Learning to READ: Phonics vs. Sight Words


Learning how to read is a right of passage. It can be exciting and overwhelming at the same time. The English language is complex and depending upon when and how you learned how to read, you may have learned via the sight words only or the phonics only approach. Many moms, who are teaching reading for the first time, wondering which approach is best. The truth is that you need both to effectively learn how to read. Here is a comparison of phonics versus sight words.

What Are Sight Words?

Sight words are just what their name suggests. These are words that you learn to read by sight. You memorize the shape of the word, so you can instantly read it. There is no sounding out involved. It is simply a process of learning to recognize a word. Sight words are usually high-frequency words. For instance, stop, did, go, the, and me are all common sight words. There are two sight word lists commonly used for reading instruction, Fry’s Word List and Dolch Word List. However, any word can be a sight word. 

Why Sight Words Are Important?

Just like learning math facts, knowing sight words makes reading easier and more efficient. This also helps with comprehension. Sounding out each word can be cumbersome and make it difficult to comprehend what is being read. Knowing words by sight solidifies the reading skill. Also, words that are presented to students often and in a natural setting will automatically become sight words. 

What is Phonics?

The English language, like many languages, is based on an alphabetic system. We have a visual alphabet of 26 letters. Each of these letters makes a particular sound. In addition, combinations of letters make additional sounds. Phonics is basically the rules that govern the language. It may surprise you to hear that there are rules. Some people believe, or have been taught, that English is a language that can only be learned via sight words. However, that is completely untrue. While we do have many words that have been adopted from other languages. The vast majority of English words follow rules that can be taught and learned. 

Learning these rules teaches someone how to reach by being able to decode words sound by sound. 

Why Is Phonics Important?

Phonics are the foundations of spelling and reading. Knowing the rules means that you can read or spell virtually anything. A strong background in phonics makes strong readers. Phonics is essential for decoding new words. It is also important to understand how words work. The consistent practice of phonics will actually increase their sight word vocabulary.

Why Both Are Necessary

Reading is truly composed of both sight words and phonics. Learning only one stifles reading skills. Students who learn only by sight words will have a limited vocabulary because they are unable to decode new words. Those who learn only phonics and never learn how to recognize words by sight have lower comprehension skills and do not become fluent readers. Using a combination of both approaches gives students a solid foundation as well as room to grow. Also, different learning styles need more of an emphasis on one or the other. Focusing on only one method of reading, will not work for many learning styles. So a comprehensive, multi-sensory approach is the best way to teach reading.  If you’re looking for a fun, hands-on method of teaching your child to read, check out our R.E.A.D. Curriculum Notebook today!

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