Q: How many words should I teach per day?

A: There is no set answer to the number of words to teach a child each day. Factors such as the child’s age, motivation, memory skills, and whether the child is learning a specific list for a school assignment affect this decision. But remember: it is much better for a child to have solid knowledge of 50 words than to kind of know 300 words. It is not enough for children to kind of know their sight words. They need to be able to recognize them instantly and accurately in order to build reading fluency and comprehension of written material they will read in books.

It is much better for a child to have solid knowledge of 50 words than to kind of know 300 words.

We recommend that you start by thoroughly teaching your child three to five words in a lesson. On the first day, introduce three to five new words. In the next day’s lesson, start by reviewing the previous day’s words. If your child remembers those words, move on to introducing three to five new words. If he struggles with, let’s say, two of the previous day’s words, go through our full sequence of teaching techniques with those two words and then introduce just one to three new words.

If your child aces the review part of each lesson, then you can probably introduce more new words per day. If he repeatedly struggles to remember the previously covered words, then slow down the pace.

Q: When teaching sight words, should I use pictures together with written words?

A: The research indicates that most typically developing children learn sight words better without accompanying pictures. However, children who have cognitive delays, such as Down syndrome, seem to benefit from sight words being accompanied by picture cards.

Q: Should I correct mistakes immediately, or wait until the end of the lesson or game?

A: All errors should be corrected immediately. Please see our corrections procedure for instructions on how to correct mistakes in a positive, constructive way. It only takes a few seconds, so it won’t disrupt the flow of your lesson or game.

Q: What does it mean to “master” a sight word?

A: A child should recognize the presented target word three times in a row for three days in a row. The child should be able to identify and say the word quickly, showing that they know the word by sight and do not have to sound it out letter-by-letter.

Q: My child is doing a great job with these activities! How much praise should I give her after each correct answer?

A: Actually, very little. Gushing praise (“You are so smart,” a high five, “That’s wonderful!”) can be a major distraction to a young child with a short attention span. By the time you’ve finished praising her, she may have totally forgotten what she learned!

Stick to a simple affirmation of a right answer (“Correct” or “That’s right”), and then continue with the activity. Similarly, if the child gives a wrong answer, point out the mistake and the correct answer in a simple, direct manner. You’re not being mean, you’re just staying focused!

Q: What’s the best way to keep track of which sight words my child has mastered and which ones are still being studied?

A simple way to organize the child’s sight words that have been mastered or on which the child is presently working is to use a 5″x8″ card file box with A-Z file dividers. Place a card marked CURRENT WORDS in the front of the box, and place another card marked MASTERED WORDS that will separate current words from mastered words. Then file mastered words alphabetically behind the A-Z file cards. The words currently being learned are best filed in random (non-alphabetical) order.

Q: My child enjoys the games a lot more than the lessons, so I’m tempted to just do the games. Is that okay?

A: No. Our sight words games are excellent tools for reinforcing the knowledge your child has acquired from the lessons, but they are not a replacement for the sight words lessons. If a child gets bored or distracted easily, consider shortening the lessons (by covering fewer words), but do not eliminate them!

Q: Why are sight words sometimes called “service words”?

A: Sight words actually service the reader by improving the child’s fluent, smooth reading of connected text in phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. Research has strongly shown that fluency in reading is a vital prerequisite for good reading comprehension. If the process of reading print is too slow and laborious, the reader’s comprehension of printed material will be seriously impeded.

Q: When is it developmentally appropriate to teach sight words? At what age are children ready to learn sight words?

A: Children’s language skills develop at different rates, so we can’t give you hard-and-fast age rules. Most children will be able to master a few sight words in Pre-K (four years old). You can teach sight words earlier if your child is receptive to the material. But if your 2- or 3-year-old is uninterested and has difficulty retaining the words, then it’s probably too early, and you should wait a few months before trying again.

A good goal, according to child literacy expert Timothy Shanahan, is that children should master 20 sight words by the end of Kindergarten and 100 sight words by the end of First Grade.

Q: Should I be teaching my child sight words instead of phonics?

A: No! Sight words are a supplement to phonics instruction, not a substitute! Phonics teaches your child the rules for decoding and reading most words. Sight words instruction is a strategy of focusing extra attention on the words that occur most frequently, so that your child doesn’t have to stop and decode every single word.

15 Responses to “Sight Words FAQs”

  1. angelique

    i want to play bingo!

    Reply
  2. Candi

    Is 80 sight words too much for kindergarten?

    ADMIN – Hi Candi,

    Doing 80 Sight Words for a kindergarten class is an ambitious goal, and more than most classes would do. It really depends on your kids. If they are getting them and they are enthusiastic about learning more, go for it!

    Reply
  3. Jessica

    My son just turn five years old and in pre-k, the school makes me feel he is so far behind he has mastered 20 of the 30 sight words they sent home. I was thinking he was doing great but now they sent home a list of frys 100 sight words and said he should know the first 50 before starting kindergarten or he will be farther behind and he should recognize his numbers 1-20 by now and to 30 before fall (he only know 1-10 but can count to 20) is his school asking to much or am I not pushing him hard enough. This is public school.

    ADMIN – Hi Jessica,

    A typical school program would be at around 100 words by the end of the first grade. But, more important than that number is what is suitable for your son. Children’s development windows open at different times and different rates. If he enjoys learning new words, and is able, I don’t think there is a problem in being a bit more aggressive. If he isn’t quite ready, I would have a conversation with your teacher about what a more appropriate program for him should look like.

    Reply
    • Thewayiteach

      100 words for pre-k or mastering 50 is a kindergarten standard as well as writing and recognizing numbers to 20. Those are end of the year Common Core standards. Although, if a child is able to pick up and has already mastered those skills a teacher may have the child continue on in their learning progression although that should be communicated to the parent. Lately, we (I am a kinder teacher) we get too many pre-k kids who are ready for first grade and can skip kinder which makes me think not enough social skills and learning through play is happening. Further, too many teachers measure their success by how far they can push a child. My thought – spend more time with hands on activities and building a well rounded student rather than pushing them in isolated academic areas that create learning gaps.

      Reply
      • Dani

        I see where you’re going with this, but I’m not sure I agree entirely. I do agree that play and free play are necessary, but I also think that learning academics at home also sets a precedent that follows the child through school – that some time at home can be spent playing, but other times at home need to be spent studying, which isn’t always going to be the same kind of fun as playing. I’ve been teaching my little guy sight words at home. He’s 4, and he’s has specifically requested to learn to read, so its my estimation that he’s ready to learn. He’s a very active, bouncing 4 year old, and in the short time that he’s been learning, I’ve noticed a change in his behavior, namely a focus and discipline about learning that wasn’t there before. Of course, this is based solely on my personal experience, but I’ve noticed that spending focused time on academics has paid off in a number of very rewarding ways.

        Reply
  4. Chelsey

    Hi! I really like this teaching strategy to teach sight words. I had trouble reading as a kid and as a teacher don’t want my Pre-K children to go into the school system not being prepared and feeling the same way I did after Kindergarten. I would really like to bring this into my classroom next year but my boss would like to have more research on the research you used to come up with this strategy. I saw you were sponsored by a preschool in Georgia but did not find much on statistics of why this method works. If you could point me towards any of these findings so I can show my boss that would be great!

    Thank You,
    Chelsey

    ADMIN – Hi Chelsey,

    The most extensive research for teaching sight words has been done by organizations and clinics that work with struggling readers. It was the Orton Society founded by the neurologist, Samuel T. Orton, and his teacher assistant, Anna Gillingham, that developed the teaching method today known as multi-sensory learning. The research pioneers and programs that developed the techniques demonstrated on the SightWords.com website are listed in the article by C. Wilson Anderson in the Tennessee Dyslexia Association’s newsletter. Anderson is past president of the International Dyslexia Association. The Project READ technique mentioned in the article is the heart of the Wilson Reading method of teaching sight words. Google “Wilson Reading” to find the research supporting the method. Dr Sally Shaywitz provides information and research on Orton-Gillingham multi-sensory teaching in her excellent book, Overcoming Dyslexia. The techniques demonstrated on the SightWords website have been widely employed for decades and found to be effective. I am including below a link to the techniques summary by C. Wilson Anderson, who is referenced earlier in this email.

    http://www.tnida.org/docs/newsletter_summer05.pdf

    Our team has been using these methods with great success in our own classrooms. Hope that is what you needed.

    Reply
    • carolyn

      I tried this link, but it is not found. Are there other links citing research to cite that these strategies are based on best-practices?

      Reply
  5. Rosemary Nohavitza

    My 5 1/2 year old twin grandchildren live with their Dad and my husband and me. They attend a private school They were born preemies, and both are very well adjusted kiddos. The problem is that it seems they are being expected to excel so much sooner than in public schools. By January they were tested if they could count to 100 to be in the “100 club.” My granddaughter did hers by the end of December, but my grandson just completed his two weeks ago. Now they are expected to get 50-60 sight words, 20 at a time. Granddaughter is fine but I’m beginning to see some frustration in my grandson. Is this pushing too soon for kids that won’t be six until June? Or am I being an overly concerned Grandmother???

    ADMIN – Hi Rosemary,

    Most private schools do expect their children to move faster than public schools do. However, boys tend to progress in reading skills at a slower pace than girls. This factor, combined with prematurity, can cause problems. I think the biggest issue is your grandson’s growing frustration with reading; the last thing you want is to turn him off of reading! Please talk to his teacher about this frustration.

    Trying to learn 20 sight words at a time is probably too much for your grandson. I recommend that he focus on no more than 6 words at a time, with both the teaching techniques and the games. For example, play the Fishing game with 24-30 fish but just 6 words (repeated 4-5 times). It’s much better to truly master a small number of words than to kinda-sorta know a bunch of words. Summer will be a good time to pay extra attention to sight words and fill in the gaps of your grandson’s knowledge.

    Good luck, and thanks for being such an insightful grandparent!

    Reply
  6. Jen

    Our children’s public school has a goal of 100 sight words by the end of kindergarten.

    Reply
    • Cynthia

      My daughter’s school has a goal of 60 sights words by the end of kindergarten and 600 words by the end of 1st grade. My daughter attends a public school in Southern California, it’s rated 8 out of 10.

      Reply
  7. Vicky

    “Many people start with presenting a child with three new words daily for five days in a row. At the end of the week, performing a quick assessment should give the adult guidance as to whether this daily number should be increased or decreased.”

    I was a bit confused… So each day my child would be introduced to three new words? And by the end of a 5-day school week he would have been introduced a total of 15 words?

    ADMIN – Hi Vicky,

    Thank you for pointing out an item we need to edit! In your first lesson, introduce 3-5 new words. Start the next day’s lesson by reviewing those words. If the child remembers those words, move on to introducing 3-5 new words. If he/she struggles with, let’s say, 2 of the previous day’s words, go through our full sequence of teaching techniques with those 2 words and introduce just 1-3 new words.

    Reply
  8. Kathy

    I am a public school teacher. There is a lot of pressure put on both public and private school students to excel quickly. Do work at home but follow the people who say to introduce a few new words only after the previous few are “easy”, otherwise your child will not enjoy reading and will be turned off by much of school!

    Reply
  9. Leigh

    My son is in 4k but he is 5 years old, we chose to put him into 3k a year late for his maturity. He has been doing pretty well throughout this year on all of his activities but today his teacher said the class has learned 21 sight words and he doesn’t know any. Should i be concerned about this? She says that on the week that she teaches the word, he knows it, but when she tests him weeks later he doesn’t know any.

    ADMIN – Hi Leigh,

    I wonder if he is getting any kind of reinforcement between the introduction week and the testing a month later. If he isn’t try giving him a little reinforcement 2-3 times per week (reading, games, etc). He might just need a bit of reinforcement. I don’t remember what I learned a month ago if I don’t regularly use it either!

    Reply
  10. Tia

    Reading through the comments, I’m wondering if there is a standard (Common Core Standard?) about the number of sight words per grade? Perhaps a general range of number of words? Is there a difference between sight words and spelling words? I mean, I’d generally consider a word like “is” a sight word because you can’t sound it out, but not the word “cat”, because you can. So when people are mentioning 60-100 words in Pre-K or Kindergarten, are they actually talking about sight words, or a more general spelling words?

    ADMIN – Hi Tia,

    Common Core is a bit vague about this. It says (RFK-3-C): Read common high-frequency words by sight (e.g., the, of, to, you, she, my, is, are, do, does).

    I agree, I would focus on phonetically irregular words like because and high frequency words, because these will help kids expand their reading speed and vocabulary beyond what they would get from just learning phonetic strategies alone. In practice, most people use the Dolch list.

    Reply
  11. Amanda Steff

    Hello, when my students are unsure of the sight word, as in they stare at it but do not know what it is, what is the correct procedure?

    I have been saying the answer for it so that the student is looking at the word and making the association. I do find however that some students become reliant on that, and instead of hazarding a guess or trying to tell me what the word is they become increasingly mute knowing I will just tell them what it is. Can you advise the best way to respond in that scenario? Thank you so much.

    ADMIN – Hi Amanda,

    Great question. We use this Sight Words Corrections method. It only take 20 seconds, and it gives the student 6 chances to repeat the word and form the association. Telling them the answer is great, but we also want to make sure they repeat the word a few times, because that type of active learning sticks better.

    Reply

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