Sight word

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Sight words, often also called high frequency sight words, are commonly used words that young children are encouraged to memorize as a whole by sight, so that they can automatically recognize these words in print without having to use any strategies to decode.[1]

The term sight words is often confused with sight vocabulary, which is defined as each person's own vocabulary that the person recognizes from memory without the need to decode for understanding.[2][1] Sight words were introduced after Whole language (a similar method) fell out of favor with the education establishment.[3]


Sight words account for a large percentage (up to 75%) of the words used in beginning children's print materials.[4] The advantage for children being able to recognize sight words automatically is that a beginning reader will be able to identify the majority of words in a beginning text before they even attempt to read it; therefore, allowing the child to concentrate on meaning and comprehension as they read without having to stop and decode every single word.[4] Advocates of whole-word instruction believe that being able to recognize a large number of sight words gives students a better start to learning to read.[3]

Recognizing sight words automatically is said to be advantageous for beginning readers because many of these words have unusual spelling patterns, cannot be sounded out using basic phonics knowledge and cannot be represented using pictures.[5] For example, the word "was" does not follow a usual spelling pattern, as the middle letter "a" makes an /ɒ~ʌ/ sound and the final letter "s" makes a /z/ sound, nor can the word be associated with a picture clue since it denotes an abstract state (existence). Another example, is the word “said”,it breaks the phonetic rule of ai normally makes the long a sound, ay. In this word it makes the short e sound of eh. [6]The word "said" is pronounced as /s/ /e/ /d/. The word “has” also breaks the phonetic rule of s normally making the sss sound, in this word the s makes the z sound, /z/." The word is then pronounced /h/ /a/ /z/.[6]

Word lists[edit]

A number of sight word lists have been compiled and published; among the most popular are the Dolch sight words and the Magic 100 words. These lists have similar attributes, as they all aim to divide words into levels which are prioritized and introduced to children according to frequency of appearance in beginning readers' texts. Although many of the lists have overlapping content, the order of frequency of sight words varies and can be disputed, as they depend on contexts such as geographical location, empirical data, samples used, and year of publication.[7] Research


Research shows that the use of sight words does not sufficiently develop phonological awareness.[citation needed] The use of sight words as a reading instructional strategy is not consistent with the dual route theory as it involves out-of-context memorization rather than the development of phonological skills.[8] Instead, it is suggested that children first learn to identify individual letter-sound correspondences before blending and segmenting letter combinations. [9]

Proponents of synthetic phonics argue that children must first learn to associate the sounds of their language with the letter(s) that are used to represent them, and then to blends those sounds into words, and that children should never memorize words as visual designs.[10] Using sight words as a method of teaching reading in English is seen as being at odds with the alphabetic principle and as introducing English as though it was a logographic language.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "What Are Sight Words?". WeAreTeachers. 2018-04-25. Retrieved 2018-11-30.
  2. ^ Rapp, S. (1999-09-29). Recognizing words on sight; activity. The Baltimore Sun
  3. ^ a b Ravitch, Diane. (2007). EdSpeak: A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords, and Jargon. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development, ISBN 1416605754.
  4. ^ a b Kear, D. J., & Gladhart, M. A. (1983). "Comparative Study to Identify High-Frequency Words in Printed Materials". Perceptual and Motor Skills. 57 (3): 807–810. doi:10.2466/pms.1983.57.3.807.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ "Phonological Ability", The SAGE Encyclopedia of Contemporary Early Childhood Education, SAGE Publications, Inc, 2016, doi:10.4135/9781483340333.n296, ISBN 9781483340357
  6. ^ a b "Sight Words". Retrieved 2018-11-30.
  7. ^ Otto, W. & cester, R. (1972). "Sight words for beginning readers". The Journal of Educational Research. 65 (10): 435–443. doi:10.1080/00220671.1972.10884372. JSTOR /27536333.
  8. ^ Ehri, Linnea C. (2017). "Reconceptualizing the Development of Sight Word Reading and Its Relationship to Recoding". Reading Acquisition. London: Routledge. pp. 107–143. ISBN 9781351236898.
  9. ^ Literacy teaching guide : phonics. New South Wales. Department of Education and Training. [Sydney, N.S.W.]: New South Wales Dept. of Education and Training. 2009. ISBN 9780731386093. OCLC 590631697.CS1 maint: others (link)
  10. ^ McGuinness, Diane (1997). Why Our Children Can't Read. New York, NY: The Free Press. ISBN 0684831619.
  11. ^ Gatto, John Taylor (2006). "Eyless in Gaza". The Underground History of American Education. Oxford, NY: The Oxford Village Press. pp. 70–72. ISBN 0945700040.