Phonics Vs Sight Words

As a child, I remember being taught that there are always two sides to every argument. The debate about which is the best way to teach children to read is no exception. Is it better to teach children through phonics or through sight words?

What is Phonics?

Briefly, phonics is the method of teaching children to read which focuses on the individual sounds of letters, or groups of letters, and blending them together. Words are broken down and sounded out (decoded) and then blended together to reveal what the word says.
Using phonics to teach reading

What are Sight Words?

Sight words are the basis of the whole-word approach in which readers are encouraged to recognise the whole word rather than breaking down the individual sounds of each letter within the word.

As with most arguments, there are pros and cons for using phonics/sight words. Some people believe that phonics is better while others hold that sight words are the way to go. Both sides are able to give numerous arguments, facts, reasons and research to back up their arguments.

This is all very well but if you’re a parent asking which method is best, and reading all the documentation. The argument about phonics verses sight words can become a bit of a hassle.

Best of Both Worlds – Phonics and Sight Words

As both of my boys are in the process of learning to read, I can share from my experience what works well for us. This is also the method I’ve used for years with children I’ve taught.

In essence, I use a combination of the two – phonics and sight words. In this way, the best of both worlds can be utilised.

Phonics enables children to:

  • learn many words at one time such as word families (e.g., top, pop, mop, bop, etc.)
  • develop strategies for sounding out unfamiliar words
  • develop spelling skills quickly.

Sight words gets children:

  • up and reading quickly especially in regards to frequently used words such as ‘is’ and ‘the’. This boasts children’s self-esteem and confidence as they can see they are reading all by themselves. In turn, the increased self-confidence helps children in the reading process
  • to recognise words that have irregular spellings and which can’t be decoded using phonics.

In truth, reading actually involves both phonics and sight words. Once a word has been decoded (using phonics) and has been encountered a number of times, it eventually becomes a sight word (a word that is instantly recognised as a whole word rather than one which needs to be decoded before being read).

There are numerous phonics programmes available on the market today. Both my boys use Reading Eggs and have, on the most part, enjoyed the process. Reading Eggs is a computer based programme so children do need to be familiar with how to use a mouse (the type attached to the computer not the ones which squeak and eat cheese!).

We also play games with sight words. These are often home-made and are easy to do, such as Sight Word Bingo. The key is to make the games fun. Yes, there are times when learning is more like hard-work than fun – but we do try to make it as fun as possible.

I realise that what I have described above is a simplified model but it is one that works well for us – i.e., using a combination of sight words and phonics.

Perhaps this article hasn’t answered all your questions in regards to the argument of phonics vs sight words. However, hopefully the option of using the best of both methods has given you food for thought.

Above all, I hope that you are able to relax with your child and enjoy the reading process by engaging in books which capture your child’s imagination and interest. Have fun!

Take a look at our Sight Word Games.