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How to Teach Sight Words

Why Teach Sight Words?

Sight word instruction involves rote memorization of non-decodable high frequency words (outlaw words), word families (rimes), and common Greek, Latin, and English affixes (sight syllables). Although most of the rimes and sight syllables are decodable, their high frequency in text makes rote memorization desirable. The goal is reading automaticity.

Sight word instruction is not a substitute for explicit, systematic phoneme awareness and phonics instruction. The “Look-Say” reading method is not an efficient nor effective reading methodology.

Why is sight word instruction important?

Because older students generally have a more advanced vocabulary and bank of sight words than do younger students, it is important to draw upon these strengths to improve reading ability. It would not be wise to “start from scratch” with remedial readers. Teachers shouldn’t narrow instruction to solely remediate phonemic awareness and phonics deficits. Remedial students should quickly “fill in the gaps” as indicated by sight word diagnostic assessments through concentrated practice. The teacher should teach to these deficits concurrently with other program components.

Why don’t some students know the sight words and how does this affect their reading?

Some students have auditory processing, visual processing, or language processing problems which interfere with rote memorization of sight words. Inability to discriminate between speech sounds (phonemes) may have prevented fully developed phonemic awareness. Students may have difficulty in identifying the symbols or with the spatial arrangement of letters in words. Others may have problems connecting the alphabetic symbols to meaning.

Since phonemic awareness is a prerequisite to effective reading, students who lack this ability will have severe problems learning how to pronounce words sound by sound (decoding) and spell words (encoding). Inability to automatically process non-decodable outlaw words and non-decodable sight syllables retards reading fluency. Students spend time trying to pronounce words and syllables that are impossible to decode. Inability to rapidly recognize the analogous relationships of the rimes also retards reading fluency.

Can remedial readers with learning disabilities learn sight words?

Yes. The phonemic awareness and phonics instructional strategies will help students build on their strengths to ameliorate their relative weaknesses. A multi-sensory instructional approach will be particularly beneficial. Individual sight word study cards with large print can assist remedial reading students.

Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of  the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies.Designed to significantly increase the reading abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, adaptable to various instructional settings, and simple to use. Get multiple choice reading assessments on two CDs, formative assessments, blending and syllabication activities, phonemic awareness and phonics workshops,comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages on eight CDs, 390 flashcards, posters, activities, and games. Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Perfect for ESL and Special Education students, who struggle with language/auditory processing challenges. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance. 364 pages

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