Why Are Sight Words So Difficult?

Sight words are critical to reading success because they frequently appear throughout a text.  Fifty percent of all reading texts are made up of the same 100 words. 


Sight words are words that need to be recognized by sight.  Most sight words are not decodable, so they cannot be sounded out.  This makes them difficult to learn, because sight words don’t often follow phonetic rules.  During the early stages of reading, children can use picture clues to figure out what some words say.   Difficulty often occurs when the text no longer contains pictures.  Sight words are abstract without much meaning, so children cannot form mental images related to the words. Since mental images are not formed, remembering sight words can be difficult.   Therefore, sight words need to be explicitly taught.  


Repetition is key to learning sight words.  It typically takes a child up to 42 times of seeing and interacting with a sight word to convert it to memory.  A child needs multiple opportunities to read, write, and interact with sight words. 


Sight words can be taught through:


  • A hands on approach: 

    • Build words using magnetic letters.

    • Build words using felt letters on a felt board.

    • Trace words with pointer and middle fingers together while saying each letter.

    • Use connecting blocks to build words.

    • Build the words using small pieces of paper and glue.


  • Sight word games:

    • Bingo

    • Memory

    • I Have, Who Has

    • Hangman

    • Chutes and Ladders

    • Word Search

    • Write Around the Room:  place sight words around the room for children to find and write down.


  • Multisensory approach:


  • Trace, Copy, Cover, Avert:


  • Trace:  The child traces the sight word 3xs while saying the letters in the word and then the word.

    • “t-h-e spells the” (3xs)


  • Copy:  Copy the sight word 3xs while saying the letters and then word:

    • “t-h-e  spells the” (3xs)


  • Cover: Cover the word as the child writes and spells 3xs without seeing their traced and copied word.


  • Avert:  Have child look away while saying the letters in each word as he/she write it.

    • “t-h-e spells the” 3xs


Half of the words in a text will be known once sight words are mastered.  This gives a child the opportunity to focus on decoding more complex words, and putting forth effort into comprehending the text. 


Sight Word List Most Commonly Used:


Dolch List:



Fry List:



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abarbosa@readingresultstutoring.com                914-213-9530