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What are sight words?

By Julie Rawe

At a Glance

  • Sight words are common words that kids recognize instantly without sounding them out.

  • Recognizing words by sight helps kids become faster, more fluent readers.

  • Many sight words are tricky to read and spell — they aren’t spelled the way they sound.

Sight words are common words that schools expect kids to recognize instantly. Words like the, it, and and appear so often that beginning readers reach the point where they no longer need to try to sound out these words. They recognize them by sight.

Building up a large base of sight words helps kids become faster, more fluent readers. When kids master a sight word, they no longer have to pause to blend its letter-sounds together. And they don’t have to think about spelling rules. 

Some schools call sight words high-frequency words. Other terms for sight words include star words, core words, and popcorn words. Why popcorn? Because these words “pop up” so frequently in reading and writing. 

Learn more about reading fluency and why it’s important. 

Dive deeper

Some sight words don’t follow spelling rules

Kids can sound out many words they see all the time because those words follow the rules of phonics, such as in, hat, and bed

But some words don’t sound like they’re spelled — words like of, to, and was. If kids sounded them out, they might pronounce them “off,” “toe,” and “wass.” Or if they tried to spell them, they might guess “uv,” “too,” and “wuz.” Since these words don’t follow the rules, kids need to learn to recognize them automatically. 

Sometimes sight word lists are color-coded to show which ones can be sounded out. Words that follow spelling rules might be in green. Tricky words with irregular spellings might be in red. 

Learn how phonics can help kids with reading and spelling.

Examples of sight words by grade level

Each year grade-schoolers are expected to recognize more and more words by sight. Schools set their own rules about which words kids need to know by which grade level.

Here are examples of the sight words kids learn in each grade: 

  • Kindergarten: be, but, do, have, he, she, they, was, what, with

  • First grade: after, again, could, from, had, her, his, of, then, when

  • Second grade: around, because, been, before, does, don’t, goes, right, which, write

  • Third grade: better, carry, eight, laugh, light, myself, only, own, shall, together

  • Fourth grade: area, body, certain, complete, measure, notice, piece, questions, unit, usually

  • Fifth grade: among, course, equation, language, machine, minutes, produce, quickly, shown, special

Learn about other reading and spelling skills kids are expected to learn at different ages.

Teaching strategies for educators

Sight words need to be explicitly taught. And students need repeated practice with sight words to build their sight words base. This is especially true for words with irregular spellings that students need to memorize.

Learn about evidence-based strategies for:

How to help at home

Having trouble with reading and spelling doesn’t mean kids aren’t smart. Some kids need extra support to make progress, especially with sight words.

Families can help by creating a space to display the words kids have mastered. They can also make picture cards with illustrations on one side and sight words on the other.

Explore other ways families can help with sight words:

Related topics

Reading and writing

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom