Literacy Strategies for Students with Disabilities

Word Recognition: Sight Recognition

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Effective instruction is based on scientifically-based research. An overview of the research for the automatic recognition of words is included in this section.  
  • The majority of the words read by an adult are sight words; words their brain recognizes immediately and without conscious effort.  Reading instruction for students should result in this same automatic (sight) recognition of words.  

    Automaticity refers to the ability to perform complex skills with minimal attention and conscious effort. Automaticity is essential for higher-order thinking, such as skilled reading and writing, because important sub-skills must be performed accurately, quickly, and effortlessly. If reading sub-skills are performed automatically, then higher-order aspects of the task, such as comprehension or metacognitive functions, can be performed effectively at the same time. (Samuels, 1997)

    Automaticity, or how fast we accomplish a task (rate) is one component of reading fluency.  The other two components are accuracy and prosody.  Pikulski and Chard (2003) define reading fluency as “rapid, efficient, accurate word recognition skills that permit a reader to construct the meaning of text. Fluency is also manifested in accurate, rapid, expressive oral reading and is applied during, and makes possible, silent reading comprehension.”   There is a positive correlation between reading fluency and comprehension (Pinnell, et. al., 1995). 

    Automaticity of the subskills of reading starts with the beginning of reading instruction and develops over time.  Rapid naming (automaticity) of letters, sounds, phonetic elements (syllable types, affixes, etc.) words, phrases, sentences and passages leads to reading fluency and comprehension (Vaughn, 2004). 

A teacher working with elementary children sitting at a table.
This section includes a library of instructional strategies that help students develop automaticity with word recognition.
  • Supplemental Instruction for Struggling Readers, Grade 3: A Guide for Tutors image
    The lessons in this document are designed specifically for 3rd grade
    students who experience persistent reading difficulties.  Lessons for teaching sight words are on pages 16-23. 
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Videos show how instructional strategies look in the classroom.  These videos focus on teaching automatic word recognition.
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This section contains additional resources related to reading fluency and the recognition of words by sight.

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  • Cara Wyly
    Project Manager, Progress in the General Curriculum Network
    (210) 370-5413