What are sight words?

By Julie Rawe

Expert reviewed by Ginny Osewalt

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

About the author

About the author

Julie Rawe is the special projects editor at Understood.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Ginny Osewalt is a dually certified elementary and special education teacher with more than 15 years of experience in general education, inclusion, resource room, and self-contained settings.


Explore related topics