Stop Calling Them Sight Words

What?! Stop calling them sight words! But don’t students need to know them by sight? Of course, they do but ultimately isn’t that the goal of ALL words? I mean, do you noticeably decode every single word you see, or do you just know them by sight? The thing is that you are decoding those words so quickly you don’t even realize it thus making them recognizable by sight.

Keep reading to learn more and enter your email below to get a free sample!

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What Does A Sight Words Mean?

Sight Words have typically been a list given to use, usually, a Fry, Dolch, or district list that is supposed to be the most frequently seen words in the English language. We use them so much that we were told just teach students to memorize them because they will encounter them so much!

But, all words really are sight words. We train our brains to decode words so quickly that they are just automatically retrieved and read automatically. Here’s an exercise – try not to read this word in the video below:

All words want to be sight words when they grow up! (Source: Literacy Source Podcast on Rethinking How We Teach Sight Words and High-Frequency Words)

It’s true. All words want to be sight words. Yes, any word that gets stored for automatic retrieval becomes a sight word that can be read automatically! This helps you to spend less cognitive effort on decoding and frees up more cognitive load for you to process and think about what you are reading.

Another more complex example: dinosaur

You read this word quickly because you’ve previously mapped the sounds, decoded it, and thus moved it into your memory for instant recognition. (Well it seems instant but your brain actually processed it by phoneme super quickly).

So why are we teaching students to memorize words by sight rather than mapping and decoding them by phonics skill?

That is the question we will be exploring!

Sight Word vs. High-Frequency Word

If all words want to be sight words, what does high-frequency mean?

High-frequency words are the most common words found in the English Language. The thing is that these words are 98% decodable and being able to read them automatically opens up a great deal of text for students.

In fact, 109 high-frequency words make up 50% of words in children’s texts. 13 words make up 25% of words in children’s texts. Source: Shifting the Balance but adapted from Adams (1990 and Carroll, Davies, and Richmond (1971).

Students need to know these words but they shouldn’t be memorizing them with flashcards, repetition, or other activities that don’t actually move them into automatic retrieval.

What happens when words become sight words?

Orthographically mapping these words and teaching them in a way that makes them available for automatic retrieval opens up the brain to work on other reading skills. The cognitive load is lessened when students can process these high-frequency words automatically and can work on decoding new words, focusing on comprehension, making inferences, and other important reading skills.

The goal is to make ALL words sight words, but how?

How to teach high-frequency words so they’re sight words?

Start with letters, sounds, and phonemes. Use a sound wall in your classroom and engaging activities to build meaningful connections between speech and print. Learn more about the Sound Wall & Activities Bundle Here.

Teach high-frequency words by phonics patterns or English rules/generalizations! Did you know that most sight words ARE DECODABLE? That’s right.

If you are teaching the word ME, why not teach the word BE, HE, WE, SO, and GO? Teach your students about open syllables – when there is no consonant sound to block it it will say its long name “nooooo”.

Teaching your students the WHY will not only help your students read the words they need to in your class but will also help them as they read more complex words as they advance. (That’s the super important part).

Work on orthographically mapping words using a multi-sensory approach. Say the word, tap the sounds, move the chips, write the sounds, write the word, and say the word. Learn more about word mapping here.

Not sure how to do that when your current list isn’t organized by phonics pattern? You’re not alone!

New Sight Words by Phonics Pattern Resource

The goal is to move high-frequency words into sight words by mapping, decoding, and storing them for automatic retrieval. To do that students have to know why the words make the sounds they do.

Enter your email below for the new bundle of High-Frequency Words by Phonics Skills sets and get a HUGE FREE SAMPLE.  Each set is focused on one spelling pattern or generalization/rule.  Teach your students the pattern or rule and then watch them decode ALL the high-frequency words with that pattern.

Each pattern includes a separate 70+ page file with these resources:

  • Parent letter explaining the pattern and list of the words.
  • Poster for the spelling rule or generalization or pattern.
  • Word Lists in 3 different sizes and in color and black and white.  These include the main rule for that group of words.
  • Decoding Cards with how to map them on the back in two sizes – one for class and one to send home.
  • Word Mapping Printables
  • Half page printable where students can circle the patterns and/or highlight the consonants and vowels in different colors.
  • Fun printables like rainbow coloring, spin and write, cut and glue, search and find, color by code, and more.
  • Sentence printables where students will fill in the decodable sentences and another where they write their own.
  • Cut and Color words for all of the words in fun patterns on the list.
  • Two foldable books that review the words, the pattern, and a quick fun activity.  These books fold into fourths.
  • One half-page book filled with activities for the group of words including mapping, reviewing the rule, and checking off the word once they know it.
  • Pocket chart cards in full size for your wall and in mini size so students can have a set.
  • Assessment pages with the rule and without.  We also include a key with words and sentences to dictate.

Start the New Year with a new way to teach “Sight Words” so that it really sticks for students!


Enter your name and email and get a huge free sample from the new Sight Words by Phonics Skills bundle! Ready to teach sight words by phonics skills! Yes! Shop here on Simply Kinder or here on TpT. Better yet, get it as part of Simply Kinder + here (along with thousands of other resources you know and love.)

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