“Sight words” is a common term in reading with various meanings.
When the term is applied to early reading instruction, it typically refers to about 100 words reappearing on almost any page of text. According to Robert Hillerich, just three words I, and, and the account for 10 percent of all words in printed English. Dr. Edward Fry et al. (The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists, 2000) state that the 25 most common words make up about one-third of our written material, while the 100 most common words make up about 50 percent of the material we read.
In addition to these words being very frequent, many of them cannot be “sounded out.” Children are expected to learn them by sight, i.e., recognizing them without any attempt to sound them out.
For others, sight words mean words recognized instantly, without hesitation or further analysis. Fluent reading requires that most of the words in a selection be sight words. The child must use other word recognition strategies for only a few words (5 to 10 percent). A piece that contains too many non-sight words is usually too difficult and frustrating. Research has shown that reading skill improves with the growth of a reader’s sight word vocabulary.
English is tough stuff! 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.
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.
220 Basic sight words