Sight Word Reading Strategies for Learning Disabilities

Mother teaching children with flash cards
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Check out these sight word reading strategies which can help your child whether she struggles with a learning disability like dyslexia, or is simply excited to read.

Learning Disabilities in Reading 

As most children master decoding skills, they naturally begin to become more efficient readers. Learning to recognize whole words by sight rather than by decoding each word is part of that process. Naturally, reading a whole word by sight rather than decoding letter-by-letter and sound-by-sound is a much more efficient and faster process. Most readers develop this ability naturally. However, students with learning disabilities in reading or dyslexia may have more difficulty developing this skill than non-disabled readers.

Some students with learning disabilities and dyslexia learn better by using sight words from the beginning. Your child's reading teacher can typically tell you which strategies work best for your child. However, improving your child's ability to recognize sight words will likely help him with overall reading speed and accuracy as well as comprehension.

Importance of Sight Words

When readers learn to recognize words by sight, it increases their overall reading comprehension because they develop a mental storehouse of words and their meanings, which helps them understand other words in the context of sentences. Most teachers teach sight words early in the first grade because of this reason. Learning sight words also enhance spelling skills.

Lists of Sight Words

There are two lists of commonly used lists of high-frequency sight words that are taught to new readers: The Dolch List and the Edward Fry List. The Preprimer Dolch Word list can be used at home or at school.

How to Use Flash Cards

Before getting started with your sight words, take a moment to learn how to use flashcards.


Now that you're ready, take a look through these sight word reading strategies. Using sight words in this way has helped many parents and teachers help children with learning disabilities or dyslexia.

  • Start with a small number of sight words and focus on them for a week. Five to ten words may be a good start for children with learning disabilities in reading or dyslexia.
  • Create two sets of cards with the words on them, and play matching games like Go Fish or simply mix up the cards and have the child pick out the matching cards to pair up.
  • Point out sight words when you see them as you read together.
  • If the sight word is an object you have around the house, such as a chair, make a card and attach it to the object in the house.
  • Create multisensory sight word cards with the words written in a textured material so that children can feel the words and read them at the same time. Puffy paint, glue, rice grains, sand, and pipe cleaners are good choices for textured cards. Having your child help make the cards can be a learning experience as well.
  • Ask your child's teacher what sight words are being learned, and work on those at home as well.
  • Ask your child's teacher what strategies are being used in school, and try those at home as well. Children will learn more quickly if you are reinforcing the same words at home as they are working on in school. Familiar learning activities are often helpful.
  • Once your child has a good grasp on about twenty sight words, consider making a word bingo game to play to reinforce word recognition skills.
  • Have your child make five columns on a piece of paper. Have him copy each sight word four times, once in each column. Have him check his work, and correct any mistakes. Keep the activity fun by rewarding your child for finding and fixing his mistakes.
  • Write poems together using sight words.
  • Make a worksheet of sentences with missing sight words. Have your child fill in the missing sight word.
  • Choose sight words from new words your child will be used in various subject areas in school. The bold-typed vocabulary words in most texts are good choices.

Flashcards and Definitions

As your child learns each sight word, have him also learn the definition of that word. A good way to do this is to make flashcards of the words with definitions on the back.

  1. Hold up each flashcard.
  2. If your child gets the word right, read the definition aloud, and go to the next card.
  3. Continue until each word is recognized.
  4. Once words are recognized, begin asking your child to define each word.
  5. If she gets the definition correct, proceed to the next word.
  6. If she does not get the definition correct, read the correct definition to her, and continue the process until all words and definitions are memorized.

Bottom Line 

Knowing the importance of recognizing sight words in reading, emphasizes why working to make these sight words a fluent part of your child's vocabulary is so important. Yet childhood is a time for fun. All of these strategies work best when they can be used as part of a game and as part of the special time a child spends with his parents. In time, it's likely you'll come up with your own strategies which make learning not only your own special adventure but introduce your own kind of fun into learning as well. 

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. McArthur G, Castles A, Kohnen S, et al. Sight Word and Phonics Training in Children With DyslexiaJ Learn Disabil. 2015;48(4):391-407. doi:10.1177/0022219413504996

  2. Castles A, Rastle K, Nation K. Ending the Reading Wars: Reading Acquisition From Novice to ExpertPsychol Sci Public Interest. 2018;19(1):5-51. doi:10.1177/1529100618772271

By Ann Logsdon
Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities.