The Dynamic Duo: Phonics and Sight Words
Over the past decade educators and experts have analyzed various methods used to teach reading. Today most teachers and reading experts recommend an approach that contains five essential elements. Phonics and word study are one of the five key areas of reading instruction. This area focuses on decoding with phonics and recognition of irregular words (sight words). While these skills alone will not result in a great reader, they are the necessary building blocks. These two approaches complement each other and are usually developed on parallel tracks during the learn to read years, e.g., beginning in pre-school or kindergarten and continuing through 3rd grade.
The goal of frequent interaction with sight words, sometimes referred to as high frequency or irregular words, is to enable beginning readers to recognize certain high frequency and common phonetically irregular words instantaneously. Instant recognition of the most common words increases reading speed and fluency, while providing the confidence to successfully develop other reading skills. As noted by the National Institute for Literacy, “having a bank of sight words releases a reader’s attention needed for comprehension and for figuring out more difficult and less frequent words.”
Phonics, also known as word analysis or decoding, is the process of using letter patterns to figure out (decode) unfamiliar words. Phonics focuses on teaching beginner readers specific letters and recurring patterns and their related sounds to foster quick and accurate recognition of less familiar words. As readers progress in their phonic skills, they learn the meanings and spellings of prefixes, root words, and suffixes. While phonics instruction promotes recognition of unfamiliar words, it is also “effective in helping beginning readers learn to read with understanding.” (National Institute for Literacy).