Teaching Your Child To Read: Sight Words

As your child gets into kindergarten and then first grade, sight words will become a big part of their literacy skill set. Sight words are also known as high-frequency words, and are words that must be learned by repeated exposure because they usually cannot be decoded or sounded out. You can start introducing sight words to children early, and you’ve probably noticed that your child can “read” certain words already just by seeing them frequently, such as “mom” or “dad,” before they could actually decode these words. Their brains are ready to learn whole words at the same time that they can decode and blend, and repeated exposure is the best way to help them learn.

To clarify the difference between decodable words and sight words, look below. Words are decodable when they can be easily sounded out, when each letter in the word makes its regular sound. In sight words, the letters do not usually make their regular sounds.

Decodable Words
dog (D makes its regular sound, O makes its regular sound, G makes its regular sound)
bat (As above, all letters are making their regular sounds)
mug (As above, all letters are making their regular sounds)
bin (As above, all letters are making their regular sounds)
beg (As above, all letters are making their regular sounds)
Sight Words
the (If you try to sound this out, none of the letters make their regular sounds)
you (O and U are not making their regular sounds)
for (O is not making its regular sound)
is (S is making a Z sound)
to (O is making a U sound)

The most official source for sight words used in schools is Dolch Sight Words. The first set of 40 sight words to be learned is:

a funny look see
and go make the
away help me three
big here my to
blue I not two
can in one up
come is play we
down it red where
find jump run yellow
for little said you

*In this first list of sight words, some of the words actually are decodable, but they are used so frequently that we need students to study them well and memorize them.

The best way for your child to learn sight words is through repeated exposure, especially using books with repetitive text. Repetitive text means that the same sentence structure will appear over and over, using many of the same words. Eric Carle has many excellent books with repetitive texts, such as Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? The book repeats the same question over and over, so your child will be exposed to many sight words repeatedly, such as what, do, you, and see. Notice that none of these four words can be decoded. As you are reading to your child, point out sight words whenever you see them, so they are on the lookout. You can even do a Sight Word Hunt, where you select a few sight words before you start the book and then have your child hunt for them in the book.

The following Leap Frog game is a fun and active way to help your child learn sight words. I used foam sheets, and cut out lily pad shapes. You don’t have to use foam, but if you use paper, the lily pad won’t stay put when your child jumps on it. Write sight words on each lily pad, including a few words that they already know so that the game does not include only brand new words. Your child rolls the die to see how many lily pads they need to jump to. So if they roll a five, they have to jump to five lily pads and read the sight word on each one.


Another sight word game is called Floating Bottle Caps, and requires a tub, sink, or basin of water and plastic bottle caps (use the bigger ones like the ones on Vitamin Water, rather than regular water bottle tops, so that you have enough room to write a word). On each bottle cap write one sight word in permanent marker. Your child has to toss in a penny, bead, or pebble, and when they land on a word they have to read it. Include a couple words they already know so that the game doesn’t become too challenging to be fun.

The game of Bingo is well-suited to learning sight words. On a Bingo board (5 by 5 squares is big enough) write sight words in each space. If you are playing with multiple children, make multiple boards with the sight words in a different order on each, otherwise your children will all get Bingo at the same time! Have the sight words written on cards as well, and each time you pick a card, read the sight word, and your child/children can place a penny or another marker on the correct space. This way they need to recognize the sight word by hearing it and then also by seeing it written out on the board.

Lastly, you can play the game of Memory with sight words by having two cards for each sight word. Your child just has to find the match for each pair of sight words. Again, make sure you include at least one sight word that they already know. The great part of doing this as a Memory game is that they have to read the word twice in order to get the match, and they will probably see the word repeatedly over the course of the game until they actually match it to its partner. This repeated exposure is the key element to learning sight words.


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