Webinar Script

Slide 1: Welcome to the seventh webinar in the series on helping teach reading. My name is Aimee Howley, Professor Emerita from Ohio University.

Slide 2: This webinar talks about teaching sight words. The practice of teaching sight words is different from the practice of teaching reading primarily by sight. All students seem to benefit from learning sight words. And for some students, explicit instruction to help them learn sight words can be especially helpful.

Slide 3: Reading instruction based on the idea that sight-word learning can replace phonetic decoding was once advocated. In the 1950s and 1960s, this approach was called the “look-say” method. Critics of the “look-say” approach, however, pointed out weaknesses with this method. Relying only on visual memory as a strategy for word identification, the “look-say” method keeps students from using another powerful strategy—phonetic decoding.

Slide 4: When students are able to decode words phonetically, they are able to cope with unfamiliar words. And progress in reading depends on figuring out unfamiliar words.

Slide 5: Eventually, just by seeing the same words over and over again, students do learn them by sight. For example, do you need to sound out the following words when you see them in a magazine or newspaper: “man,” “phone,” “president,” “climate?” Probably not…over the years, you have encountered those words again and again.

Slide 6: There are probably other words, however, that even as an adult reader you may need to sound out. For example, when you decide to take a generic medicine rather than a brand-name medicine, you may find it helpful to be able to pronounce its generic name. If you are used to calling a medicine “Tylenol,” for instance, you may need to sound out the word “Acetaminophen” before asking for it by name at the drug store.

Slide 7: Learning to read some words by sight is also necessary because certain words occur so frequently that stopping to sound them out is too distracting. Words like “the,” “and,” “that,” “when,” and “it” fall into this category.

Slide 8: Other words are best learned by sight because their spelling makes them difficult to sound out. Consider the following examples: “said,” “issue,” “sugar,” “cough,” and “floor.”

Slide 9: Also, some students find learning to read easier if they start off their learning by memorizing what words look like

Slide 10: Students with significant cognitive impairments or autism may have a hard time understanding the sound-symbol connection. For these students, learning to recognize what words look like can provide an entry-point into the reading process. Perhaps their teachers will design lessons that help these students start off by learning common, functional words. This approach is the same one that parents use when they point out common signs to children as they travel through the neighborhood. Many students learn to read “stop,” “men,” “post office,” and “Kroger” before they begin to read simple stories at school.

Slide 11: English language learners may also benefit from learning sight words, particularly when they have a chance to learn the meaning of those words at the same time they are learning to recognize them. For example, sight words like “oil,” “time,” and “write,” might be taught by matching the written word with a picture as well as with the pronunciation of the word.

Slide 12: Many sight words are difficult to define, however. So English language learners need to hear them used again and again in order to figure out their meanings. Words like “the,” “a,” “at,” “that,” and “if” are hard to define precisely. If there is a comparable word in the student’s first language, sharing the translation with him or her might be the easiest way to communicate the meaning and appropriate use of the word.

Slide 13: Of course, not all languages have comparable words to those used in English. For example, some languages do not use articles such as “the” and “a” in front of nouns.

Slide 14: Because practice with sight words can help students master these words, teachers often ask paraprofessionals to help students learn sight words by quizzing them with flash cards or word lists.

Slide 15: Teachers and paraprofessionals can develop a variety of games to make sight-word drill more interesting. For example, sight word bingo is a game that many educators use. Some websites also provide interactive games that can help students learn sight words.

Slide 16: Even when the primary focus is on helping students memorize sight words, teachers and paraprofessionals should always try to connect the words to their meanings. For example, once the student says or points to a sight word, the educator can repeat the word and use it in a sentence or ask the student to use it in a sentence.

Slide 17: Or if sight words are being used with students who need a lot of reinforcement, educators can ask the students to draw pictures depicting the meanings of the words.

Slide 18: Some educators also use word walls to remind students of new sight words they are learning and to help them spell new words when they use those words in their writing. Word banks for individual students can be used in similar ways.

Slide 19: Whatever methods are used for teaching sight vocabulary, it’s important to ensure that students experience success with most of the words. If students begin to make mistakes, therefore, the teacher or paraprofessional should back up to an easier set of words.

Slide 20: For some students, the IEP team may determine that the learning of sight words (and other academic skills) needs to be reinforced with extrinsic motivators, such as praise, a treat, or other type of reward. In these cases, it’s important for students to work with words that are easy enough to allow for mastery but hard enough to present a challenge. Many of the interactive sight word games that you can find on the Internet provide graphic cues that some students find reinforcing. For example, in one game the student’s successful recognition of a sight word makes an imaginary character light-up purple and dance around while an error makes the imaginary character turn grey and explode in a puff of smoke.