You probably don’t remember learning how to read words like the, is, and am. But these so-called “sight words” that you now read every day (without even noticing!) can actually be quite challenging for children to learn. However, they're crucial to reading success.
In simple terms, sight words are commonly-used words that children are encouraged to memorize by sight, so they instantly recognize them in a text without having to take the time to sound them out. That’s especially helpful for the many sight words that don’t follow normal phonetic rules, and can’t be sounded out.
“When children can read sight words quickly, they are more fluent readers and can better comprehend a text,” says Laura Mossa, an elementary school reading specialist at Baltimore County Public Schools. She adds that one classic study found that up to 75 percent of the words used in text geared toward young readers are sight words.
Here are five ways to make learning sight words easier for your child, and tools that will help you along the way.
Tip 1: Expose your child to sight words early on.
It's never too early to start reading regularly with your child (it will boost their language development and reading skills, and doing so multiple times per day can expose them to 1 million words by kindergarten!). This is the most natural way to familiarize them with a wide range of sight words.
Also point out sight words in your environment — say, by reading signs on the road or at the grocery store out loud. This will help provide a solid foundation for when your child takes on more formal sight word learning in preschool and kindergarten.
What Will Help: For young children, simply focus on joyful read-alouds that are packed with sight words, like Oh, The Places You'll Go!
As your child enters preschool and kindergarten, this Sight Word Readers Parent Pack is a great way to supplement what they're learning in class. It features a mini activity book and write-and-learn pages to help your kids learn 50 high-frequency sight words!
Tip 2: Make read-alouds more interactive.
When you read with your child, you’ll notice that many repetitive phrases contain sight words like I, a, at, am, and, it, in, is, and the. Have fun emphasizing this repetition, and encourage your child to chime in on the refrains as you point to the words along the way.
“Since sight words make up a large percentage of all text, engaging in interactive read-alouds with your child is a great way to practice them,” says Mossa. Books that show text in speech bubbles are particularly useful for this, because the text is concise and large, making it easy to point out sight words in each bubble as you read.
What Will Help: For general sight word practice, you can use this Little Skill Seekers: Sight Words workbook with your child — it includes playful illustrations and practice problems that will help your child recognize sight words to strengthen reading fluency!
Tip 3: Engage all of their senses.
Mossa says she also uses multi-sensory activities with children, in which they fill in missing letters or rearrange letters to correctly spell a sight word, or "write" a word using their finger in the air or on a table.
“Children are more likely to retain a sight word in their long-term memory when practice includes these multi-sensory strategies,” says Mossa. She also suggests giving kids pipe cleaners or magnetic letters to build sight words.
For more practice with spelling sight words — especially those that aren’t phonetically regular — Mossa says she turns to literacy expert Jan Richardson’s sight word technique. “I introduce the sight word by writing it on a dry erase board or making it with magnetic letters,” she says. “Then I ask children to look at each letter as I slide an index card left to right across the word.”
Tip 4: Sort sight words into categories.
It can be helpful to show kids how to sort sight words into categories, such as “rule followers” and “rule breakers,” says Mossa. However, this should be used with more fluent readers who have already built early decoding skills and can sound out words.
“For example, the sight word ‘can’ follows regular phonics patterns,” Mossa says. “In contrast, ‘said’ is not decodable. Therefore, children must learn this word as a whole unit. When I introduce a sight word, I discuss whether it can be sounded out or if it is a word that is a rule breaker.” Play a sorting game at home in which your child guesses which sight words can or cannot be sounded out.
What Will Help: Discuss the various types of sight words in this Nonfiction Sight Word Readers Parent Pack Level A and the Scholastic Success With Grades K-2: Sight Words with your child. Both of these tools will help your young reader become more familiar with key sight words and strengthen their reading skills.
Tip 5: Read and play with sight words daily.
“Children will become better at reading sight words automatically when they have daily opportunities to interact with text at home,” says Mossa. Reading daily will naturally reinforce the learning of sight words, and you can also get creative with games, art projects, and other interactive activities.