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[Foundational Literacy] 3 Questions About Sight Words Answered

Thursday, June 15, 2017 -- McKenna Wierman

There’s nothing quite like watching a student “crack the code” on reading, but the process of teaching those fundamental literacy skills is not without its challenges. While budding readers begin to explore new words and sounds to develop their literacy skills, they’re bound to get stuck every now and again. The trouble comes when readers begin to encounter common words that can’t be sounded out phonetically or easily defined.

Taking time to explain each new pronunciation or spelling rule (or exception) every time your readers encounter an unknown word can be time-consuming and confusing for the learner. But, how can you expect to teach children to read a book like The Cat in the Hat if they don’t understand common devices like the “th” sound? The answer is sight words. Let’s explore three critical questions about sight words to help understand their value in phonics instruction.

Why is it so important to teach sight words?

Sight words, or high frequency words, are words that appear most commonly in reading and writing. Often, they are phonetically irregular, meaning they can’t always be “sounded out” and are not easily represented by pictures. For example, two common sight words, “know” and “only” fit this mold; they are not easily definable and follow phonetic rules a new reader might not be familiar with yet. But, they are essential for a new reader to be familiar with to make it through even the most basic reading practice.

It’s critical for students to develop automaticity when reading sight words early on in their literacy development. Without explicit instruction, a student struggling with sight words could become frustrated and discouraged with the process of reading altogether, making them less likely to spend time and energy developing more advanced phonics skills. Not to mention, sight words make up most of the words readers will encounter as they develop their literacy skills. Failure to develop sight word recognition could seriously hold back an emerging reader.

The good news? As the name suggests, sight words can be taught through frequent practice and careful scaffolding. This allows readers to spend less time trying to sound out words with unusual spelling rules or phonetic irregularities, making reading easier, faster, and more fun.

Foundational literacy practice to help students learn to love reading—sign up for a free trial of Reading Eggs and Reading Eggspress today!

What are the most trusted sight word lists available?

According to the literacy website SightWords.com, a student who becomes familiar with just 100 of the most common sight words will be able to read 50% of the words in a typical newspaper and over 70% of the words in a typical children’s book. Two of the most widely accepted “master lists” used when teaching sight words to students are likely to sound familiar:

Dolch

The Dolch list was compiled by Dr. Edward William Dolch in the 1930s through 1940s. The list contains 220 “service words” and 95 “high frequency nouns” collected from the most frequently used words in children’s storybooks. The words are meant to be divided into groups by grade level and are used primarily from pre-K to second grade. 

Fry

A more modern version of the Dolch list, the Fry “1000 Instant Words” list was first developed in the 1950s and then revised in the 1980s by Dr. Edward Fry. This list contains 1000 words which most commonly appear in reading material for grades 3–9. The Fry list is normally divided into 10 sub-lists containing 100 words each and ordered by frequency in the English language.

While each list compiles words from different age-appropriate reading materials, together, they have many words in common. According to Readsters.com, the Dolch 100 list and the Fry 100 lists have a combined total of 130 unique words, and all words on the Dolch 100 list appear on the Fry "1,000 Instant Words" list. Today, many schools use words from either the Dolch 220 list of the Fry 300 list as their source for high-frequency words to teach.

How can technology support sight word instruction?

Digital learning programs can be incorporated as part of a balanced reading approach to provide an engaging way for young students to build and reinforce literacy skills. Edmentum’s online learn-to-read solution Reading Eggs focuses on developing foundational skills for your pre-K through 6th grade students in a fun, game-like learning environment. A variety of unique learning areas explore the five essential pillars of reading with significant focus placed on phonics skills, including explicit sight word instruction. Reading Eggs includes its very own sequence for introducing sight words, created after carefully consulting the Dolch and Fry sight words lists as well as other reputable educational sources. Lessons and activities are expressly written to use these words more frequently in both reading practice and early reading books to help children quickly decode what they read.

Several Reading Eggs learning areas incorporate sight words to help students become familiar with not only recognizing them but also using the words in context and spelling them correctly. Activities include sentence building, sounding out letter combinations, and completing spelling and word identification games. This allows students to gain confidence in their reading abilities, become more fluent and proficient readers and have fun at the same time!

In early core reading lessons, students are slowly introduced to simple sight words like “I,” “am,”’ and “a.” Words are repeated throughout differentiated activities and used in leveled reading passages so that students familiarize themselves with the words in different situations. As students progress through their learning paths at their own pace, they begin to see an increasing number of advanced words to help prepare them for more complex tasks.

One student favorite for learning sight words is the Driving Test area, which is unlocked after students complete level 40 in their core reading lessons. Students are given the option to test on sight words, letters and sounds, or content words. The game rewards students for successfully mastering a test with 60 seconds of play in a race car game. And, you can easily monitor students’ progress in learning sight words through detailed student reports.

Want to learn more about how Reading Eggs and Reading Eggspress can help your students master the five pillars of reading? Sign up for a free trial today!