Monday, 9 March 2009

The first few sight words

Sight words are those words that do not follow discernible phonics principles. For example NO, KNOW; TO, TOO, TWO.

Many of the sight words cannot be taught through pictures. Examples are of words like IF, BUT, AND, TO.

These words occur frequently enough in most routine texts for the students' fluency and flow to be affected if they are not readily recognised.

Though children may find it hard to learn ALL the sight words, it is worth the effort to teach these words along the way. The strengthening phonics make the child motivated and emotionally confident to read at or beyond grade level. Adding sight word ( or Dolch words, or Fry words) vocabulary to this expanding foundation makes a sound preparation for a strong and resilient reader.

Psychologist and reading researcher Diane McGuinness has found that there are about 100 very commonly used words. This requires word level memorisation rather than figuring out the sound while reading. She has dramatically reduced the Dolch list to a more manageable length.

The other important aspect of sight words is that these words are used frequently enough to affect fluency. In order to improve reading skills and the comprehension, the children have to be introduced to the concept of sight words. These words then contribute to the automaticity rather than interrupting the flow of reading.

As we discussed earlier, the first word recognition or decoding must introduce the short vowel sound. Alongside, the teacher (or parent) must introduce the first sight words by the time the child is in kindergarten.

There are some readily available lists like the Dolch/ Fry lists that can be used as a starting point. The original Dolch list contained 220 words. Diane McGuinness made it easier and less daunting by shortening the list to about a hundred words, as we have mentioned earlier. Or a list can be generated by the teachers while reading an age-appropriate book.

A kindergarten list could be something as follows:
  1. A
  2. An
  3. The
  4. Who
  5. He
  6. She
  7. Number names one/ two/ three/ four/ five/ six/ seven/ eight/ nine/ ten
  8. And
  9. Colours red/ blue/ yellow/ green
  10. From
  11. Are
A teacher can generate lists according to the reading material they use. Some of the early readers from Lady Bird Series are excellent to introduce both the early phonics as well the early sight words. A few titles that I found especially useful are
  1. Three little pigs
  2. Chicken Licken
  3. The gingerbread man
  4. The magic porridge pot
For teachers who can and for children who want to, this is also an excellent opportunity to create your own books. These could introduce concepts like good manners, colours, animals, emotions- happy, sad, angry, hurt etc. The teachers can follow the principles laid out in the previous chapter to generate a template for the children. For the beginning readers of pre-school to kindergarten level this would mean:

  1. Ten to fifteen pages per book.
  2. Two to five words per page.
  3. One word change per page.
  4. Relevance. Introducing the concept of balls/ dolls/ cars is something the children can easily begin to visualise. Introducing the concept of Ball-room, however, may not be easy for them.
  5. One example :
The cat.
The hat.
-Page 3-
The cat with the hat.
Funny hat.
-Page 5-
Funny cat.
-Page 6-
The rat.
The mat.
-Page 8-
The rat on the mat.
-Page 9-
The cat and the rat.
-Page 10-
The cat chases the rat.

The children can be taught to make simple line drawings for the cat and the rat, for the hat and the mat and then allowed to colour their own book. It is always thrilling for the children to create their own books. They become keepsakes for parents, too.

Another idea is for the rainbow... you could explore the same...
Pages 1 to 7
Blob of colour and the colour name.
Page 8
All seven colours in a rainbow. Word Rainbow
Page 9

Sight words may be taught in the following ways:
  1. Flash cards
  2. Computer games
  3. Group activities and board play
Most methods of teaching sight words involve repetition. This is important- a child who sees a word and hears it often enough will learn to read it. For natural readers this may be effortless, whereas for struggling readers, this may take hours upon hours of patience and slogging.

Rhyming is another great technique to teach any new concept. Children can be encouraged to create their own (nursery) rhymes around the focus for a given day... he/she, and/ hand/ band/ sand.

The excitement of creating their own poems makes it fun to remember the poems, too.

These activities exploit the principle of phonetic as well repetitive reinforcement to teach early readers. Teaching sight words purely as whole words can introduce an element of confusion and promote dyslexic ( dysfunctional- lexicography) reading problems. There are a significant number of words in the original Dolch list of 220 that can be pegged phonetically and can as easily be confused dyslexically. Look at the following examples:
  1. is/ in, no/ on
  2. is/ as, an/ am, and
  3. at/it/if/ of/to
  4. he/ her/ here
Interestingly, most of these above mentioned words are also possible to decode phonetically.

It is important to understand, as Kylene Beers writes in When Kids Can't Read, that the goal of reading is to make sense of the written word! It is quite simple and infinitely complicated. Were we to condense human history into a single day, we probably started reading in less than last ten minutes!

Humans do not have any specific reading genes nor do they have any specific reading anatomical regions of the brain. Many areas of the brain light up in recognising, putting together, and then making sense of the written word. And things can go wrong at a lot of functional levels without there being any structural abnormality to define it!

In conclusion, therefore, it can not be overemphasised that teaching sight words has to follow the following principles:
  1. Associative learning. Pick out the sight words from a book the child is comfortable with. Early readers are great for this.
  2. Phonetic reading where possible
  3. Memory pegs to learn clusters of words together.
  4. Repetition.
  5. Rhyming
  6. Creative learning games- create your own books/ create your own poems
  7. Encourage leveled reading. Take the child through baby steps and build them into a tottering walk into a comfortable stroll and onto a happy run with the wind blowing into their faces making it fun and motivating to go on.
  8. Encourage voluminous reading. Reading does NOT come naturally. It has to be worked on. Just as we work on our relationships with people, we must work on our relationship with the written word. The more we nurture our reading 'muscle' the stronger it gets. Even good readers benefit from reading more and more.
  9. Encourage children to find something that will interest them. introduce them to various genres early rather than late. So while one child might find fantasy of fairy tales alluring, another might be captivated by mystery or a heady mix of adventure and fantasy in the Rainbow Fairies series that my daughter picked up voraciously. Once a child has found something of interest- give more and more and more. Keep the fire burning!
  10. Words can be converted into 'buildings by making lines around the letters creating a profile of the word. Thus /word/ would end in a tall tower while /verb/ would have the tall tower trailed by a small box at the end! These and other ingenious games introduce the children to the several cues they can use to beat reading difficulties when they do occur.

1 comment:

Pepi said...

Most of your recommendations run counter to Diane McGuiness' more recent work over the past 20 years.

Teaching sight words can get in the way of children learning how to read. Take another look at McGuiness' Why Our Children Can't Read and What We Can Do About It.

Her point in critiquing the Dolch list of "irregular" words is that half of the words in the Dolch List ARE ACTUALLY REGULAR. This half, because they are good starter words, should be taught as part of learning the PRIMARY spelling of the 43/44 sounds in English, instead of taught via memorization. The other half can be taught in the service of teaching alternative spellings of these 43/44 sounds.

Memorizing "sight words" was emphasizes in the discredited "whole-language" based on the theory that reading English is somehow "natural" and that exposure to examples and now in vogue "balanced" approaches would be better learned by teaching the full spelling/reading code.

Further, teaching reading based on sight-words can have dire consequences. Teaching sight-words promotes a dependence upon sight-word recognition as a reading strategy. This strategy devolves into initial-sound word guessing, which produces all the symptoms of dyslexia. Indeed, McGuinness is of the opinion, as are others who promote reading instruction and remediation using similar methods, that dyslexia is taught in our school, not an innate learning disability.