Siiiiigh…..t words! part one.
Sight Words make us sigh; with frustration, disappointment, exhaustion.
High Frequency Words, Sight Words, Tricky Words, plain annoying and silly words – call them what you will, they present a particular challenge to some children. These words are said to represent around 75% of what we read and write. As such, they cannot be ignored.
I have seen an argument that many of these words are ‘phonically decodable’. Some are but they are also complex and may be beyond a child’s scope in terms of their phonics e.g. he, she, be, we are all words with an open syllable at the end (hence the vowel has a long sound, not its short one). Much simpler to teach these by sight, or ‘look-say’ than to teach open and closed syllables??
A simple word like ‘the’ gave my son (and no doubt lots of other children) a massive headache. Okay /th/ is voiced, it vibrates, this can be taught…but what’s that vowel sound at the end??
I taught my son to read the word ‘the’ by using play doh; making ‘h’ into a chair and saying ‘the’ chair. Every time we read a book we found ‘the’ until he had it. You might think ‘that sounds crazy, how complicated! It worked though.
‘Like’ is a split digraph (/ie/ is split by ‘k’) and should be taught as such. In fact, any straightforward phonically decodable sight words should be taught with phonics. They are not ‘sight’ word at all.
There’s always an exception.
‘Have’ does not follow the split digraph rule though and we are beginning to see how complex these words are!
There are 3 lists that sight words come from: Dolch’s Sight Words List (created in the 30s and 40s by Dr. Edward William Dolch), Fry Sight Words List (a more modern list which picks up where Dolch left off, or a combination customised by the class teacher. The highest frequency words appear on both lists.
Both Dolch and Fry were advocates of the look-say method for the words on their lists, even though they felt phonics could be taught. They devised their lists based on secondary sources (reading materials), neither surveyed children’s written work.
What to do about these words which just will not stick for some children and why do they cause such problems both in read and writing? Read my next instalment, part 2!
Only 9 words on the Fry 100 List are not the Dolch 220 List or the Dolce Noun List. The 9 words unique to the Fry 100 List are each, more, number, other, part, people, than, way and word. There are big discrepancies in ranking on the lists with said #12 on Dolch and #40 on Fry. Little is #39 on Dolch and #106 on Fry. There is a huge discrepancy with pretty: #97 on Dolch and #935 on Fry!
We know a lot more about the processes of reading now and phonics is generally accepted as the most efficient way to teach it. Hence the words: each, number, part, than and way should be taught as part of, phonics instruction.
Sight word lists are important though, as these abstract words can provided the biggest challenge for students, both in terms of understanding them and in reading and writing. Some of these words cannot be learnt by phonics alone.
See part two for ideas on how to approach Sight Words for reading and writing.