Teaching Sight Words

Mother and child reading

Teaching sight words, also called Dolch sight words, is an important task for the home schooling parent. Once a child learns the list of sight words, he or she can recognize almost 75 percent of the written words in the average children's book. Not only does this enhance the child's ability to read on his own, it boosts confidence too.

Background on Sight Words

Edward William Dolch, PhD, published the first set of sight words in his 1948 publication, Problems in Reading. Despite being based on common kindergarten and early learning texts published before 1948, Dr. Dolch's list of 220 words continues to be the most common words children need to learn in order to become fluent readers with few exceptions. Once children learn to recognize these words by sight or at a glance, they can easily read books on their own. This in turn boosts confidence and their ability to learn more and more words.

Teaching Sight Words

Experienced teachers offer one important point of advice to anyone teaching sight words: Do not assume that just because children are drilled in sight words and can recognize them that they can read. Many teachers recommend drilling children with sight words as well as using texts and books filled with the words to encourage repetition in context.

Kathy Gursky, a teacher with the Brentwood School District, offers a free online Dolch sight word kit. Another good source of ideas for teaching sight words may be found on K12 Reader, a website to help educators teaching reading skills.

In addition to the tips found on these websites, the following tips may help home schooling parents teaching sight words do so easily and confidently.

  • It's best to work one on one or in very small groups with children learning sight words. If you're teaching several children in a home schooling cooperative, you may consider breaking them into smaller groups or working one on one with them.
  • Use flashcards to teach the basic 220 words.
  • Incorporate books into the child's reading time that use the sight words.
  • Avoid "drill and kill" or drilling children to death on the word list. While they may be able to recite the list perfectly from memory, that doesn't mean they can read!
  • Use games to make learning fun (Mrs. Gurksy has free games on her site). Games such as Go Fish can be created using Dolch sight word flash cards.
  • Use pictures on flashcards to teach nouns.
  • Create a Dolch word wall. As new words are learned, write them on pieces of colorful paper and tack to the wall. Then, repeat the exercise later by pointing to a word and asking the child to say it by memory.

Many elementary school teachers recommend introducing no more than five new sight words per week and keeping careful track of the words children learn and which they struggle to learn. Five words per week is the average. As a home schooling family, you have the additional benefit of being able to tailor the activities to your child and adding more words if she's easily grasping the concept or pausing for additional work on troublesome words.

Benefits of Learning Sight Words

Some parents may remember learning sight words, while others may have been taught to read using different techniques. Many educators believe that a combination of phonics instruction and sight words is the best method of teaching reading. Sight words are a tried and true part of teaching reading. There are many benefits to this method. Benefits include:

  • Confidence booster: The child learns words quickly, and can recognize them in context, which boosts reading confidence and personal self esteem.
  • Clues: Sight words provide the key to the context of a sentence. If a child learns the word "house" for example, and she's reading a Dick and Jane reader, she may be able to decode a sentence simply by being able to read the names if the characters and the clue word "house." She can guess that the sentence has something to do with Dick, Jane and a house - and if it's accompanied by a picture, all the easier for her to learn the rest of the words in the sentence and add the verb "live" to her growing vocabulary.
  • ESL Instruction: If English is not spoken in the home or isn't the child's first language, sight words can really help. Pairing sight words with pictures increases comprehension.

For more benefits of teaching sight words and additional information, see Sight Word Game


There are many advantages to teaching sight words to young children, and the techniques used by professional educators are easily adapted for home schooling families. With some flash cards made from items around the house or lists of words printed from the Internet, you can teach your child sight words in no time.

Teaching Sight Words