What are sight words?
Simply put. Sight words are words we teach children to know by heart. The words we want them to recognize within 3-5 seconds. Why? Well, sight words are words that cannot be sounded out or decoded as they don't follow the general spelling or phonics rules that are taught to children when they are learning how to read.
When we start teaching kids to read we are essentially teaching kids how to solve a puzzle or crack a code. However, if you actually get down to the numbers of it all, roughly 50-70% of the English language doesn't follow these rules and are considered sight words.
So, because of our wonderfully hard language, children of all ages (and adults) must learn to recognize these words at first sight. Hence why they are called sight words.
Sight Words v.s High Frequency
High-frequency words are often taught alongside sight words, however, they are not the same thing. High-frequency words are words that are some of the most commonly used words in the English language that children are going to see over and over again. High-frequency words are just as important for kids to recognize and learn, but just remember they are not the same thing.
Is there a list?
Yes, in fact, there are two very commonly used lists by educators. The Dolch List, which is a list of roughly 300 words, and then the Fry Sight word list, which is an expansion comprised of around 1000 words. Both lists have a mix of sight words and high-frequency words. When educators create their sight word lists for their class they tend to pull from both of these popular lists.
What are some examples?
Below you will find a list pulled from both the Dolch and Fry list for the first grade. As you can see most of this list consists of high-frequency words instead of sight words, but is still overall considered a sight word list for the first grade. Most teachers expect students to master this list along with the kindergarten and pre-k list by the end of 1st grade.
First grade - add, after, again, air, also, America, animal, another, answer, any, around, ask, back, because, before, boy, change, different, does, end, even, every, fly, follow, food, form, found, give, going, great, hand, high, home, house, just, kind, know, land, large, learn, let, letter, line, live, man, mean, men, most, mother, move, much, must, name, need, near, off, old, only, once, open, over, page, picture, place, point, put, read, right, round, same, say, sentence, set, should, show, small, sound, spell, still, stop, study, such, take, tell, thank, things, think, through, too, try, turn, us, very, walk, want, well, why, work, world, year
When should I expose/teach my child to these words?
It's never too early to expose children to new things. Children learn through exploration, repetition, games, and more. However, when exposing your children and students, remember children learn at different rates, and language is a skill that will come to different children at different times as it is a developmental skill.
When exposing and teaching children to these words, remember to make sure that children can accurately and quickly recognize the firsts ones you teach before you rush off to complete a set number of words. Before you begin, keep in mind the child's age, motivation, memory skills, and where they are in their developmental stage. Some kids aren't ready to learn how to read or have no interest when they are 2-4.
So don't freak out if your student is ready to be taught. You can still expose them to words and sounds through play and in everyday activities.
This sight I have found very helpful, it has high-frequency words listed in order of how often we see the words. The site also includes both lists. - link here -