what are sight words

What are Sight Words?

We frequently encounter sight words in our reading and writing.  Many times, these words do not have an accompanying image.

Why are Sight Words no longer Memorized?

Memorizing sight words has now been scientifically proven to induce confusion in young readers since they get to reading things “in context”. For example, in the absence of visual clues, imagine that there are slight misspellings in a common word used in a paragraph – say “whose”, “who’s” and “whoosh”. If the correct usage is the first one, children will often autocorrect in the other two cases and read as if “whose” had been repeated thrice.


The problem with memorizing sight words, without any basis for phonetic patterns, is that many sight words become irregular – something that taxes the mind unduly without some other association.


The science of reading teaching decodables is markedly different. Students will be taught to recognize graphemes – which are phonemes blended together – to not just read and memorize letters and then guess.


It is estimated that there are only 44 most common combinations of letters and sounds – including the basic letters and vowel sounds, along with combinations such as “-ing”, “th” and “sh”. If a young reader learns these, s/he is ready to build a memory bank of sound and letter combinations. This is far easier than dealing with the ~15,000 English syllables.

There are two approaches using phonics, each considered to be better than memorizing sight words: (a) synthetic phonics, where the reader learns the sound of each letter, then combines them to form the word, and (b) analytic phonics – where the child is taught how to spot graphemes within words and use that knowledge to pronounce other words.

An example might be to know the work “bark” and then read “lark”. With synthetic phonics, you would treat each letter separately, so you review the “l”, the “a” etc. With analytic phonics, you recognize “_ark” sound pattern and add the “l” to it.