How to Teach Grade Level Appropriate Sight Words

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  • 0:04 Sight Words
  • 0:37 High-Frequency & Unusual
  • 1:29 By Grade Level
  • 2:44 Teaching Sight Words
  • 5:07 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies, the study of American history/society/culture. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer.

Find out how to create lists of sight words that are relevant to the level of your students. Learn strategies for teaching sight words and then check your knowledge of this topic with a quiz.

Sight Words

They go by many names: high-frequency words, magic words, instant words, snappy words. Yet, the most common way to describe them is the phrase 'sight words.' What are they? Sight words are words that students can learn to recognize in their whole form, rather than sounding them out. A student learns to know the word just by seeing it, giving the sight word its visual-sounding name.

This lesson highlights how teachers can develop lists of words for a particular grade level. You'll also learn several strategies to introduce and practice these words with students.

High-Frequency & Unusual

Sight words are words that typically fit one or both of the following categories:

  1. A word is used frequently enough that familiarizing students with the word will help reading happen more quickly and enjoyably.
  2. A word is not easy to sound out since it does not follow standard patterns, and memorizing it ends up being very helpful to readers.

What are some examples of sight words? First, notice that you have your own personal sight vocabulary that you've developed over the years as a reader. You no longer have to examine each word as you read it to sound it out. In fact, even a longer word like ''vocabulary'' is probably so familiar to you, it's a word you know just by looking at the whole.

Sight words, at an elementary school level, are those that have been identified as good to introduce to newer readers. Just as you've mastered words over time, students start to master sight words from the very beginning of their reading years, which could begin in preschool or even prior to that.

By Grade Level

At a preschool level, sight words may be the simplest of the simple. Take the words ''a,'' ''at'' and ''the,'' for example. These words are a breeze for you and me, but for brand new readers, these represent a place to start. They are also so common that learning them helps reading go faster.

Where can a teacher find words appropriate to each grade level? Two major lists are often used to plan out a series of sight word activities: the Dolch list and the Fry list.

Where did these lists originate? Not by magic, of course. In 1949, researcher Dr. Edward William Dolch compiled words that were most commonly used in children books of that era. In the 1950s and through subsequent revisions, Dr. Edward Fry also researched the most common words. Both the Dolch and Fry lists can be found online and viewed by recommended grade level. These lists allow a teacher to pick and choose which words to focus on for students of a particular reading level or age group.

Note that a focus on sight words is not without its criticisms. Some argue that too much emphasis on drilling recognition might lead students to miss out on learning the meaning behind those words. When instructing students on sight words, the key is to balance teaching sight recognition with helping students comprehend what the sight words actually mean.

Teaching Sight Words

Okay, you've got your grade-level-appropriate list of words and you're ready to teach them! What do you do next?

One common method is the incremental rehearsal approach. In this approach, you create flashcards with sight words that are likely unknown to students, along with some with known words. For instance, let's say your students already know shorter words, like ''a,'' ''an,'' ''the,'' ''at,'' ''it'' and so forth. However, your students don't know the sight words of ''after,'' ''under,'' or ''please. ''

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