What Are Sight Words

What are sight words?  Let me give you a simple explanation. They are the small  words that sit between  bigger words in sentences.  Think of them as  glue linking bigger words.

Here are a few  the  are  was  to  said  for  they  of  what 

Your child probably uses these and lots more in conversation with you. But they will find it much more difficult to read them.That's because they are not easy to sound out.  Beginner readers find it difficult to associate  pictures with them.  So words like this need to be learned by sight.

Sight words  appear so often in sentences, they are sometimes called high frequency words. To become a fluent reader, you need to recognise sight words instantly.

That’s because approximately 75% of all words read during school years are sight words. Knowing them is one of the secrets of good reading and writing.

There are thousands of other more complex-looking words your child will learn over their lifetime, which aren’t sight words. 

  • These  are  learned in a different way.
  • They  have particular letter patterns within them which can be identified.
  •  This makes it possible to sound out or decode them. By learning one pattern, maybe  10 or 20 other words can be figured out because they are spelled with the same pattern.
  •  Your child will be taught how to decode words like this at the same time as they are learning to read sight words.

Sight Words in a Paragraph

Now, back to the question … what are sight words? Here is an example of a piece of writing with the sight words highlighted. There are 56 of them in these five sentences.

Today I am planning to sit an examination at my secondary school. When it has been completed  I look forward to catching up with my friends for coffee and a movie.  If I pass the exam I will be excited as I have worked hard to get through.  One day I hope to become a doctor or perhaps an engineer.  My mother, father and brother all want me to pass and say they will be overjoyed if I do.

How Do I Know What Should Be Taught?

So how do you know which sight words to learn and when? Reading specialists have compiled lists of sight words based on how often children need to use them in their writing and reading.

Children learn these in primary school, particularly in the first two years.  Teachers will let you know when it’s time to learn them.

They’ll send  them home from school, probably a list at a time. That way they can be practised in manageable chunks.

For a list of 80 essential sight words, click on Sight Word List.

It is important to note that sight word lists are not always identical but many words are the same. Lists may vary a little from teacher to teacher.

Adult Asks: What Are Sight Words?

I teach adults as well as children. It may surprise you to know that sometimes adults need help to understand what sight words are.

Recently I worked with Malcolm, a 35 year old mechanic. He came to me for help with writing as he was expected to pass a written examination. 

I asked him if he would mind writing about a day at work. I requested that he write in full clear sentences.

With his permission I have included an excerpt of what he wrote here. The sight words Malcolm included have been highlighted.

Stalled truck.

Remove fuel filter test fuel pump replace  filter.

Fuel not pumped.

Replacing relay and pump.

No fuel pumped. 

Fuel pump voltage missing.

Pump relay working.

Volts ignition switch  not  working.

Fix lights.

Power up good. 

Welding up parts.

Check oil level clean oil off

Bolts tight.

Malcolm wrote only 6 sight words in what he felt were 13 sentences

I read his written piece back to him so he could hear how it sounded.  I wanted to see if he was able to understand it himself.

He laughed good naturedly.   “What are sight words?  I get it now. If you don’t put them in, no-one can understand  what you’ve written.”

You may wonder how Malcolm could write bigger words like 'ignition,' 'voltage' and 'welding' and leave out most of the sight words? That's because at his work he frequently referred to the labelled diagrams of engine parts.

He did it so often he was able to memorise them without any effort. When he thought of the diagram or worked on an engine the words, like photographs, simply popped into his mind. 

Yet he couldn’t remember how to write basic sight words. He simply couldn’t  associate them with anything real so he left them out. 

If he'd learned them in his early years at school he would have been able to “glue” the words together to make clear sentences.

Instead Malcolm’s writing looked more like a series of notes  he has written for himself rather than something meant for someone else to understand.

So what are sight words? They are the building blocks of reading and writing. Young readers need to start learning them early to ensure literacy success and make sense of sentences.

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