play these or similar games, the faster your child will learn lots of sight words, which will make them stronger, more confident readers.
Written by: Peggy Kaye, Chief Curriculum Officer
Let us know which sight word game is your favorite in the comments below!