When it comes to teaching children to read, there are many opinions on the best approach. Two of the most common approaches are to teach words phonetically – breaking down the sounds of individual letters and letter combinations and putting them together to build words – or teaching children to memorise words by sight. Educators and parents alike often swing hard to one of these seemingly opposing approaches. I, however, believe that a balance of both approaches results in more reading success for students.
I’ve already talked through some of the benefits of using a phonetic approach to teaching children to read, in my post of spelling tips, which you can read here. In this post, I’ll focus on the benefits of teaching sight words, and share some tips for making the most of this teaching approach.
Firstly, let’s look at some of the benefits of teaching children to recognise words by sight. One of the reasons why teaching children to recognise words by sight is beneficial, is because it helps them to read more quickly, assisting with what we call reading fluency. If a child can read with fluency, then they are able to read quickly and smoothly without stopping and starting at each word.
Fluency, in turn, assists with reading comprehension. When children need to stop at every word in a text to decode it, they are more likely to forget the words they’ve just read. This impacts their ability to comprehend the text, as there is no cohesion to the words they’re processing. By having some words memorised by sight, children will not need to stop as often, and will be more likely to remember the words they’ve just read, which will help with their overall comprehension of the text.
Sight word recognition can also give children more context when they are reading something new. For example, if a child can recognise the words ‘he’, ‘at’ and ‘house’ in a sentence, they will quickly realise that the context of the sentence ‘He arrived at the house’ involves a male, being ‘at’ a place, and that place likely being the ‘house’. Compared to a child looking at the words in this sentence with no ability to recognise any words by sight, this child will have an advantage in understanding the context of the text. By understanding the context, unfamiliar words such as ‘arrived’ will be much easier to decode.
So, now that we’ve looked at some of the benefits of teaching words by sight, what are some practical ways to approach this? Here are some tips for getting started.
Read lots of books with your children, and point to the words as you read them. You can ask your child to point out words too, and eventually you can focus on reading the unfamiliar words while your child reads any sight words you come across in the text.
When presenting lists of sight words to children, try to categorise them to give them some more context. This can also help your child to identify and distinguish between words that are similar.
Practice makes perfect, as the saying goes, and repetition is an important part of sight word memorisation. Try to be consistent with practising sight words with your children so that they build confidence with their sight word recognition.
I encourage you not to neglect teaching sight words to your children. When used in conjunction with a phonetic teaching approach, sight word memorisation has many benefits.
I hope that you’re inspired to try using some of these sight word teaching strategies with your children. If you’d like to save some time by using ready-made sight word cards, you can find my set of Star Themed Sight Word Cards here.
Do you want some tips for teaching your children decoding skills while you’re here? Then have a read through my post on Developing Decoding Skills.
Have a question or a request? You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.S. I love to hear how my tips and resources are helping you in your teaching, so leave a comment to let me know!