What are sight words, and how do kids learn them?

What are sight words, and how do kids learn them?

What are sight words?

Sight words are commonly used words in English that children are encouraged to recognise instantly without sounding them out. When children learn to read using phonics, they will break down the word cat into its phonemes (the sounds indicated by the letters).

If readers did this for every word, their reading would be slow and halting. Following the meaning of sentences would be difficult as readers would have to switch between following and decoding the words.

Practice and familiarity lead to readers recognising the words automatically, speeding up their reading, making it more fluent, and allowing them to extract meaning more readily.

Which words are sight words?

There is no definitive list of sight words. Some schools maintain their lists of kindergarten sight words and first-grade sight words. Other schools use either the Dolch or Fry sight word lists. Educational researchers defined these latter two lists.  

There is considerable overlap between the lists. They cover two types of words: high-frequency words, which appear most often, and non-standard words, which don't follow the usual phonics rules (such as school and talk).

When should I start teaching my child sight words?

Kindergarten and first grade are ideal times to start building kids' recognition of sight words. Kids at this age will still be developing their reading skills through phonics, but they can begin building their fluency with the earlier words. They will need to do this with words which don't work well with phonics because they do not follow the common sounds for each letter (such as walk or once).

What's the best way to teach sight words to my child?

Practising reading is one of the key ways kids build reading fluency through sight word recognition independently and with your support. Kids must have access to lots of reading material to gain their interest. Book apps are a good way of giving kids a large library of books.

You can also focus specifically on sight words. Physical and kid-friendly flashcard apps are excellent ways to practice, which you can use to support your child. Flashcard apps help keep track of success. This feature can be helpful for homeschooling parents as you'll get a record of which words still need further effort.

Look, Cover, Say is a popular approach supported by printable worksheets available online and is a method supported by activities within many learn-to-read apps.

Are apps good for helping kids learn sight words?

As learning about sight words relies on memorisation and repeated practice, it can be difficult to keep kids' interest. Educational apps help significantly in this regard. Here are some features you should consider when choosing a sight word app.

Gamification: Some kids respond very well to apps that use elements of games like learning streaks, leaderboards and the awarding of badges.

Focused or general: Do you want a learn-to-read platform like Reading Eggs or a focused sight word app like Sightword Superhero? The first is excellent for long-term reading support, while the second is ideal for targeted help.

Word coverage: You don't have to worry about kids learning too many words, but some apps might contain a word list, which leaves gaps compared to the list their school uses. You can make up for these with other support, but you must know which are missing.

The following guides will be helpful to you as you support your child's reading development:

Buyer's Guide to Book Apps

A Quick Guide to Learning to Read with Phonics

10 Best Sight Words Apps to help your children

10 Best Book Apps for Kids

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