One of the most common assumptions about reading is that sight words are an essential building block for learning how to read.
What many people don’t realize is that sight words actually have several flaws that make them ineffective for beginning readers.
Why Sight Words Don’t Work
Sight words are irregularly spelled, so they can’t be sounded out using phonics. This means that kids have to memorize them, which is really difficult – especially for young learners.
Even highly educated people sometimes make errors when reading or writing them.
What’s more, research has shown that memorizing sight words doesn’t actually promote faster or more fluent reading. In fact, it can actually interfere with a child’s ability to learn to read fluently.
1. The Method Involves Memorization
Memorization is not an ideal approach to reading, as the reader does not fully comprehend the pronunciation and identify patterns that help them read future words.
Memorization helps students keep the sight words in the working memory, but it may fail to help them read other closely reacted words.
Thus, teachers should not use sight words isolated, as students need a customized approach to learning. A student’s poor education, home life, and psychological disposition may impact their learning ability.
A teacher should understand the students, as some might not memorize the words easily if they are stressed.
I recently reviewed a program and that in my opinion is the best alternative for teaching children to read. It’s the reading program I currently use with my students.
Teachers who strictly stick with the sight words when teaching the students tend to yield learners with inadequate reading skills. As students get to the upper classes and grades, the texts become complex.
They would need more than sight words to read the phrases and decode meaning. Therefore, the teachers should allow their students to read to learn instead of learning to read.
2. It Does Not Raise Phonemic Awareness
Although sight words help the students recognize and memorize the words, it does not raise phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness leads to familiarity with the alphabet, which helps build vocabulary and oral language skills.
If these weak areas are not addressed during the first grades, the students will have an insufficient vocabulary and oral skills, which are key for language development.
The significant reading deficiencies might be difficult to address as a student progresses. Thus, sight words develop bad reading habits, which are difficult to modify as children mature.
The child will depend on their memory when learning new words, which is not appropriate. The student should break down the unfamiliar words to assign sounds and meaning.
3. Opt For a Balanced Approach
Teachers and learners should opt for a balanced approach to teaching and learning to promote better learning skills. Thus, they should adopt phonemic knowledge when teaching students in the lower and upper grades.
The phonemic skills form a learning foundation, while the sight words incorporate all knowledge skills, including words and their meanings. Students can apply both learning approaches for better learning outcomes.
Thus, a delicate balance between the sight words and the phonics will produce the best learning outcomes.
The sight words will help the students understand the words will not follow the predicted letter-sound relationships, while the phonics will help them master the sounds and apply them to unfamiliar words.
Phonetics builds confidence in young children when studying the shapes and sounds of the alphabet. They can easily identify the shapes and sounds when reading, which helps them decode new words and break down new words.
They can easily assign sounds to the words, making it easy to create words and phrases. Thus, phonetics is a tool for learners when they face new words, which helps build their confidence when learning.
4. Sight Words Should Not Be Literacy Learning Foundation
It might be ridiculous to expect a young child to remember the random obscene number of words. Thus making sight words the learning foundation will impact the child’s attitude towards learning.
Young children will feel overwhelmed by words they have to master; these sight words are easy to decode with phonemic knowledge.
Thus it is better to attach sound to the words and let the learners understand the patterns instead of memorizing them. Sight words comprise hundreds of different words with almost similar or different pronunciation patterns.
Exposure to such vast words and pronunciations will impact a student, and it may be better to avoid sight words at all costs. A teacher can use the sight words only on the words which do not conform to the pronunciation rules.
A Learner Can Easily Decode the Sight Words
Sight words insist on memorization instead of assigning pronunciation patterns to the words. Contrarily, these sight words are easy to decode as the students would easily master the reading skills by sounding out the specific words.
For instance, high-frequency sight words like the, of, an, in, is, you, it, on, and an is easy to pronounce. Therefore, a teacher should let the student decode the words instead of memorizing them.
Very few words may not be decoded, and once the students set aside the difficult words to decode, they can learn the different pronunciation patterns, which improves reading and learning.
5. Memorization Has Limitations
The brain capacity may be limited, especially in children, and how much a child would remember impacts the learning outcome. The child would forget the words or confuse them; the odds are high, and it is almost guaranteed for an individual to forget.
Nations that adopt the sight word approach have poor readers as the learners are not taught the learning mechanisms of reading which enhance learning. The education system focuses on the memorization so shapes and words.
Adults who went through an education system that focused attention on sight words are most likely to be semi-illiterate.
Without the proper teaching skills, teaching students to identify new sounds and words and decode the meaning might be challenging.
Phonetics allows users to identify sounds, break down new words, and decode meaning; on the other hand, sight words involve memorization of new words. However, memorizing has its limitations, so sight words don’t work.
Memorization does not allow users to learn new sound patterns, making it hard to decode new words. Furthermore, children can easily forget memorized words, leading to poor learning outcomes. Good luck finding new teaching strategies which promote better learning outcomes.