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Should You Use Sight Words?

This was my response to a question about reading with sight words:

If you can read with sight words, it sure isn’t wrong to do it. And if a child can look at a word, be told what it is, and quickly remember it, more power to them. But I have taught first grade using a program called The Writing Road to Reading, which is very explicit phonics and nearly all my students were very successful.

I taught very few sight words, instead focusing on 70 phonograms and 28 associated spelling rules. The children decidedly sounded out new words. And the darndest thing happened as they read more and more. They developed a huge bank of sight words because they encountered words over and over during their reading. After encountering words in their reading only a few times, they learned them. This is so much more effective than using flashcards over and over.

My wife and I volunteered in my daughter’s first-grade classroom and our job was to test the children on their sight words. It was so difficult to sit there and point to words and watch the students try to remember the words when I knew they could get them easily if they knew the phonograms.

When my wife wasn’t looking, sometimes I would tell the children the sound of a phonogram and then have them tell me the word. For instance, the word “weigh.” I would whisper, “What if I told you ‘eigh’ says the sound “ay”. Instantly, they got the word. My daughter knew the 70 phonograms and had been reading for a few years. She knew the entire list of sight words at the beginning of the year.

What boggled my mind repeatedly during the time I was teaching my daughter to read was how she would encounter a long word she had never seen before and would get it almost instantly. I’d express amazement and she was like, “What?” She got those words quickly because her brain was wired to see the phonograms and sound them out. With practice, it was nearly instantaneous. Still think it is amazing!


If you would like to save your child from sight word frustration we need to talk!


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