Reading Teacher

Testing Sight Words and Reading Comprehension

Testing Sight Words and Reading Comprehension

Teaching sight words and reading comprehension is one thing, but testing these two skill areas is an entirely separate challenge.


If you’re an educator and slowly working through a list of sight words with your students, you understand the importance of these words for students’ reading comprehension. These small-but-mighty words account for 75% of English language usage: so the more students know, the better they’ll comprehend texts -- and the more likely they’ll discover their new favorite book.


Testing sight words, reading, and comprehension can be overwhelming, but with a bit of strategy and planning, it’s possible to test and document your students’ progress from Day 1 to the end of the school year.


How To Effectively Teach Sight Words


Sight words are simple words that a reader can “see” and pronounce without sounding out or guessing. In the English language, common sight words include “the,” “a,” “I,” and “to.” Many of these words are difficult to sound out, but they appear often in decodable books and readers.


To effectively teach sight words, reading experts recommend early exposure and engaging students in consistent, fun reading activities that build their sight-word vocabulary.


Teaching sight words as part of a story, looking for them in favorite books, and hanging them around the home and classroom are all simple ways to increase students’ interaction with these familiar phrases.


How Do You Test for Sight Words?


Your system for testing sight words depends on students’ skills and overall reading confidence. Many educators and homeschooling parents use a combination of pre-assessments, flashcards, fun lessons, and post-assessments to test for sight words.


1.   Pre-Assessments

Before proceeding with your sight word lesson, assess students’ familiarity with a list of targeted sight words. In upcoming activities and flashcards, teachers and parents should pay special attention to any words that students miss from the get-go.


2.   Flashcards

Simple yet highly effective, flashcards are a must-have in any teacher’s toolkit. During guided reading time or ten minutes before dinner at home, use flashcards -- based on the pre-assessment list of sight words -- to test students’ growing knowledge and progress.


3.   Fun Sight Word Lessons

Flashcards are crucial, but both teachers and students know that they can get old! To break up the monotony, try some of these sight word lessons to expand students’ knowledge:


  • Heart Word Mapping: A popular technique used to teach both sight words and high-frequency words.
  • Watch Me: In this simple activity, students watch the teacher or parent read the sight word, spell it, and then read the word again. Then, students repeat those steps with the teacher, and repeat them once more independently.
  • Air Writing: After flashcards, ask students to snap a mental photograph of a sight word, then cover it up and write in the air with their fingers. This fun, physical activity improves both writing muscles and long-term memory of sight words.


4.   Post-Assessment

After a busy reading unit of sight word lists, flashcards, and lessons, it’s time to test -- but keep it low-stress! Teachers and parents can simply return to the initial list of sight words and retest students to see how many new words they’ve learned.


Ideally, students will know them all; but we also recognize that sight words take time to master. Continue working on tricky words until students know them all; then, move on to your next word list.


How Do You Test Reading Comprehension Level?


The ability to read most sight words is closely linked with reading comprehension. When students recognize and understand the meaning of sight words, they’re able to understand full sentences -- which, as we know, form the foundation of any good story!


Many teachers test reading comprehension levels while also teaching and testing sight words. To test reading comprehension, reading experts generally recommend the following steps:


  • Invite a student to read a book or passage that is leveled appropriately for their reading skills.
  • After the student reads the text, ask explicit, detailed questions about its content, which could include questions about the character, setting, or overall plot.


Note that these are broad, general strategies, and that reading comprehension assessments can vary depending on the needs of individual students and a classroom at large. Teachers might also create assessments to highlight specific comprehension skills, such as:


  • Summarizing the main idea or moral of a story
  • Filling in missing words in a passage with blanks
  • Asking students to read and follow simple instructions
  • Asking students to paraphrase the story in their own words
  • Presenting inferential questions about information implied by the text


Regardless of which path you take to test sight words, reading, and comprehension, remember that your approach is never one-size-fits-all.


With strategic and intentional lessons (and a healthy dose of patience), you can design tests that meet students where they’re at, allowing them to read, learn, and progress at their own pace.



  • Sight words appear frequently in everyday texts, making them essential for comprehending and enjoying books.
  • To test sight words, teachers can perform a pre-assessment with a list of targeted words; after a unit filled with flashcards and engaging activities, they can re-test with the same list to track students’ progress.
  • Because sight words are closely linked with reading comprehension, many teachers test both skills simultaneously, ensuring that students stay on track to meet their reading milestones.

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