Developing Reading Skills through Sight Words

Good readers get lost in their books; the story takes over and the chapters fly past. Then, hours later, when they glance up, they are shocked to learn that night has fallen. One way we, as readers, get to this point is to know certain words so well that we do no longer focus on the individual letters, we know longer think about how they sound.

We simply know these words by sight and immediately move past them to the next word. If we have a large vocabulary of such words, our eyes will fly down the page and reading is a joy. According to Frank May in “Reading as Communication,” in the instructional setting, we refer to such words as “sight words or sight vocabulary because we would like our students to recognize them in less than a second.”

Thus, we know that one way to share that sense of accomplishment, the joy of being a reader, with students, is to help them to obtain a large “sight word” vocabulary. Moreover, by large, we do not mean huge. According to Dr. Edward Fry, in our day-to-day readings, something like fifty percent of the material that we read consists of approximately one hundred common words.

If a student knows those words by sight, they read faster, they enjoy it more, and they get lost in the story so much easier. Thus, in schools today, you will often find lists of words that teachers want their beginning readers to know by sight. Such lists are often referenced as the Fry List, Instant Words, Dolch Words, or even Word Wall Words.

Admittedly, the work of teaching students the necessary sight words involves memorization. Yet, it does not have to mean rote memorization. Teachers have a myriad fun ways for students to grow familiar with and master the necessary “sight word” vocabulary.

For example, teachers have come up with games that get children jumping, laughing, and moving as they learn words. Alternatively, teachers can introduce these words via flashcards or having the students say the words allow as they see it. The Fayette County Board of Education has an excellent web sight that goes over many of these techniques in detail.

The knowledge of sight words is just one weapon that teachers use to battle illiteracy and turn children into readers. But it is a strong one.


“The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists,” Edward B. Fry, PhD, Jacqueline E. Kress, Ed.D, Dona L. Fountoukidis, Ed.D;

“The Vocabulary Teacher’s Book of Lists,” Edward B. Fry, PhD

Also see, The Literacy Connections: Promoting Literacy and Love of Reading, at


The Fayette County Board Of Education: Where Excellence Counts, at