Seeing is just as important as reading

The Importance of Sight Words

Reading is one of the most important skills a child will ever learn. To live a productive life one needs to be able to read, to be literate. In most schools, children are expected to be able to read simple sentences and stories by the end of first grade. By third grade, they are expected to be able to read almost any kind of text. As well as being able to “sound out” regularly spelled words, children must also master reading basic, common sight words.

Sight word acquisition is an important building block in the construction of a child’s ability to read. Once able to read all of the words on sight word lists, readers can access to up to 75% of what is printed in almost any piece of children’s literature. There are several proven techniques that can be used to teach sight words. The more one-on-one time a child has learning and practicing sight words, the greater the chances are to integrating them into long-term memory.

We start to talk before we can read, so hearing words, and getting familiar with their sounds, is obviously a critical part of learning a language. But in order to read, and especially in order to read quickly, our brains have to “see” words as well.

Maximilian Riesenhuber, a neuroscientist at Georgetown University Medical Center, found in an intriguing brain-mapping study published in the Journal of Neuroscience. The scientists recruited a small group of college students to learn a set of 150 nonsense words, and they imaged their brains before and after the training.

Before they learned the words, their brains registered them as a jumble of symbols. But after they were trained to give them a meaning, the words looked more like familiar words they used every day, like car, cat or apple.

The difference in way the brain treated the words involved “seeing” them rather than sounding them out. Instead of taking time to sound out each letter, the brain trains itself to recognize groups of letters it frequently sees together, c-a-r for example, and dedicates a set of neurons in a portion of the brain that activates when these letters appear.

Sight word recognition improves reading fluency and automaticity, allowing the reader to focus their efforts on the more mentally demanding task of reading comprehension.

Students become efficient and confident readers and their attention can now center on decoding words that carry meaning to the text. This allows students to focus their efforts on “reading to learn” rather than “learning to read.” As a result, their ability to verbally recall and organize information from text drastically improves. These students not only begin to develop reading comprehension skills, but also become more accurate, detailed, and organized when verbally recalling the information.

Teaching Sight Words with Games is a perfect opportunity to learn while at play.

Once children have had the opportunity to study new sight words, games are fun, hands on way to help strengthen their retention or even to learn new sight words. Board games are available in the market as well as games that are easy to create and can be modified based on the particular sight words a child is learning at the time.

  • WordoCard Played just like the game Bingo, but this version uses sight words instead of numbers on a grid.
  • Concentration Sight word concentration cards can easily be made using index cards. Simply write each word on two cards, shuffle and lay face down to play.
  • Word Searches Create word searches featuring sight words or use one of the many available on the Internet.
  • Go Fish Go fish cards can easily be made using index cards. Simply write each word on two cards, shuffle and deal to play.
  • Letter Magnet Spelling To reinforce sight word spelling, provide the child with a set of letter magnets and a metal surface. Call out sight words and ask the child to use the magnets to spell the word.
  • Wise Alec Junior There are 4 games in 1 box and each game helps support sight word “seeing” by using sight words with pictures.
  • Erudition Good game for kids who like flash cards.

Interested in more information about games for sight words? There are plenty of resources on the web, including,, and


About Reisa Schwartzman

Reisa Schwartzman is president of Griddly Games, and the designer of Oversight, an abstract stategy game. Griddly Games creates award-winning party and board games that deliver innovative, engaging fun that brings people together while encouraging social interaction, learning, strategy and challenges that anyone (the entire grid of people) can enjoy. To discover more about Griddly Games, visit

  4 comments for “Seeing is just as important as reading

  1. April 29, 2015 at 11:35 am

    ThinkFun also has a great Zingo that focuses just on sight words. Kids LOVE Zingo. It’s like bingo, but they have versions that work on all kinds of educational focuses: Math, time-telling, reading readiness, and sight words.

    • Patrick Matthews
      May 30, 2015 at 8:31 pm

      Great point! I’m a big fan of Zingo.

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