In 1985 I began my teaching career. The educational pendulum has been back and forth in teaching Reading for many years, but the one thing that has stayed constant is the importance of sight words. A sight word is one that is recognized and “read” immediately. Phonetics or “sounding out” have nothing to do with the ability to say sight words. They are words that are literally read (or said) on sight. Some experts have argued that this word recognition is technically not deemed “reading”, but the importance is never debated.
Small children (three to five years of age ) begin realizing that certain things in their home have labels or words on them. After seeing a container of milk in the refrigerator, and on their table over and over, year after year, these children learn that M-I-L-K means that white sweet liquid that tastes so good on cereal. The big red S-T-O-P sign makes mom and dad stop their car. These words teach children that everything that they see around them has a name and it can be represented by symbols.
Later, as a child starts school, he or she will learn the alphabet, and the basics of breaking the code that we call reading. There will be some words however that will have to be known on sight. These words are usually taught as sight words and are high frequency (ones that you see over and over in any given reading passage). Words like: the, every, any, one, a, and, away are all considered to be sight words.
Famous/renowned educator E.W. Dolch developed the most famous list of sight words that children should know up to about third grade. Teachers call this list, appropriately enough , the Dolch List. In my own classroom, I have multiple copies of the each Dolch list in files for each child. I ensure that each child can read those words while teaching the finer points of reading such as characterization, mood, plot, etc. The Dolch sight word list can be taught by repetition, labeling common items (the ones that are nouns), and also finding them in texts and story passages. As a parent, I labeled our kitchen door with an index card proclaiming d-o-o-r.
The complete Dolch list or any sight word list can be found anywhere on the internet or educational material, but the pre-primer (in other words, pre-kindergarten) list looks like this:
a and away big blue can come down find for funny go help here I in it
is jump little look make me my not one red play run said see the
three to two up we where yellow you
Color/number words (red, blue, six) , directional words (here, there) and basic nouns/verbs (chicken, squirrel) are often used as sight words. In conclusion, sight words need to be mastered, not to enhance reading, but to make it functional. Stumbling over these small , high use words can lead to frustration for any reader, at any age. Sight words are the beginning of developing a love for reading…in a “back to basics” sort of way.
source for Dolch list – http://www.learningbooks.net/whydolchwords.html#lists