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How to Help Your Child Recognize Sight Words in Books

by Sarah K Major February 03, 2016

How to Help Your Child Recognize Sight Words in Books

The debate between teaching sight words or not teaching them

A vast number of children have a lot of troubles just recognizing high-frequency words. The reason this constitutes a serious problem is because Dolch Words or high-frequency words constitute a high percentage of the words children encounter in reading (for example, up to 88% of the text in Dr. Seuss books are Dolch words).

The debate about whether or not to emphasize sight word recognition rages on. Those who are against teaching sight words say that once children are expected to read a more advanced text, they will be out of luck. They will hit a wall and no longer be able to read. Those who favor teaching sight words to children believe that teaching high-frequency words will jump-start the reading process, especially for those who struggle to read.

I fall into the latter camp. But I don’t just believe in helping children memorize words and be able to call them on sight. Word calling is not really reading. Child1st has over 600 high-frequency words stylized for easy learning and recall. The images embedded in each sight word on the SnapWords® cards appeal to the right brainers among us while the plain word under the image is geared for the left hemisphere of the brain. Thus, the SnapWords® serve to “marry” the hemispheres in the brain, which makes learning easier for right-brained learners who benefit from multisensory approaches to learning.

The design of our SnapWords® emphasizes comprehension, correct usage, and word recognition. The image conveys both the name of the word and what it means. The sentence on the reverse of the card models how to use the word correctly within a sentence. In addition, the suggested body motion helps kinesthetic learners store away the words in a way that appeals to their learning style.

What if my child reads the stylized words, but cannot read the plain words?

This is a concern of some who see our stylized words and fear that the image will actually become a crutch to their children. I can understand this concern, and it is for this reason that I want to share some ideas for how to transition your child from reading stylized sight words to reading those same words without the pictures.

Show SnapWords and plain words side-by-side:

Provide many opportunities for your child to see both the stylized word and the plain word together. Each time the child selects a card, he should also say the word.

a. Play Match Up. Have your child select about 10-12 cards from the sight word list you are working on. Let her arrange them face up on the table or floor. Write those same words on plain index cards. Have your child lay those words out all mixed in with the SnapWords® cards. When you say, “On your mark, get set, GO” your child will pick up a stylized sight word and then quickly locate the plain card of the same word.

b. Play Memory. Using the same cards you used in the first game, shuffle the sets together and then lay the index cards face down on the table and the SnapWords® cards face up. Your child will select a SnapWords® sight word card and will try and guess which index card matches it. If the cards match, he will keep the pair. If the card does not match the SnapWords® card, have him put the index card back, face down. Have him then select another set. Play continues until he has found all the pairs.

c. Play Making Pairs. Use a pocket chart if you have one. Take the stylized sight word cards and arrange them in the pocket chart, or let your child do it. Then give her the stack of index cards. She will take the first plain word card and match it to the corresponding sight word card in the pocket chart. Just have her put the plain word in front of the matching stylized card. When she has finished, she can remove the index cards and shuffle them. She can then rearrange the SnapWords® cards in the pocket chart and repeat the game until she can get faster and faster at matching up the words.

Show SnapWords® and then show plain words

Provide many opportunities for your child to see first the stylized word and then the plain word. Each time the child selects a card, he should also say the word.

a. Play Weakest Link. Display a group of SnapWords® cards your child selects from the list of sight words you are working on.


SnapWords® sight words with pictures and movement


Talk about each word and then explain to your child that you are going to have as a goal that she be able to read all the words without even needing the pictures anymore. Explain to her that her brain will remember the images even after she’s not looking at the picture words any longer. As you say each word together, ask her to close her eyes and “see” the word in her mind. Next, let her point to each word and say it by herself. Finally, ask her to study the group of words. Which card would she say is the one she knows best of all? Let her turn over the word she has chosen and read the plain side.

SnapWords® sight words with pictures and movement

Now, quickly point to words in random order, including the plain word and let her tell you what they say. Continue until you have turned every card to the plain side and she can still read them. If she stumbles over a word, just turn it back to the stylized side to give her a bit more time to transition.


SnapWords® sight words with pictures and movement

b. Make short sentences using the stylized sight words. Make about 5-8 sentences and display them in a pocket chart. Some sentence ideas: “come down here,” or “play by me,” or “I can help,” or “he can make it” and so forth. (All these words are taken from our SnapWords™ List A). Give your child a pointer if you would like and ask him to read the sentences to you. When he seems very comfortable with reading each sentence, have him close his eyes. Turn over a card or two. Have him open his eyes and read to you again. This time, a couple of the words will be plain, but he should be just fine. If he has trouble, give him a brief look at the picture card side and then replace it in the pocket chart with the plain word showing. The goal of this game is to get all the words turned over and for him to still be able to read the phrases.

c. Match stylized phrases with plain ones. Using strips of index cards or stiff paper, write a short phrase on each strip, making sure you have the SnapWords® cards that match the phrases. Arrange the SnapWords™ cards you need face up on the table by the pocket chart. Give your child the first phrase strip. Have her find the picture cards she will need to form that phrase in the pocket chart. Have her place the words in the same order that they appear on the sentence strip. She will then get to read you the phrase she made. Let her place the sentence strip in front of the phrase made from picture word cards.


SnapWords® sight words with pictures and movement

Give her the next phrase strip and have her repeat the process. See if she can read you the plain phrases by the time she has placed all the phrases in the pocket chart. If she stumbles over a word, simply lift the plain phrase strip to let her peek at the stylized version underneath. Then replace the plain phrase strip.

d. Card Flip. A straightforward way to transition your child from stylized SnapWords® to plain words is simply to sit by your child and read the picture cards first. Next, turn the SnapWords® pack over so that the plain words are showing and see how many words your child recognizes on sight. These become HIS words and go in a stack of their own. The ones he does not recognize on sight will remain in another pile. Each day, before you read through the LEARN pack, review HIS words by having him read the plain sides. A nice prize is in order for learning all the words in a sight words list!

Provide many opportunities to practice sight words in real text

Provide many opportunities for your child to practice reading the sight words in a real text. Be sure to keep the stylized SnapWords® cards handy for a reference, though.

a. Our Easy-for-Me™ readers are specially designed to be used with SnapWords® sight words. The green set coordinates with SnapWords® List A words. Before you read each story with your child, check the mini lesson included at the beginning so you will know how to prepare your child to read the book. Set aside the sight words cards that will be used in the story. These should be available to your child and visible as she reads. If she comes to a word she seems to be hung up on, rather than letting her guess wrong, simply point to the SnapWords® card that shows the word she needs.

b. Use other books as well that contain the words he is working on. Select books from the library that have text that are sight word rich.

c. Use our Sight Words in Sentences book. This book is designed especially to give your child practice reading high-frequency words as she learns them. See a sample here: Again, as she reads, be sure and have the SnapWords® cards displayed for each of the words. If she runs into trouble, simply point to the word in the pocket chart that she needs in order to read her sentence.

Basically, I want to encourage you to let your child rely totally on the images as he is learning the words but remember, the goal is to get the child to the back of the cards to read the plain word as soon as possible. If you encourage him to practice visualization, this will also help. By this I mean, have him take a good look at the SnapWords® image, and then close his eyes and see it in his mind to where he can describe what he is seeing to you. Then have him look at the back of the card to read the plain word. Subsequently, if he comes to a word he's visualized, don't make him wait too long to give him a hint of what the word is, but do try asking him if he can remember the picture that went with that word.

Sarah K Major
Sarah K Major


Sarah's absolute belief in every child’s ability to learn, and her passion to empower the child by supporting his/her own unique giftedness have fueled her life’s work and provided a new pathway for children to succeed academically.