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Sight Words: What They Are

Sight words are the words that are recognized instantly, without hesitation or further analysis. Fluent reading requires that most of the words in a selection be sight words. For a few of the words (5 to 10 percent), the child needs to use other word recognition strategies. A selection that contains too many difficult (nonsight) words is usually too difficult and frustrating.

The table below illustrates 220 basic sight words that students should know. These words are divided into groups according to their difficulty. One way to learn sight words is by actually reading stories. Basal readers are written so that sight words appear many times in context. Another natural way to expose children to sight words is through language experience stories. Many of the words in these stories will be from the sight word list. Dyslexic children often need other direct approaches to strengthen their sight vocabulary.

Unlike some other languages, written English has an inconsistent phoneme-grapheme relationship, or spelling pattern. The relationship between the letter and its sound equivalent is not always predictable. The letter a, for example, is given a different sound in each of the following typical first-grade words: at, Jane, ball, father, was, saw, and are. Another example of this complexity is the phoneme of the long i, which has a different spelling pattern in each of the following words: aisle, aye, I, eye, ice, tie, high, choir, buy, sky, rye, pine and type. To further complicate the problem of learning to read English, many of the most frequently used sight words in first-grade books have irregular spelling patterns.

220 Basic sight words

Prepimer Primer First Second Third
the when many know don’t
of who before while does
and will must last got
to more through might united
a no back us left
in if years great number
that out where old course
is so much year war
was said your off until
he what may come always
for up well since away
it its down against something
with about should go fact
as into because came through
his than each right water
on them just used less
be can those take public
at only people three put
by other Mr. states thing
I new how himself almost
this some too few hand
had could little house enough
not time state use far
are these good during took
but two very without head
from may make again yet
or then would place government
have do still American system
an first own around better
they any see however set
which my men home told
one now work small nothing
you such long found night
were like get Mrs. end
her our here thought why
all over between went called
she man both say didn’t
there me life part eyes
would even being once find
their most under general going
we made never high look
him after day upon asked
been also same school later
has did another every knew


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