When we think about sight words we typically tend to associate them with the earliest primary grades. They’re viewed as a tool to develop literacy skills and are the very basic foundation of reading as students enter Kindergarten for the first time. However, I teach 2nd Grade, and using sight words is still a very important part of building better readers in my classroom.
It’s true – Most students have a solid bank of sight words by the time they get to a 2nd Grade classroom. But that doesn’t mean we should stop incorporating them into interventions and daily literacy practice after Kindergarten and 1st Grade, especially when it comes to struggling readers. Stick with me here and you, too, will see why sight words are so important!
Why Sight Words Are So Important
If you have a struggling reader in your classroom, there could be many things stemming from the cause. However, sight words can help develop some of the skills associated with reading issues. For example, your readers may be struggling with phonemic awareness, are an ELL, have difficulty with decoding, don’t know all letter sounds, struggle with blends or digraphs, or can’t differentiate between long and short vowels. Mastering sight words can help improve all of these areas!
Sight Words Are Not Outdated
Consider how you read as an adult right now. Are you finding yourself stopping and decoding words as you read? Probably not! Most of the words we read as adults are now sight words because we are so familiar with them. We don’t need to stop and decode because they’re automatic to us – this is the goal for all readers in my classroom.
If you have struggling readers beyond Kindergarten and 1st Grade, it’s quite possible that they haven’t built up their sight word bank yet and there’s never anything wrong with going back to the basics. It never goes out of style. In fact, it’s so beneficial! Why? Because these words don’t change! About, give, again, more, could, how, do, some, very, etc. These are, and always will be, words that we use all the time in our lives.
Practice makes perfect, too. The exposure of the same words that we use over and over again will eventually stick with a student. On average, a child must read the same word at least 12 times before they can remember it. Sight words can also have irregular spellings, meaning they aren’t easy to decode. Once students have these words memorized, it completely eliminates the issue of needing to stop and decode.
Knowing sight words also builds confidence! It’s human nature for someone to feel intimidated when they look at a page with a lot of print and not recognize even half the words. Once students start getting those sight words memorized and they come across lots of text that they can read, they’ll feel empowered as a reader and be more willing to attempt new words since they already have confidence in sight words.
Increase the Exposure to Individual Words
In case you missed what the magic number is for exposing a new word to a student before it can become a sight word… it’s 12! 12 times that word must be read by a child before they can put it in their bank. Daily exposure of these words is so important – even beyond 12 times!
If you’re in need of some new ways you can practice sight words in your classroom, you can check out some of my ideas in my previous blog post, Interactive Sight Word Activities for Improving Reading Skills. Just click on the link here: (link)
Increase the Volume of Words Read Every Day
Good readers read lots of words. Once those readers continually read more and more words, they become faster and faster at reading them. For example, a strong reader might read 1,000 words in 10 minutes, whereas a struggling reader may only read 50 words in the same amount of time. Over time, the stronger reader has read an exponentially larger amount of words than the amount of words read by the struggling reader.
While it’s important to make sure you’re hitting that exposure amount of 12 times per individual word, we also need to make sure we’re increasing the number of words our students are reading every day in order to build their sight word bank. If we’re constantly focusing on the same words for too long, our already struggling readers could potentially fall further behind.
Use a Variety of Tools and Techniques Beyond Sight Words
Of course you’ll need to use other tools and techniques besides sight words to help your struggling readers overcome their challenges, but sight words are one of the key areas you can start with to scaffold each students’ reading. Once students have a solid bank of words and a larger vocabulary, you can start adding in other strategies. The goal is to build up their individual word banks in order to read longer texts while building other literacy skills and confidence. Phonemic awareness, phonics, comprehension, and fluency are all other areas that must be addressed. And while each of those areas have their own individual purpose, they all go hand in hand.
What Works For Me
For second graders I focus on using sight words with my remedial students. I also introduce sight words to the strong readers, but I don’t spend as much time going over the words as I do with the struggling readers.
My ultimate planning tool is my sight words planning worksheets. I use it mostly with my struggling readers to plan the words of the week. Sometimes I need to modify it for individual students and it’s so easy to edit. It’s a fillable PDF where you can enter the words of the week and it populates a memory game for the week. You can use any word list with it. If you click HERE or sign up below you can get a copy of my sight word planner.
I hope your classroom of young readers will soon start overcoming any literacy challenges they’ve been facing! As you work to provide them with interventions and extra practice, don’t forget about building that sight word bank. Every student has one, and they are critical to building better readers.