Why Do Kids Learn Sight Words?

Beginning readers use many different strategies to become more fluent readers. One of the most important methods is learning to read and recognize sight words. These are basic words that are memorized rather than sounded out. Part of the process of teaching children to read, often starting in kindergarten, focuses on sight words.

Girl (4-5 years old) sitting on teacher's lap reading a book

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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 they tend to "pop" out at students every time they see the words.

It’s estimated that some 100-200 words make up more than 50% 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 Word 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 all of the students' names on their sight word list. While not technically “sight words,” they are words that will be seen in the classroom over and over again, and it will be helpful for the students to recognize them.

Most sight word lists are comprised of words found on the Revised Dolch List of Basic Sight Words and Fry’s 300 Instant Sight Words, so you may also hear them referred to as Dolch or Fry words.

Each grade level has its own set of sight words to learn, and they build on one another. That means once your child has learned the words for kindergarten, they will be expected to know those words in addition to the new ones introduced in first grade. Learned words can help children decode new words. This technique is known as scaffolding.

Sight Word Games

You can work with your child at home to develop sight word recognition. Try one of the games below to make learning sight words fun for you and your child.

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

Bingo: Sight words bingo can be played with printable bingo cards, or you can make your own. Students will become familiar with the words while playing the game, and you can reward them to make it fun.

Hangman: Sight words hangman is an easy game to enjoy with one or more students.

Word Catchers: This activity uses a fly-swatter with a window cut out. When you are reading with your 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.

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.

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.

A Word From Verywell

You can begin reviewing sight words with your child whenever they become interested in reading. But don't worry if your preschooler or kindergartener isn't ready for this step or isn't grasping sight words quickly. Each child will progress at a different pace, and there is no need to rush them into reading.

2 Sources
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  1. Johns JL, Wilke KH. High-frequency words: Some ways to teach and help students practice and learn them. Texas Journal of Literacy Education. 2018;6(1):3-13.

  2. Rodgers E, D'Agostino JV, Harmey SJ, Kelly RH, Brownfield K. Examining the nature of scaffolding in an early literacy intervention. Read Res Q. 2016;51(3):345-60. doi:10.1002/rrq.142