My Philosophy On Sight Words

When you hear "sight word" or "high frequency word" it refers to a word that has a high utility in written and spoken English. Many believe that sight words are words that cannot be decoded (sounded out), and must be memorized. This is not necessarily true. Sight words are simply familiar written words that are recognized instantly, automatically, and effortlessly (Kilpatrick). Because words are not stored in our visual memory (a common misperception) I use orthographic mapping to take unfamiliar printed words and turn them into immediately recognizable sight words. Through this mapping process, I am teaching them to break these words apart into their individual sounds, and discover which letters represent each sound.


This metacognitive strategy is used to graph these sight words. Here's how it works:

  1. We clap or tap out each sound we hear in the word.

  2. We graph one sound at a time. This means we write the letters that represent the sound. 

  3. We map the sound we wrote. To do this, we must determine what kind of sound it is: heart or box.

    • Box sounds: the sounds that match an already familiar spelling. Example: all of the sounds in the word 'map' match the spelling that first graders are familiar with. So, all the sounds in the word 'map' are "box" sounds.

    • Heart sounds: a sound with an unfamiliar spelling. Heart refers to the part of the word that we must know by heart, since it is a new spelling. Note: the "heart" part of a word can transform into a "box" when the students masters the new spelling of the sound, or if it is a spelling pattern they already know. Example: We will map the word 'said'. The /s/ and /d/ sounds match the spelling, so they are "box" sounds. However, the 'ai' makes the short /eh/ sound, which does not match the spelling. This makes the middle sound a "heart" sound that students but learn to spell by heart. Here is what it would look like once it was mapped out using this strategy.

Sight Words Hearts and Boxes -said.png