How should I introduce sight words to preschoolers?
What is a good sight word list for preschoolers?
Where can I find preschool sight word worksheets?
These are all questions I’ve heard from parents who are eager to get their children on the right path when it comes to learning to read.
They are all good questions, but I think we need to back up and ask this question first:
SHOULD we teach sight words in preschool?
First of all, let’s clarify what sight words are. Some people will tell you that sight words are words that cannot be sounded out.
But researchers’ definition of sight words is different. Sight words are words that a reader recognizes instantly, without needing to sound out or guess.
Therefore, all beginning readers have a different sight word vocabulary, because they all know a different set of words “by sight.”
It’s probably best to speak in terms of “high frequency words.” These are the most commonly used words in printed text.
Obviously, readers need to know high frequency words.
But HOW they learn these high frequency words matters.
We’ll get to that in a minute.
What should preschoolers know BEFORE they learn to read?
This is an important question to answer.
After all, we don’t teach newborn babies to read. Why not?
They’re not ready (obviously).
They’re not ready because they need a set of important pre-reading skills.
5 important pre-reading skills for preschoolers
1- Concepts of print
- They hold books correctly and turn pages in the right direction.
- They know that each word on a page represents a spoken word.
- They understand that text is read from left to right.
2- Language and listening skills
- They can retell a familiar story in their own words.
- They engage with a story as you read to them — asking questions (“Why did he say that?”) and making personal connections (“I wish I could have that much ice cream!”)
- They can answer simple questions about a story.
3- Letter knowledge
- They recognize the letters of the alphabet.
- They can name each letter’s sound (or a large number of them).
4-Phonological and phonemic awareness
- They can count words.
- They can count syllables in words.
- They can rhyme.
- They can put sounds together to make a word. If you say these sounds to your child, /f/ and /ish/, can he put them together to make fish? If you stretch a word and say it like this — mooooon – does your child know the word is moon?
- They can identify the first and last sound in a word. This is not the same thing as knowing the letter. For example, if you ask your child the first sound in the word phone, she should be able to answer /f/.
5- They have an interest in learning to read.
- They enjoy being read to.
- They frequently ask you to read aloud.
- They pretend to read.
After pre-reading skills are in place, we should teach preschoolers to sound out words.
Once students are ready to read, we teach them to blend sounds into words.
I used to teach that students should learn sight words FIRST, because it can seem easier to memorize a few words than to sound them out.
Because I believed this, I created a huge set of sight word books for preschoolers to “learn to read.” I thought that they could memorize the repeated “sight word” and use the pictures to read the rest of the words.
I don’t share those sight word books anymore, because I’ve learned that three-cueing (something I learned to use in college and grad school) is a major problem and NOT something we should be teaching beginning readers to use. (I won’t get into that here, but you might want to check out my podcast episode: “What’s wrong with 3-cueing?”)
What if preschoolers struggle to sound out words?
If your child struggles to sound out simple words, you might think that you should switch to giving them them lists of words to memorize.
That is NOT the answer.
Instead, you need to go back to those pre-reading skills and make sure they’ll all in place … particularly phonemic awareness.
Phonemic awareness is the ability to play with individual sounds in words.
Readers should be able to isolate, blend, segment, and manipulate phonemes.
While we certainly can (and SHOULD) continue to teach phonemic awareness as we teach phonics, if children don’t have the basics, they will not be successful with reading.
Practice ORAL blending if your child struggles to sound out a 3-letter word like hat.
You can say, “Put these sounds together to make a word. /h/ /a/ /m/. What’s the word?” If your child cannot say HAM, then you need to build phonemic awareness before sounding out words.
Build phonemic awareness with our hands-on games!
Phonemic Awareness Games & Activities
Get your preschooler ready to read with this interactive set of phonemic awareness activities.
AFTER preschoolers are starting to sound out words, we can teach “sight words.”
When your child understands the concept of decoding words and is ready to read a simple decodable book, you’ll need to teach the high frequency words that are also included in that book.
For example, if your child is learning to sound out CVC words, the book’s text may look like this:
“The cat is big.”
To read the sentence, your child needs to know the high frequency words THE and IS.
THE is not a word your child can sound out; you will need to teach him/her to memorize the tricky parts. IS is not as tricky as you might think; just teach your child that the letter S has two sounds: /s/ and /z/, and in the word IS it makes the sound /z/.
What sight words should we teach preschoolers?
In general, I don’t think you should teach preschoolers to memorize words. However, it’s helpful to know a small set of words “by sight” so that your child can start to read decodable books.
Readsters recommends teaching these sight words to pre-readers:
HOW should we teach introduce sight words in preschool?
While flash cards can be helpful for review, that’s not how we should introduce sight words. I’ve got a whole post about how to teach sight words, and I recommend checking it out here.
Here’s a quick summary of my approach:
- Assuming your learner has phonemic awareness and letter-sound knowledge, you’re ready to begin. (Not sure about the phonemic awareness? Give this free assessment.)
- Name the new word, and have your learner repeat it.
- Name the individual phonemes (sounds) in the word. For example, in the word is, there are two phonemes: /i/ and /z/.
- Spell the sounds. Call attention to any unexpected spelling. In is, we spell /i/ with i and /z/ with s.
- If possible, have your learner read related words. Has and his are great words to read alongside is because they are short vowel words with an s that represents the the /z/ sound.
- Have your learner read connected text. Connected text can be decodable sentences or books.
I recommend my high frequency word lessons and books which can be used with kids as young as preschool.
You’re invited to check out the rest of this series!