Sight Words and Dyslexia

Even though parents and teachers know that sight word acquisition is essential for children learning to read, teaching sight words to children with dyslexia can be particularly challenging. Individuals with dyslexia have great difficulty processing language. Their biggest obstacles are recognizing words and spelling them, both key components of sight word learning. Despite these difficulties, there are a number of teaching strategies that have proven effective in teaching children with dyslexia sight words. Any of these approaches can be used alone or in combination at home or in the classroom.

Multi-sensory Presentation of Sight Words

An often used strategy for teaching children with dyslexia to read involves presenting material using a several modalities. When these learners are able to “see” an idea using more than one sense they are best able to integrate the information into their memories. Because individuals with dyslexia often have difficulty processing written language, it is important that parents and teachers present information orally. Sight words should be repeated out loud for these students. This verbal repetition of words should be combined with the written version of the word and ideally one other sensory representation of the word. Music, pictures or movement can be used in conjunction with the print and verbal representations of the word to help children with dyslexia learn new sight words.

Teaching “Puzzle Words” Separately From Phonetically “Friendly” Words

One of the reasons why some children, especially those with dyslexia, have trouble learning to read sight words is that they are not spelled like they sound. This is compounded by the fact that many of the words that do not follow common spelling rules also cannot be illustrated using pictures. Consider a few of the highest frequency words in the English language: the, to, you and because. These words and many more on Dolch’s sight word lists are not spelled phonetically and cannot be drawn.

Because children with dyslexia struggle with writing and reading words that they cannot easily sound out, it is recommended that teachers and parents remove these “puzzle words” from Dolch’s lists and teach them separately from those that can be illustrated and/or are spelled phonetically. The “puzzle words” must be taught in a way that helps these students memorize them since they cannot use typical strategies to read or write them.

Part to Whole Sight Word Instruction

A challenge that individuals with dyslexia face when learning to read new words is sounding them out. They are unable to make a connection between the phonetic version of the word or its sound and the graphemic or written representation of it. Therefore, a successful strategy for teaching children with dyslexia new words is first teaching them what the written version of the part of words (phonemes) look like. Once a child has learned many of the main phonemes in the English language, they can use their knowledge to tackle new words. Sight words should be broken down into their “sound components” and taught in these chunks to help those with dyslexia commit them to memory.