Developing Reading Skills through Sight Words

What are sight words? Sight words are words which are frequently used, referred to as high frequency words. Examples found in the previous two sentences include ‘what’, ‘are’, ‘words’, ‘which’, ‘to’ and ‘as’.

As you would have discovered, there is usually no sound phonetical approach to learning to read sight words. What do I mean by that? If you try to read ‘what’ based on the sound combinations that help you read the word ‘that’, you would find it utterly hopeless.

One of the more frequently used approach to teaching sight words is teaching the children via high frequency exposure modes such as the use of flash cards, songs, computer-assisted programs so that your arms do not break moving flash cards and reading literacy programs such as the Ladybird series. The aim is to expose the children repeatedly to these words on their own and subsequently in books such as those in the Ladybird series so that the children’s brains can pick and store them up, hence recognize them by ‘sight’.

Try adding an item to these words: pig, big, jig. Just one look at each item and then together, and you will know be able to add the word ‘dig’ or ‘fig’. These are NOT sight words although some are frequently used words. They are grouped together phonetically. However, certain sight word lists would include ‘big’ and such because they are frequently used in conversations, especially by children.

Try using a single item to illustrate these words: eat, am, to, I, him. Whichever item you put to those words will keep me guessing what word is wanted. If ‘I’ am a girl, you cannot use a picture of a boy. Even if you use a girl pointing at herself, I may think of the word ‘girl’, ‘myself’, ‘thumb’ and never ‘I’! Eat, am, to, I, him – these are sight words.

Sight words can be any part of speech other than nouns, such as adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, prepositions, pronouns and verbs as they cannot be illustrated using pictures alone.

You may have heard of the Dolch List. The Dolch List is a list of the 220 most frequently used words in the English vocabulary and they are all sight words. A printable version exists on the link at

Once a child manages this list, he can make out simple sentences such as ‘I am small.’ However, knowing to read these sight words need not mean understanding them at all. An amulgated approach would be needed to teach children to understand anything they can read – that is another challenging topic by itself!