Why Do Kids Learn Sight Words?

Girl (4-5) sitting on lap of teacher reading book, smiling

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Beginning readers use a lot of different ways to become more fluent readers. One of the most important ways to do that is to be able to read and recognize sight words. These are basic words are memorized rather than sounded out.

What Are Sight Words?

Sight words refer to the words that are most frequently used and repeated in books, which is why sight words are also sometimes referred to as “high-frequency” words. The same words are also sometimes called “core words” and “popcorn words.” The phrase "popcorn words" refers to the fact that students should be able to just pop those words out every time they see them.

It’s estimated that some 100 or so words make up more than 50 percent of the text that students read. It sounds rather implausible until you consider that sight words are often the small, easily recognizable words like “a, I, or, and, the” and so forth.

A sight vocabulary is a list of words that the individual reader knows by sight, without having to decode them or do any kind of word analysis.

Sight Words Lists

Teachers rely on a few different lists to come up with appropriate sight words for each grade level. In the early grades, you may see that your child’s teacher has included his name and those of his classmate’s on his sight word list. While not technically “sight words,” they are words he will see in the classroom over and over again and should learn to recognize.

Most sight word lists are comprised of words that are found on the Dolch List of Basic Sight Words and Fry’s 300 Instant Sight Words, both of which can be downloaded from the Literacy and Information Communication System (LINCS) website.

Each grade level has its own set of words to know and they build on one another. That means once your child has learned the words for kindergarten, he will be expected to know those words in addition to the new ones once he’s learned his first-grade words. This is known as scaffolding.

Activities to Learn Sight Words

You can work with your child to develop sight word recognition, and teachers also use various methods in the classroom.

Flashcards: You can print flashcards to use for the assigned sight word list​ or purchase sets of flashcards recommended for different grade levels.

Sight Words Games: Sight words bingo can be played with printable bingo cards or making up your own. Students will become familiar with the words while playing the game, and you can reward them to make it fun. Sight words hangman is an easy game to enjoy with one or more students. Other ideas include playing Go Fish with sets of sight word cards, memory games, bean bag toss games, and laying out sight words in a pathway to follow.

Word Catchers: This activity uses a fly-swatter with a window cut out. When you are reading with the child, race to see who can catch one of the sight words first with the word catcher. You can decide on one or more words to target, and use a favorite book or a magazine or newspaper.

Sight Word Beach Ball Toss: Mark a sight word on each section of an inflatable beach ball, then toss the ball around a circle of children to read the word that is facing them when they catch it.

A Word From Verywell

You can begin reviewing sight words with your child when she is interested in reading. But don't worry if your preschooler isn't ready for this step or isn't grasping them quickly. Each child will be at a different pace and you don't need to rush it.

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  1. Johns, J.L. and Wilke, K.H. High-Frequency Words: Some Ways to Teach and Help Students Practice and Learn Them. Texas Journal of Literacy Education. v6 n1 p3-13 Sum 2018.