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Sight Words- Frequently Asked Questions

When talking to my student's parents I often hear their frustrations with sight words. Most elementary schools expect students to memorize sight words. This can be a great way to help children be better and more fluent readers, but can also be a big frustration point for parents. Below are some common questions and frustrations that I hear from parents along with suggested solutions and resources for each one.

What are sight words?

Sight words are often words that occur frequently in text (a, the, it, this, she, off ect.). It is helpful for a child to know these words in order to make reading easier and more fluent. Lists of sight words often differ from district to district. See the links below for examples of sight word lists.

Why are schools putting such an emphasis on sight words?

If a child can read high frequency words on sight, they are able to focus more of their attention on unknown words. Some sight words are also hard to sound out (was, said, four, blue ect.). Knowing abnormally spelled words on sight can save a child a lot of time and frustration when reading.

How do I review sight words without drilling them "flash card style"?

This is a great question. If you have read any of my previous posts, you know that I am not a big fan of flash cards. There are some really fun and creative ways to review sight words with your child that don't involve flash cards. You can use one of the ideas below or make up your own games with your child.

Sight word tic-tac-toe- Write different sight words in the squares of a tic-tac-toe board. Before each player places their X or O they must read the sight word in their selected square. In my tutoring sessions I use milk caps with X's and O's printed on them in order to use the boards multiple times. Get blank tic-tac-toe boards here!

Movement games- If your kiddo loves to wiggle, sight words are a great thing to learn while moving. Get creative and incorporate sight words in to your child's favorite movement games. Think about hopscotch (write words in squares), basketball (read word then shoot) and so many more! When indoors, my favorite activity is to set sight words up as a trail and call out words for my student to hop or skip to.

Use the environment- Once you start looking, your child's sight words are all around. Have competitions to see who can find the most sight words in a book you are reading, on the back of the cereal box, or on the car ride to basketball practice.

My child has a hard time remembering sight words. What do I do?

The first piece of advice I always give is to be patient. Your child may not be at the level that their classmates are with sight words, but not all children learn at the same pace. Keep doing sight word activities and encouraging your child. If not being able to recognize sight words is stressful for your child, make sure to keep lots of words they can read in the set to keep their success rate high.

If your child continues to struggle remembering sight words, or frequently forgets sight words, I suggest contacting your child's teacher or tutor. Your child's teacher may be able to give you more tips or start to collaborate with you to solve the problem.

Becky at This Reading Mama has a great article on things to consider when sight words just don't stick.

How do I push sight word memorization without making my child hate reading?

Always keep practice fun and light hearted. Try to avoid "drill and kill" type practice (unless your child enjoys it...I have met kiddos who do). Sight words are much less stressful for children when playing games and recognizing words in their environment.

Continue to read books your child loves. Make a big deal and get excited when your child recognizes their sight words in the book. Help your child make the connection between their sight words and reading a story that they love.

How often do I need to review sight words with my child?

Each child needs different amounts of practice. I usually suggest doing sight word practice every day for 5-10 minutes. Once you start to practice regularly, you will find a balance of frequency and duration that works for your child.

Remember to keep sight words in mind at all times. You will be surprised how often your child's sight words will come up in everyday routines. Along with frequent practice, point out sight words and use teachable moments as often as you can.

How many sight words should we work on at once?

This is also something that varies between children. I usually start out with a set of around 10 words with 6-7 words the child can already read or recognize and about 3-4 new words. This keeps the success rate high leaving the child energy and focus for the new sight words. After the sight words are mastered, you can add on to the existing set or start a new one.

Each child is different depending on their age, grade level and reading experience. As you work with your child on sight words you may see that they need a bigger or smaller set. Don't be afraid to adjust to find a balance that works for your child.

What do I do when my child gets a sight word wrong?

It can be difficult to decide how to correct your child when reviewing sight words. It is important to correct an error right after it happens so that your child is exposed to the correct reading of the sight word immediately. has a very good article on correcting sight words. Make sure to watch the video to see a great example of correcting sight words while reading the word correctly with your child multiple times.

I hope that this post answered some of your questions. What do you think is the most challenging part of sight word practice? Please leave your answer in the comments!

Have fun and keep learning!


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