Have you been following along with our sight word series? We’ve talked about what sight words are, how to teach them, and why it’s important to integrate sight word teaching with phonics. Today we’ll tackle kindergarten sight words.
Many schools require kindergarten teachers to teach a long list of sight words to their kindergartners.
Unfortunately, lists of kindergarten sight words are often problematic.
To understand why, we need to remember WHAT sight words are and HOW we learn to read them.
A quick review … what are sight words?
Even though I use the term “sight words” throughout this series to refer to high frequency words that children need to learn, it’s important to remember the true definition.
A sight word is a word that is instantly and effortlessly recalled from memory, regardless of whether it is phonically regular or irregular. A sight-word vocabulary refers to the pool of words a student can effortless recognize.David A. Kilpatrick, PhD
Our goal, then, is to turn high frequency words (words that appear often in print) INTO sight words – words our students recognize automatically without needing to sound out or guess.
Why memorizing sight words isn’t a good long term strategy
While we may teach our students to memorize a handful of words to get them going, our goal is NOT to teach our students to memorize sight words as wholes.
They can only do this for so long – the brain is not able to memorize an unending number of words, because that’s not how the brain learns to read.
We learn to read by matching the sounds to the letters (sounding out words). When we do this enough times, we orthographically map the word into our brains so that when we see it in the future, we recognize it automatically.
We cannot orthographically map words unless we pay attention to the letters and their sounds.
Conclusion = teach sight words by calling attention to their letters and sounds. Learn more in this post: How to teach sight words.
How to choose kindergarten sight words
If I could banish the Dolch grade level sight word lists, I would!
While I do think that the Dolch and Fry word lists are helpful because they give us the most common high frequency words, the grade level lists are just ridiculous.
(Case in point: the CVC words cut and got are on the third grade list. Huh??)
So let’s just agree that the Dolch kindergarten list is not any kind of authority for choosing kindergarten sight words.
Instead, you need to consider two things when choosing your sight words:
- Choose high frequency words that are decodable, and teach them when you teach the corresponding phonics skill.
- Choose high frequency words that students will encounter in their decodable books.
Decodable sight words for kindergarten
When I look at my own scope and sequence for teaching phonics skills, I consider the following to be appropriate phonics skills to teach in kindergarten. (Depending on the setting, teachers may not have time to address the later skills in this list.)
- VC words (if, it, etc.)
- CVC words (can, bat, etc.)
- Words with beginning and ending digraphs (th, sh, ch, etc.)
- Words with beginning blends (fr, st, sl, etc.)
- Words with ending blends (-st, -mp, etc.)
- Words that end with -ng and -nk
- The -ild, -old, -ind, -olt and -ost word families
- Open syllable one-syllable words (he, she, be, etc.)
Knowing that, let’s look at words from the Dolch and Fry lists that fit these patterns. You can teach these words WITHIN your phonics lessons.
While you WILL need to teach some of these words before you teach the phonics skill (so kids can read their decodable books), most of the following words should not be taught as whole words to memorize.
VC and CVC high frequency words
*Teach your students that “s” can represent the /z/ sound.
**Technically not CVC, but students easily learn that two identical letters in a row represent a single sound.
High frequency words with digraphs
High frequency words with blends
High frequency words that end with -ng or -nk
High frequency words in the -ind, -old, and -ost families
High frequency open syllable words
WOW! That’s a LOT of words that we can teach right within our phonics lessons … no memorization necessary!
And yet … you SHOULD teach some of these words before you get to their appropriate phonics lesson. For example, kids will obviously need to read “a” and “I” from the very beginning.
Other decodable high frequency words that you will probably want to teach early on include and, go, he, she, and we.
I also don’t want to give the impression that practice isn’t incorporate. Kids need to read these words over and over again to orthographically map them.
I recommend using editable reading word games so you can type in the words you want your students to practice.
Check out our editable reading games!
Editable Reading Games for Every Season – MEGA PACK!
You’ll get a variety of editable games for every season. Just type in the words you want your students to practice, and print!
What about irregular kindergarten sight words?
There are a fair number of high frequency words that we can’t sound out (or at least we can’t sound out all the parts).
Which ones should we teach in kindergarten?
This is a tough call. There is NO perfect list.
My recommendation is to teach the words kids are most likely to encounter in the decodable books they’re reading within their phonics lessons and for reading practice.
(Notice:I did NOT say “the words they are encountering in their leveled books. If you are using leveled books in kindergarten, I get it. I did this in first grade for years. But now I understand the problem with this approach. Check out my podcast, Should you use leveled or decodable books? for more information.)
A possible kindergarten list of irregular high frequency words
- is (technically not irregular, because “s” often represents /z/)
- has (technically not irregular, because “s” often represents /z/)
Well, look at that! That list looks pretty manageable. It’s not complete – students need to learn decodable high frequency words as well – but when you have a systematic approach to phonics instruction, they’ll be learning those words as you go.
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