Sight Words and Phonics – The Dynamic Duo

The single, most important skill you can teach your child is how to read. Unlocking ideas and facts from the written word provide children the ability to succeed in school and beyond. There are two key areas that parents and educators need to focus on when teaching a young student how to read. When phonics and sight words are used in reading instruction, there is an increased achievement rate with young children. They tend to more easily master reading with greater comprehension.

Phonics is the study and application of the special sounds letters make by themselves and when joined with other letters. Sight words are a select group of words that are seen regularly in English text, particularly that used by emergent readers. When these two areas of language construction are taught together, the child develops a solid grasp of the written word.

The individual steps involved in the reading process can be broken down into small, manageable activities. When a young child recognizes letters and their individual sounds, that’s the alphabetic component of literacy. Phonemic awareness is the next step, when the sounds of letters are understood. At this point, word analysis is added, so the child learns the ideas behind the words.

Sight words are in a slightly different category since their phonetically irregular construction does not lend themselves to being “sounded out.” Instead, a list of sight words is memorized. Education researchers, Edward B. Fry and Edward W. Dolch created lists of words that make up more than half of the text in English print. By selecting fun and engaging activities, these words can be easily committed to memory. When the child later encounters these sight words, there will be an instant recognition of both the word and its corresponding idea, which increases comprehension and fluency of reading.

Sight words also play a key role in word analysis. While phonics instruction is very effective in developing the association between the letter and its sound, also known as the grapheme/phoneme pair, there are many words in the English language that do not follow this pattern. There are also individual letters that represent more than one phoneme in different contexts. Sight words, however, are consistent. They do not change their sound or their meaning. The student is able to read these words with confidence, immediately incorporating them into the text.

Laying a foundation of sight word recognition and phonics allows a steady progression of the skills needed to read. Phonics instruction later allows a child to master spelling, using the same principles of graphemes and phonemes. Analogy phonics helps the student infer meanings as well as the correct pronunciation of unfamiliar words, while contextual phonics shows students how to find the meaning of words in the context of a passage. All of these skills build upon the initial teaching of phonics. Essentially, the child encounters letters and sounds, combines them to form words, which create understandable text.

Perhaps the best part of teaching a child to read is the many and wonderful ways that can make this possible. Instinctively, a child realizes the importance of the written word and is usually strongly motivated to learn. When a parent or educator presents the building blocks of language to a young student in a lively and fun format, a lifelong love of learning develops.


Er-u-di-tion is an award winning board game that teaches basic phonics and sight words in a fun and interactive way. The game cards are categorized by reading readiness level so children of all ages can enjoy the game together. If you are interested in other related activities, click here for some free sight word games.

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