The Role of Phonics & Sight Words in Word Recognition

Instructor: Sharon Linde
Teachers of young readers need to have strategies for teaching phonics and sight words in their tool bag. This lesson discusses the role of these two strategies in the development of word recognition and reading development.

Learning to Read

Learning to read involves the combination of several skills. Think about what you need to know when reading - you must understand what letters are, what sounds they represent, and even that there are sounds in speech that are represented by letters. Eventually you apply all this knowledge to reading, building on your skills as you progress until you are able to read words without using sound/speech relationships. You are then reading sight words.

Sound complicated? While learning to read and teaching young readers can be a nuanced process, it's simple when you break it down. Let's start with the basics.

What Is Phonics?

Phonics is the cornerstone of beginning reading instruction. It's a method of teaching students to read that shows sound/symbol relationships. Let's say Lisa, a kindergarten teacher, is working with her student Juan on phonics instruction. She knows Juan needs to understand that individual phonemes, or sounds in speech, are each represented by a letter or series of letters in the alphabet. For example, 'a' makes one sound, and 't' another.

Over time, Juan will begin to develop skills that help him easily identify words, or have word recognition. But instruction in phonics alone isn't enough for students like Juan to build strong word recognition skills. In order for them to fully develop as readers, they need instruction in other strategies too. Let's take a look at these.

Phonological and Phonemic Awareness

An important part of learning to read and develop strong word recognition skills is understanding what we call the alphabetic principle. This is an understanding that sound/symbol relationships are predictable. This awareness helps students rely on patterns to be used often when reading.

Because children aren't born understanding the alphabetic principle, teachers need to teach these skills through phonological awareness skills instruction. Phonological awareness includes the ability to hear and identify syllables and phonemes and to segment, blend, and substitute these sounds.

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