There are many names that get thrown around for this: sight words, tricky words, high-frequency words, What does this all mean?
We tend to think that these are words that don't follow the rules and are hard to decode, so we ask students to memorize them. The problem with that is there are a lot of words that look very similar. For example, went, want, and what all start with a 'w' and end in a 't'. Students are going to start doing a lot of guessing. This is one reason that sometimes it seems that a reader knows the word on one page, but completely misses it on the next. They made a lucky guess!
Let's think about sight words as any word that you can't not read. You are reading these words instantly. But if I were to show you a medical journal--you may need to stop and decode words. We eventually want all words to be recognized instantly. The way to do this is to focus on the sounds that the letters represent.
There is a list of words referred to as high-frequency words. These are words organized by the frequency of use in the English language. The most common words are words like 'the', 'a', 'is', 'of', 'and', 'he', 'she', 'said'. (There are lists called Fry Words and Dolch Words--at Wildwood we use the Fry list of words in assessments;
Link to the 1st 100 Words
Link to the 2nd 100 words
Instead of just flashing words at students and asking them to memorize words, we should pay attention to the sounds (phonemes) in the words and connect them to the letters (graphemes). Remember the Sound Wall? It can come in very handy for words.
Important Note: Before students can learn words, they must have a proficient grasp of the alphabetic principle. They need to know their letters and sounds and understand the connection between the two. Imagine if your child didn't know the letters or that those letters represent sounds? S/he would struggle a lot with reading any type of word. To help your child learn the letters and sounds, go to that section on the website. (Coming Soon--keep checking back.)
When students are first learning these high-frequency words, a great way to start making them stick is to write down 3-5 words on index cards. Lay them down in front of your child. Say one of the words and have your child say each sound. For example, if you have the words is, did, have, want, and play--say the word 'did'. Your child should say each sound in that word, "/d/ /i/ d/". Then your child points to the word that has those sounds in that order. (If your child has trouble saying each sound, then phonemic awareness is an area that needs to be strengthened. There will be a post on that soon.)
There are some words, that we refer to as Heart Words. These are words that mostly follow the rules, but have one part that needs to be memorized or practiced multiple times. SAID is a great example. The word SAID has 3 sounds-- /s/ /e/ /d/. The first and last sounds are regular. The middle sound is irregular. The 'AI' doesn't usually make the short e sound. That is the part that we need to learn by heart. Here is a great video to demonstrate what I am writing about. Check out this site for more Heart Word Videos.
Here are some links to activities that can support your child's sight word learning. Just remember to really pay attention to the sounds in the words. Don't expect students to just memorize the words. (They should be able to read and WRITE these words--so practicing spelling will help a ton to make these words stick!)
Sight Word Games
High-Frequency Online Games
Measured Mom--10 Ways to Teach Sight Words
Measured Mom--Sight Word Readers