Phonics Talk: Volume 40 — Sight Words

by Dolores G. Hiskes
March 2010

It seems to be a given in educational circles that sight words are a basic component when teaching beginning reading. Word walls adorn most classrooms, and Dolch sight words faithfully appear in most beginning readers, including common phonics reading programs.

Over a thousand years ago the old Greek Herotimus wrote: “We are dragged on by consistency. A thing may be consistent and yet false!” Truer words were never spoken!

Sooner or later sight words must be taught, but NOT in the very beginning! That is when brain pathways are set up for learning how to read, and sight words are like pictures that activate a different hemisphere of the brain. This then suppresses the activity of the mirror-image region on the other side which acquires knowledge in logical bits, as in phonics or math.

Robert Calfee actually states, “One of the best ways to decrease performance is to present competing information such as the use of pictures to accompany text.”

Here is an analysis of the sight words taught in first grade from several commonly-used phonics programs:

Saxon Phonics: 88 sight words in first grade
Open Court: 130 sight words in first grade
Phonics Pathways: 21 sight words in the WHOLE BOOK
I rest my case!

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