sight word flash cards next to letter magnets

Teaching Sight Words

Are you wondering when you should start teaching sight words? This is a big topic for some of our littlest learners. It is pretty common for kids to be taught sight words too soon. Before we get too far into this, let’s start with a big fat spoiler alert, there is no set age for when it is appropriate to introduce sight words rather it is a stage when your child is developmentally ready.

So the question really is at what stage is your child developmentally ready to learn sight words?

Teaching Literacy Concepts

Before you start teaching sight words, you will want to focus on some key literacy concepts. Here is the order you want to teach literacy concepts:

  1. Alphabet Knowledge
  2. Phonetic Awareness
  3. Phonics

Alphabet Knowledge– this includes identifying capital and lowercase letters and matching them to their corresponding counterpart.

Phonemic Awareness– Holy teacher talk. That is definitely a teacher phrase and lingo that parents don’t know and don’t understand. That’s OK you were not trained to teach your child to read. So let me break this down for you, phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate sounds. Some examples of phonemic awareness skills would be asking your child to identify the sounds they hear when you say the word mop. A child with a strong sense of phenomic awareness would be able to identify the /m/ /o/ and /p/ sounds separately. They will also be able to identify which sound is at the beginning the middle and the end. Phonemic awareness also includes skills like rhyming. We know that our children are able to manipulate the sound that they hear in a word when they are able to form rhyming words.

Phonics – The last skill that you’re going to want to teach before introducing sight words is phonics. Phonics is the understanding that each letter makes a specific sound or that letters grouped together make a specific sound for example /ch/ & /sh/. Understanding basic phonics will allow our students to decode words. Decoding is more teacher lingo. It basically means sounding out words. We want to teach our kids that the majority of words are ones that you will have to sound out and we want to practice that skill before we introduce sight words.

How to Teach Sight Words

What are Sight Words

So back to the original topic, sight words. Let’s first break down what are sight words. Sight words are high-frequency words, words that occur so often in the English language that we want to be able to read them quickly and fluidly, and irregular words meaning you cannot sound them out.

Misconceptions about Teaching Sight Words

In short sight words are about memorization. They’re pretty easy to teach because memorization is one of the lowest levels of learning. Memorization is one of the easiest forms of learning whereas reading and decoding and letters is hard work which requires the brain to do far more than memorize.

This is part of the reason why there is such a big push on sight words. Parents, kids, and teachers feel really successful when teaching and learning sight words because it’s low-level learning that can happen quickly. Many well-intending parents and teachers push sight words so that they have a level of success with their child and they can say that their kindergartner is “reading”. Full disclosure, I at one point believed you should teach sight words while teaching the alphabet because then when it came time to read there would be less frustration as the child could read the sight words and focus their energy on the few words that they had to decode. I can understand why that thought process is shared and taught, however, I have learned better and I want to share that knowledge with you.

When to Teach Sight Words

So back to the original question, when should kids learn sight words? Kids should learn sight words after they have learned alphabet awareness, phonemic awareness, and phonics skills.

We all know I am a math junkie, so I am going to use a math reference. Phonics is based on patterns (math), just like in math we want our kids to understand how words work or how you decode them. Once they understand HOW we can work on memorizing so that they have fluency.

I recognize that it isn’t realistic to master EVERY phonetic pattern before introducing a single sight word, but it is important that students understand basic phonics like individual letter sounds before introducing sight words. From there I recommend you use the Fry List of Sight Words.

Once they have the prerequisites mastered, it is time to try a few new ways to practice sight words. Check out a few ideas in my post 10+ Low Prep Sight Word Activities.

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