Sight Words vs. Phonics — Which is Better for Your Child?
The simple answer is PHONICS. But let me tell you why.
I will tell you what I have observed in the last 43 years of teaching. The “sight reading” method works for a very small population, mainly children that have incredible memories.
The last time I looked up this number on Google, there were 171,146 words in the English language, a number that comes from the Oxford English Dictionary. That is a lot of words. It would take a very long time to memorize that many words. I am thankful we don’t need to.
You may have heard of this technique as “sight words” or the “sight method”. Here is where young children are encouraged to memorize a list of words by SIGHT so that they can recognize them in print.
However, for students who don’t have a strong memory, they cannot remember the words later on, and so this will not work for them. Not only that, but this method of teaching full words by sight does not give the student any language fundamentals, so I don’t recommend it.
I’ve seen many of these struggling readers. They come in with their word lists that they’re supposed to memorize, but they’re so intimidated with it. It can be overwhelming for them. They have no basis or orientation, no familiarity with these words. To them, it’s a just a random list of words.
I knew we needed a remedy for this since the very beginning of my tutoring career. I was inspired by the book, “Why Johnny Can’t Read”, written by Rudolf Flesch after he tutored a sixth-grader who couldn’t read. This became a bestseller, and in it, he blasts the American education system for failing to teach phonics. It’s available on Amazon.
With the sight method, expecting students to learn to read by memorizing words, you might get a result. Until the student is confronted with words they haven’t memorized. Then the student hits a wall or is left confused.
With phonics, you are going to get a result 100% of the time. The reason is clear. You are breaking the language down into its sounds, then having the student put those sounds together to make words. Kids need to learn to hear the individual sounds that make up words.
It is honestly the correct and most efficient way to teach someone how to read. So, dry those tears from those word lists, and get your child learning phonics.
Why Is Teaching Phonics Important?
Phonics gives a child the necessary tools to build a foundation that they can build on from there on out. The child can learn minimal sounds and build many more words from those sounds. Memorizing full words (as is done with sight reading) does not provide that.
In my tutoring center, many students have come in who are “choppy” when they read. They are not natural or fluid. Why? Because they do not have the basics of phonics, which means that much of the time they are guessing what the word is. They see the beginning of the word and just hope they get the rest correct!
Most of these readers are not relaxed but instead are anxious when they read, because they are guessing—and they know it.
Phonics to Reading
What is “phonics”? By phonics, we simply mean the SOUNDS of words. The word “phonics” comes from the Greek word “phonetikos” which meant “vocal” or “to speak”.
When we teach using phonics, we’re teaching students the sounds of the language. We teach them how to blend the sounds together in order to make words. In other words, with phonics, they are learning to read and pronounce words. It is as simple as that.
Using a phonics method to teach reading wins hands down over the “sight reading” method—as the student will get the basics, as well as many tools on how to make words.
So, before entering your child into a school or reading program, please make sure you pick a curriculum that teaches phonics in kindergarten and first grade. That way, your child will be getting the correct approach to success in reading.
How To Teach Your Child to Read
When I teach a young beginner how to read, I first teach the 5 SHORT VOWELS (a, u, i, o, e) and then I teach them 1 consonant blended into those vowels.
This gives the student fluidity from the very beginning. This is the first gradient. Once they are comfortable and confident with that, I add more consonants, more blending, more words, and then sentences. It takes no time before they are reading their first book!
There is no stress for the child with this method. Each step builds on the previous step and they are confident before moving onto their next phase.
Case Study – How Sight Reading Was Too Hard for a 5-Year-Old
As a private tutor, I get many students who have difficulty learning in certain subjects. The most common problem I see when students are struggling with reading is that their school has decided to teach reading by giving them lists of words. They are supposed to memorize these lists weekly, and that is supposed to be “teaching reading”.
While this method may work on a certain percentage of students, there is a bigger percentage that it will not work on at all. This is the student who came to me.
She was a cute 5-year-old, in kindergarten. She was very charming, had incredible social skills, and could carry on a very mature conversation. She was very animated and interested in things… until you asked her to read.
Then she just sank into a “dark place” and lost all of her confidence. At school, she had experienced no success memorizing words on a page and she felt bad about it. When I began working with her, I had to give her a little “pep talk” about the program I was about to start her on. I guaranteed her it would not be too hard. She had had enough of “hard”.
I taught her the basics with phonics. And she did an amazing job. She was no longer worried about “remembering” the sight words, but was instead able to recognize and say the letters, blend them to make words, and then read sentences.
Children will gain self-confidence when you teach them the fundamentals, so they don’t have to rely on their memory.
She had a lot personal wins with this approach and began to realize that she could read after all! She completed all 25 lessons and 25 books that make up our “Little Tiger Reading Program”. Phonics gave her the correct information on the correct gradient.
It is amazing to observe how her confidence, in herself and academically, increased dramatically. She is now a willing student.
Teaching Phonics at Home
With our “How to Teach Your Child to Read” course, you can teach this way yourself, in the comfort of your home. This program breaks down the language into simple “chunks”, and makes it easy and fun to teach. The best part is that it is so simple, anyone can use it to teach their child to read, without having prior teaching experience.
Founder, Little Tiger Reading Program
P.S. Do you have a child who is ready to learn OR is struggling with reading? Check out my course on “How to Teach Your Child to Read”