Is There a Better Way to Teach "Sight" Words?

Most sight word learning resources and activities do not show how to sound out the words.

My children were taught "sight words" this way in school. Five new unrelated words were taught each week in Kindergarden. My children were taught to memorize words. Flashcards were sent home for practice. I went along with this way of teaching, but I missed an opportunity to help my children read words.
Here's a video of a mom practicing "sight word" flashcards the way I did. She sells videos to help teach children to memorize words.

My oldest son was reading before Kindergarden. He's ten now. My youngest are boy/girl twins. They are eight now. I began questioning sight word learning when my daughter fell behind her twin brother toward the middle of first grade. You can read about my daughter's problems with reading by clicking on the highlighted words. What I discovered was my visual daughter looked in the air when reading to remember a word by shape and guessed at hard words. She ignored letters. Reading was all about guessing and memorizing. When books got harder she was required to read words, but she didn't know how.

I created and shared some free "sight" word flashcards with tips for sounding out to print on the back in a previous post. I hope it helps some parents and teachers get children started using letter sounds to read words rather than memorize like my daughter. The Reading Genie explains the process involved in learning to read words in a way that helped me understand it the best. He's a reading teacher, so you have to skim through the technical language to find the information you want. He shared a study that found children who are taught to sound out a word can recognize the word much quicker than a child who is taught the word by sight alone.

Here's another resource for sale to teach memorizing sight words. It's very cute, but I hope you print the free flashcards with tips to help a child sound out words.

I  know I promised to make a post sharing ways to teach with these flashcards. There will be a series of posts next.  
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I believe in finding a middle ground and using what works. If a child learns a few words by sight and it helps a child read, great!

Experienced readers do know many words by sight. Learning to read starts with letters. Here's a video by someone who has a strong opinion.

A good friend and fellow blogger has addressed the area of sight word learning on her blog.

Here's a post from Becky at This Reading Mama you may want to check out and read related posts.

I'm involved in two discussions on the subject of teaching sight words. Do you have opinions? Do you have experiences or information to share? Check them out.
Do you teach sight words by sounding out the parts that can be sounded out? This is a discussion I started at WE TEACH. I'd love to hear your insights!
Blog reader question This is a discussion in my Beginning Reading Help BlogFrog community started by Amanda from The Educator's Spin on It. Visit the link and see if you have some answers or insight.


maryanne @ mama smiles said...

My daughter has the same problem with memorizing shapes. I'll have to work with her more on sounding out!

Jackie H. said...

Interesting post. I know I prefer not to teach sight words in isolation-- because some kids will never be able to memorize the visual form of the word in that way. However, for many kids, I do think they can memorize the word when they see it repeated within continuous text. If I'm teaching the word said, I'll find a very repeatitive book and then I'll have the child locate the word several times in the book.

Michelle said...

Thanks for your comment Jackie. I'm flexible when it comes to teaching. Whatever works the best is my philosophy. I think many early readers have a few words they have learned from sight. It's a little like training wheels. Expecting a very young child to sound out every word is too much. Sometimes knowing a word by sight and guessing at some words lets an early reader read more books and have fun with reading. There comes a time when the training wheels come off and a child is really reading.

Memorizing words caused my daughter and quite a few other children I know to ignore letters, so I'm hoping to help change too much memorizing words as whole units when most if not all can be sounded out.

Magnifier with lamp said...

There are kids who are fast learner and there are some who have difficulty in learning.

Lovingmama said...

Great post! I am not a huge fan of flash cards, but do like teaching sight words with word walls as you can talk about many different aspects of a word as you place it and interact with it. There is no one-size-fits all approach to reading though and I am always open to trying to figure out how each kid learns best! Jackie - I too have kids look for sight words in the book!

Michelle said...

Thanks so much for your comment, Lovingmama! Word walls draw attention to the letters and phonics rules of words which I think is helpful. The flashcards I'm sharing may be simple enough for busy parents to do some of the things teachers are able to do with word walls.

Lovingmama said...

Whoops - read my last comment and didn't mean to seem against flash cards! They are part of the equation and some kids respond well to memorizing sight words with them! I've used them lots too and love them in connection with other activities!!! My favorite is to have a removable word wall where kids can take their "flash cards" back to their desks to use as spelling help when they are writing!

Michelle said...

No worries, Lovingmama. I did not take it that way. I'm not sensitive. All points of view are welcome. Any comments or difference of opinions are welcome on my blog. How can we learn from each other if we only nod in agreement and don't speak our mind?

Becky said...

Michelle, thanks for linking to me. I'm honored!