Reading And Writing Skills

Teaching Sight Words as an Instructional Strategy

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Teaching Sight Words as an Instructional Strategy

"For instructional purposes these are usually referred to as sight words or sight vocabulary because we would like our students to recognize them in less than a second. Why? Because this enhances their chance of getting to the end of a sentence in time to remember how it began." (May, 1989)

Sight words are words that good readers may instantly recognize without having to "figure them out." There are two reasons why sight words are an essential component of good reading: First of all, many of these words do not sound like their spellings might suggest, so "sounding them out" is unproductive. Also, a good reader really can't afford the time to dwell on too many words, or he may lose the speed and fluency necessary for determining the author's message.

By definition the most common words in our language, known as "high-frequency words" are also of the greatest utility to beginning readers. The 100 most common words actually make up about 50 percent of the material we read, and the 25 most common words make up about one-third of our written material (Fry, Kress, and Fountoukidis, 2000).

Students can greatly increase their reading efficiency when we teach them to read half or more of the words they encounter in a quick and automatic manner.

Amazing, isn't it? We have over a half-million words to communicate with, but half of everything we write and read depends on only 0.02 percent-on only those 100 most frequent words." (May, 1989)


Fry, E., Kress, J., and Fountoukidis, D. (2000). The Reading Teacher's Book of Lists. Paramus, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

May, F. (1998). Reading as Communication: To Help Children Write and Read. Upper SaddleRiver, New Jersey: Merrill.

Sight Word Activities as Used in the Project Instructional Plan

Index cards (3 x 5) or paper about the same size
Fry Word List

Day 1
1. Divide the Fry List in groups of 25 words and start with the group of 25 Fry words (ex 1-25, 26-50, etc.) where the child missed 5 or more words on a cold read, that is, with no practice.
2. Point to the word and ask the student to read it.
3. Decide whether to add the word to the word bank:
a. If the student reads the word correctly without hesitation, do not add it.
b. If the student to read it correctly within three seconds, do not add it.
c. If the student can read it correctly, but it takes some effort then add it to the word bank.
d. After 3 seconds, if the student still has not said the word correctly, you should say the word aloud and place it in the "incorrect/with effort" pile.
4. Put one word on a card
5. Repeat this process until you have about 5-7 words.
6. Stack the cards randomly. Hold the stack in one hand and ask your child to read the word on top.
7. Sort into two piles - one pile should be words that were read quickly and correctly and the other should be words that were read incorrectly and/or took some effort.

Note: One of the reasons the cards are sorted into 2 decks as the student reads is to keep an appropriate ratio between "pretty good" words and "trouble" words. More specifically, a "torture deck" that consists primarily of "trouble" words will not benefit and only frustrate the student. For every "trouble" word in the deck, there should be 5 "pretty good" words. For example, a deck of 20 words would contain no more than 4 "trouble" words.

Day 2
1. Use the Fry list. Begin where you finished yesterday and repeat above procedures.
2. When you have acquired 5-7 new words add those to the words from yesterday and now present the entire stack to the student.
3. Sort them into two piles (see #7 from Day 1)

Day 3 and beyond
1. Continue in this manner until you have built the deck to about 25 words-maximum. When the student can read these words with little or no difficulty choose the strongest 15 and "retire" them. Put this pile of words aside, and review them occasionally for maintenance.
2. Gradually build the deck up to 25 words again.

1. Occasionally go back through the list and ask each student to read words that were previously read incorrectly. Over time those words will be added to the word bank.
2. When you finish the Fry list, you can add additional words. These should be words that the student needs to know and that are seen often in his or her reading.

2-2-2 Technique as used in the Project Instructional Plan
(Wilson Language Systems, 2002):

Some students need a more multi sensory approach; this strategy can be added to the procedure above for the benefit of those students:
1. Read the word from the card
2. Using 2 fingers, trace letters of the word on the card itself while spelling aloud; say word when finished (repeat)
3. Without looking at the card, use 2 fingers trace letters of the word on table while spelling aloud. say word when finished (repeat)
4. Using same 2 fingers, raise arm and lock elbow. "Sky write" the letters of the word while spelling aloud. Say word. (repeat)

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