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Should We Teach 100 Sight Words to Kindergartners?

by Marcia Invernizzi
 | Oct 09, 2014


Should we be teaching 100 sight words to kindergartners?

Response from Marcia Invernizzi:

shutterstock_126702857_x600Drilling kindergartners with high frequency words on flashcards is unlikely to support the development of their sight word vocabulary. In fact, it’s likely to do more harm than good.

A better approach would be to engage children in the kinds of purposeful activities that lead to a concept of word in text, a prerequisite for learning and retaining sight words. A concept of word in text is the ability to finger point accurately to multiple lines of text in a memorized rhyme or highly familiar/predictable text without getting off-track on two syllable words, without lumping together the article before the noun, and without pointing to a different word than is being pronounced. Research has shown that until children have a firm concept of word in text, they will be unable to remember words when seen in isolation (Flanigan, 2007).


How is it that spending instructional time on cultivating a concept of word in text results in learning sight words?

Response from Marcia Invernizzi:

When teachers spend time teaching children the skills needed to read and also provide the time children need to practice applying those skills, children will start to remember words they have seen before in context. To finger-point accurately to words of more than one syllable in a memorized rhyme, children must have the ability to isolate the beginning sound of each word and match it to the first letter of each word in running text. Using their memory for how the rhyme goes, children coordinate their pronunciation of each word from memory with the initial sound of each word they see in print. To do this, they must have automatic alphabet and letter sound recognition, the ability to isolate beginning sounds, and, of course, print concepts.  When teachers teach these skills (alphabet recognition, letter sound, print concepts, initial phoneme isolation) and provide children daily opportunities to finger-point read to known ditties, rhymes, songs, and/or predictable texts, they are teaching them the prerequisite skills for learning sight words. We need to help teachers realize that sight words are not learned in isolation, but rather, are the outcome of coordinating alphabet knowledge with beginning sounds in real text.

The term “sight words” is often confused with “high-frequency words,” which are the most commonly occurring words in print (i.e. was, the, can, these). It is important to understand that though a reader’s store of sight words will include many high-frequency words, it is not limited to them. Any word can be a sight word, that is, a word that is recognized “at first sight.”

Another common misunderstanding about sight words is that they are phonetically irregular words children cannot sound out and therefore must be learned in a different way, as unanalyzed wholes or “by sight.” Although there are some high-frequency words that lack dependable letter–sound correspondences (of = /uv/ and was = /wuz/), most words are more regular than not, especially in the consonant features that are most likely to be partially understood. For example, the high-frequency word from is 75 percent regular; only the o in the middle is irregular. There is no evidence that readers learn these words in a different way but, like all word learning at this stage, repetition in and out of context, along with word study, helps (Johnston, Invernizzi, Helman, Bear, & Templeton, 2015).



Blackwell-Bullock, R., Invernizzi, M., Drake, A., & Howell, J.L. (2009). Concept of Word in Text: An Integral Literacy Skill. Reading in Virginia, XXXI, 30-36.

Flanigan, K. (2007). A Concept of Word in Text: A Pivotal Event in Early Reading Acquisition. Journal of Literacy Research, 39(1), 37-70.
Johnston, F., Invernizzi, M., Helman, L., Bear, D.R., & Templeton, S. (2015). Words Their Way for Prek-K. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Marcia Invernizzi is the Henderson Professor of Reading Education and executive director of the McGuffey Reading Center in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. She advises masters and doctoral students in the Department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education where she teaches doctoral seminars in a variety of reading education-focused disciplines. She is the primary author of Virginia’s statewide literacy assessment program, Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS) and principal investigator of two $1.6 million grants from the Institute of Educational Sciences to develop comparable literacy assessments for Spanish-speaking students in primary grades. As a founder of Book Buddies, a nationally-recognized reading tutorial for struggling readers, Invernizzi’s research continues to revolve around evidence-based practices for the prevention of reading difficulties.

The ILA Literacy Research Panel uses this blog to connect educators around the world with research relevant to policy and practice. Reader response is welcomed via e-mail.


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