Successful readers use a number of tools to help them understand texts. One of the most effective and powerful reading tools that parents and teachers can help children develop is sight word recognition. When a child is able to grasp and identify sight words he is well on his way to becoming a thriving reader.
What are Sight Words?
Believe it or not, 50% of all reading texts are made up of the same 100 words! The most frequently used and repeated words in the English language are known as sight words. This list of words includes the, a, is, of, to, in, and, I, you, and that. Think about the number of times that you have seen these words in a piece of reading material. It’s probably too many times to count.
Sight words are critical to reading not only because they are used so frequently, but also because many of them cannot easily be sounded out or illustrated. Imagine what reading would be like if you attempted to sound out walk every time you encountered it in your reading. Then imagine that you do not know the word the. You cannot use the pictures accompanying a text to help you decipher this word because it cannot be illustrated. Using phonics or picture reading skills for words like these is useless and fruitless for readers, especially those who are in the early stages of developing their decoding skills.
Because they are used so often it is important that readers be able to recognize these words on sight (hence the term “sight words”). When a reader masters sight words she is able to understand at least half of the words in a particular text. By eliminating the need to decode these words, the reader is able to focus on those that are more difficult and less familiar. Beyond this, sight words offer important clues about the meaning of a sentence. For example, when a reader is able to identify and understand the word and in a sentence, he knows that there will be multiple figures, actions or descriptors in the sentence. Similarly, if the reader sees the word into in the sentence, she knows there is movement from one location or idea to another.