What Are Sight Words?

By The Understood Team
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At a Glance

  • Sight words are common words kids have to 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 sound out these words. They recognize them by sight.

Mastering a sight word means no longer having to blend its letter-sounds together or think about spelling rules. Readers recognize the word automatically. Building up a large base of sight words helps kids become faster, more fluent readers.

Sight words appear so often in early reading material that some schools call them 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.)  

Some words that kids see all the time are easier to sound out because they follow the rules of phonics. Examples include 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.” Some schools use the term trick words to describe sight words that have irregular spellings.

Each year grade-schoolers are expected to recognize more and more words by sight. Some teachers use color-coded lists to show which sight words can be sounded out. Words that follow spelling rules might be in green. Tricky words might be in red.

Schools set their own rules about which words kids need to know by which grade level. Here are some common examples of sight words kids are expected to learn in different grades:

  • 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  

Is your child struggling with sight words? Explore conversation starters to use with your child’s teacher. And keep in mind that having trouble with reading doesn’t mean your child isn’t smart. Some kids need extra support to make progress.

Key Takeaways

  • Each year grade-schoolers are expected to recognize more and more sight words.

  • Some schools use the term trick words to describe sight words with irregular spellings.

  • There are ways to help struggling readers get better at recognizing sight words.

About the Author

About the Author

The Understood Team 

is made up of passionate writers, editors, and community moderators. Many of them learn and think differently, or have kids who do.

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.

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