My niece is in first grade. She has always loved to listen to stories, but when we were together to celebrate Christmas at my parents’ house this year, she was reluctant to read books herself. When I finally convinced her to read with me, it was clear why: While she knows her letter sounds cold, nearly every word was a struggle. Sure, she recognized words like “the” and “is” with good automaticity. But she needed to sound out lots and lots of common words (like, well, lots) every time she came across them. A big part of the problem, I saw, was with sight words.
While there are some differences in opinion about what the term “sight words” really means, nearly all educators agree that recognizing them automatically is critical to fluent reading. Some educators like to explain that sight words are words that don’t “follow the rules” and so just have to be memorized. “Have” is a great example. Kids learn that when there is a vowel-consonant-e pattern at the end of a word, the first vowel is long. But in “have,” the a sounds short, despite the e at the end. English has a lot of words like this, and unfortunately most of them are among our most common words.
Other educators say that sight words are simply common words that kids should recognize immediately because they occur so frequently in texts that sounding them out each time would be laborious (as my niece discovered). Words like “her”, “get”, and “open” are examples of words like this: they “follow the rules” and occur frequently.
Regardless of the definition one uses, sight words are important, and knowing how to read and spell them without much conscious thought or effort is enormously helpful to young students. Luckily, there are lots of ways to make learning sight words fun.
Over the next few posts, I’ll share some ideas that I’ve found to be very useful, even with severely dyslexic students. Stay tuned!