Before talking about sight words, I want to mention that reading aloud to students for fun is the very best thing you can do while you are also teaching the reading skills from this program. As I'm sure you already know, reading aloud to students is an essential part of any reading program, at all levels. It builds comprehension skills and vocabulary, and because it's so enjoyable, fosters excitement about reading. After I talk about sight words, I'll will explain some ways you can integrate reading aloud with the instruction at Levels 1 and 2.
I want to discuss sight words very thoroughly because I know most programs do teach many sight words at the earliest levels. I can hopefully reassure anyone that is using the Sound City Reading program that because I don't teach sight words in that way, your students will learn many more sight words, even faster, with far less difficulty, in the long run.
Most sight word lists include a selection of the most common words, both phonetic and non-phonetic. For example, the first list of Dolch sight words includes the phonetic words: and, we, in, go. It also includes these words that have phonetic elements that are not pronounced in the expected way: said, the, two, where.
In the Sound City Reading program, the term "sight words" refers only to "rule-breaker" words that cannot be read phonetically. It does not apply to words that can be read phonetically, even if they are among the most common words. For example, the words in, we, and go, are very common, but they can be taught phonetically, so they are not considered sight words.
As I put the sound city reading program together, I used a list of the one thousand most common words to help me choose which words to teach. So although there are relatively few non-phonetic sight words listed in the program, a large number of the phonetic words taught are taken from the list of the first thousand words.
At Levels 1 and 2, students are not specifically taught to read words, either phonetic words or irregular non-phonetic words. (That doesn't mean that your son won't naturally begin to recognize some of the words that he sees.) However, there is much "learning to read" that is going on during this period. Levels 1 and 2 teach the necessary sub-skills that are required for successful reading and writing. This includes letter recognition and letter/sound association, beginning handwriting-which not only reinforces letter recognition and sounds but also prepares students for spelling, and phonological awareness exercises (oral blending, segmenting, rhyming). The lessons develop an understanding that words are made of individual sounds that are represented, in order, by a series of sound symbols/letters. While some students are able to develop these skills instinctively, other students need lots of practice to develop them. So the skills are taught throughout the books, built into the daily lessons, so that both types of students are able to master them.
At Level 1, there are eight lessons read aloud by the teacher to convey a basic understanding of how print works, how words are arranged on a page, and why the letters in words are arranged the way they are. During this process, students are exposed to a number of printed words. Students study lists of illustrated words with the teacher a Level 1 and Level 2 to help them understand beginning and ending sounds in words. Although students are not yet expected to be able to read the words, students may be able to recognize some of them after this initial exposure.
At Level 2 (and Level 1 if desired), students learn to spell words with plastic letters. This allows students to learn to spell phonetically while they are still mastering handwriting skills. Spelling words with plastic letters requires students to listen carefully to the sounds in each word so that they can place the letters accordingly. Learning to analyze words in this way helps students to "crack the code," so that learning to read and spell words phonetically will make sense to them.
At Level 3, students learn to read and write phonetic short vowel words. Students are also taught these sight words: a, A, as, has, was, is, his, I. The sight words are taught as exceptions to the rules. For example, in the Rhyming Short Vowel Words And Sentences book, first, students learn to read short a words. Then they are taught that in the words a, A, and was, the letter a is pronounced as the short u sound. Since they can already read short a words, learning these words as sight words, as rule breakers, will make sense. As another example, when studying the sight words as and has, students learn that in some words the letter s is pronounced as the /z/ sound.
Learning a few sight words is very useful at the short vowel level because it allows students to begin reading and writing sentences. Students learn to read one word after another, going from left to right, putting the words together so that they convey meaning. Lots of practice helps them develop a rhythm to their reading so that it sounds like normal speaking.
Most programs, even phonetic ones, teach a lot of sight words at the short vowel level so that students can begin reading easy stories. In these programs, many sight words are integrated with the short vowel instruction. This is not how the Sound City Reading short vowel materials are set up. The focus is on mastering decoding and spelling skills with short vowel words and developing the ability to read sentences. This prepares students to make rapid progress at the next level, which teaches the various phonics patterns.
Why have I set up the first three levels in Sound City Reading in this way? It is because some students are able to pick up sight words fairly easily, while others find it difficult, and others find it nearly impossible. Many students get discouraged from the very beginning, becoming so anxious that they are unable to focus and learn. They fall behind quickly and never catch up. It is not fair to these students to teach this way, when they could be taught the same words phonetically with far better results.
For example, in one basal reader program that I worked with, the words out, about, around, found, and a number of other ou words were taught throughout the year as sight words, starting at the short vowel level. During this time, students were not told that the ou pattern shows the ou/ouch sound, so they had to memorize all of the words. The ou/ouch pattern was not taught until the end of the school year.
This is my reasoning. Once students have become confident reading and spelling short vowel words, they can then learn to read and spell words with various phonetic patterns relatively quickly. Instead of spending a lot of time drilling sight words such as see, look, out, and funny at the short vowel level, why not wait until the phonics patterns level and introduce the patterns in those words, ee, oo, ou, and _y as soon as possible. It's much easier to teach see, feet, need, keep, and heel as a group of words, phonetically, than it is to teach see as an individual sight word, without teaching the ee sound. Using the phonetic approach makes more sense to the students. It builds confidence and paves the way for rapid progress. Students are able to learn a large number of words in a short amount of time.
After starting Level 4, Phonics Patterns, students study one new phonetic pattern each day. This fast pace is possible because they have already learned all of the necessary skills in the previous levels. This works well, allowing students to begin reading real books as soon as possible. The same lesson plan is followed for each new pattern taught. For example, students learn that the ai pattern represents the long a sound, as in rain.They practice spelling and reading ai words with that sound. After studying one or more new patterns, students then read a short practice story that contains words with those patterns and previously taught patterns.
Level 4 is when most of the sight words in the program are taught. As they study a new set of phonetic words, students are introduced to any non-phonetic words that are spelled with the same pattern. For example, when studying words with the ai pattern, which represents the long a sound in words, they are also introduced to the sight word said. The word said has the short e sound instead of the long a sound, so it is taught as an exception to the rule. Students are not taught the word saidbefore learning phonetic words with the ai pattern, because they might expect other words with the ai pattern to have the short e sound. Learning the phonetic words first eliminates that type of confusion.
The ultimate goal of this phonetic instruction is to provide enough practice so that students are able to decode, or "sound out" words well enough that the process becomes automatic. At this point, the phonetic words, in a sense, have also become "sight words" that are recognized instantly.
How Reading Aloud Can Be Used To Reinforce Skills At Different Levels
For the suggestions listed below, you can do several words on each page, depending on the amount of time you have and how long your son remains interested. You will probably be able to think of other similar questions to ask.
Preparing Students To Read Easy Trade Books Aloud
In Level 4, students study a series of eight books that teach the most common phonics patterns. They will be able to begin reading easy trade books starting with Phonetic Words And Stories, Book 5. The books are listed on the sequence charts to show when then can be read. When a book is listed, you will know that almost every word in the book can be read phonetically, using the patterns that students have already learned. The sight words that have been taught are also taken into account. For example, after studying the er/her pattern in Book 5, students will be able to read The Foot Book, by Dr. Seuss. Because they have already learned the necessary phonetic patterns and sight words, students can generally read these books by themselves, with a little help as needed.
A good strategy is to read each of these books aloud before asking students to read them. This can be done from the very beginning of instruction, at the earliest levels. Multiple readings of each book, over a period of time, are the most effective. Being familiar with the story provides extra support as students read the words and sentences.