Which Sight Words Should We Teach First?

Have you seen this one? Can you understand what the author is saying?

“Aocdrndicg to rscheearch  at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. If you can raed tihs, psot it to yuor wlal. Olny 55% of plepoe can!”

Try this one.  Do you understand the meaning of the paragraph?

Research Cambridge University, doesn’t matter order letters word, important first last letter right place.  Human mind not read every letter, word whole. Read this, post wall.  55% people can.

How about this one? 

To at, it what the in a are, the is that the and be in the. This is the by, but the as a. If you can this, it to your. Only of!

What?  You don’t know what the Cambridge University research says by reading this?  Why not?  All the most common words in English text — which are the ones being taught as kindergarten sight words — are included above.  Why can’t you understand the paragraph by reading only these words?

When teaching children to read using sight words, educators start with the most commonly occurring words in written text.  Seems logical right?  Except, the most common words in text are all the connectors and words peripheral to the content of the story.  The third paragraph above shows you what it would look like to a child who could ONLY read the most common “sight” words he’s been taught.  It is… quite frankly, downright meaningless without the nouns, pronouns and verbs!  So, why don’t we teach our children the most common nouns, pronouns and verbs found in children’s story books as their primary sight words?  That way they’d actually be able to understand the meaning of the stories they’re reading!

At school, the teacher says my boys aren’t picking up the kindergarten sight words so well.  But they sight read almost all of the titles on their 100+ DVDs! NO, not the ones with pictures but those with the plain silver writing on silver discs. They know the sight of each specific combination of letters and words that symbolize each of the movies they love so well. They also read “Kohl’s” on the box of clothes I ordered for them this Winter.  So, for MY Boys anyway, if it actually means something exciting, if it has context in their lives, then they’re sight-word reading it!

I’m sure there’s tons of research behind teaching the most commonly occurring words first. And maybe typical kids are OK with learning to read those ho-hum sight words first.  But My Boys have Down syndrome and — whether that has anything to do with it or not — I promise you, they are not going to read a book full of it, the, at, an, and are.  I bet their teachers can’t even get them to focus on a single page to pick those oh-so-exciting words out of the text.  But if they know cow, fiddle, jump and moon, they might just read on!  To me, my theory is proven out by all the award-winning children’s books that skip most of those superfluous words and go right for the impact words like, “Brown Bear, Brown Bear. What do you see?  I see a red bird looking at me!” Take out do, a, and at and you can still enjoy the book.  Take out the nouns, pronouns and verbs and you’ve lost the fun of the story line. And, yes, adjectives certainly add fun and color, literally, so I plan on making the most common of these — for instance, colors — my secondary target sight words.

So that’s my strategy:  I plan on teaching My Boys the most commonly occurring nouns, pronouns and verbs found in their favorite books so they can decipher the characters, setting and plot.  This way, they’ll get interested in the story, in reading it themselves and will likely do so over and over again… with or without me.  Then they’ll start generalizing and pick these nouns, pronouns and verbs out in other books (with help from illustrations).  This is proven by the way they are able to pick their names out on their desk, backpack, lunch bags and homework folders. AND, by the way, while they’re at it, reading for content, they’ll likely pick up those “most common words in English text” like at, a, and the incidentally. 

I’m thinking my method has a greater chance at setting My Boys on a path to developing a lifelong love of reading!  What do you think?


About Maggie

I'm a stay-at-home mother of 3 children including a 15-year-old daughter, the Old Soul, and 11-year-old identical twin boys who've been blessed with an extra 21st chromosome (aka: Down Syndrome). I happily spend my time doing all that I can do -- breaking the proverbial box wide open -- to foster my children's development and then sharing what I learn with you through this blog.
This entry was posted in challenges, child development, Down syndrome, educating children with Down Syndrome, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Which Sight Words Should We Teach First?

  1. starrlife says:

    Great points Maggie- I loved reading that first phrase. I am a whole word reader and was prolific as a child. Even now I skim a lot rather like reading that first phrase . I totally and utterly agree!

  2. Sarah says:

    Interesting since we are working on site words right now. I just can’t get Mellow interested or to concentrate on them. I want to make reading fun for him.

    • Maggie says:

      I’m writing and making my own books out of photos (and a laminator) and using the key/most common words I want to teach. Similar to teaching sign language; choose the 10 words they need to communicate/to understand the content and teach those.

  3. Sherry C says:

    Great stuff .. my girl has a extra special chromosomes too perhaps super girl syndrome her’s is unique doesn’t really have a name. I love this post very helpful.

  4. Linda Sebek says:

    My son is 11 y/o. He reads by just recognising the words. I’m not sure is sight words exactly as he sometimes translate (he kows a little English execep our Swedish) and he changes the form of the word (like if it would say “could” he might say “can”. The only “program” he has had is regular phonicsprogram at school and reading a LOT OF BOOKS with his father and me. He has not learned to read phonetical (yet, not giving up on him), but by reading books he has learned the real important words – for him.

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