Sight Words

Sight Words

What are ‘sight words’?

A sight word is a word that can be effortlessly read when seen. This gives the impression that the reader does not decode it.

However, it is unreasonable to expect children to master words with advanced code, as well as learn the sounds taught through a systematic, synthetic phonics approach.

For example:

If a child is learning the sounds s,a,t,p,i,n, we should not also expect them to master how to decode words such as she, the, do etc, at the same pace.

The goal is for children to recognise these words (sight words) effortlessly, but this should only happen through repeated decoding and careful explanation of their complexity.

Should words be taught by sight?

The simple answer is ‘no’. Children must learn that there is only one strategy required to read unfamiliar words. That strategy is to decode. Telling them to sometimes decode but sometimes try to remember the word as one whole unit can be very confusing.

It is important to understand, however, that when children are learning to read using a systematic, synthetic approach they will come across words that have a far more advanced code than what they have learnt.

It is for this reason that ‘sight words’, high frequency words’, ‘tricky words’, need to be introduced, explained and decoded.

How do we teach words to ‘become’ sight words?

Example 1:

To teach the word ‘do’

  1. Tell the child the word
  2. Explain that the ‘o’ in some words can be heard as /oo/
  3. Sound out (decode) the individual phonemes for the child to hear d/o.

Example 2:

To teach the word ‘said’

  1. Tell the child the word
  2. Explain that the ‘ai’ in some words can be heard as /e/
  3. Sound out (decode) the individual phonemes for the child to hear s/ai/d.

Learning words with an advanced code using this repeated process will help children master them and improve reading fluency.

Sight words within the Decodable Readers Australia series

Engaging stories with fun characters is what all children should have access to as they begin their learn-to-read journey. Consequently, the Decodable Readers Australia series introduces children to some words before they have the required decoding knowledge.

For example, Level 1 Book 10 contains the words ‘the’, ‘and’ and ‘no’. These words need to be introduced, explained and decoded for children prior to reading this book. Repeated exposure using these strategies will assist them in being able to develop automatic recall of the words. Until such time, if a child does not know the words within the text then they should have the word decoded and read for them.

The goal for children is that every word they see is a sight word. To achieve this goal would put an end to illiteracy!