I got a few questions about my comment that I wasn’t quite ready to start my Orton Gillingham style intervention for sight words with my kindergarten friends just yet. (Its good to know that someone is reading and asked the question — thank you!!). So what are my sight words, and how do I teach them and why do I teach them? And how does what I do with leveled readers in kindergarten jive with my Orton Gillingham background and training??
Before I start, let me put out a few disclaimers — I am working under the supervision of a Fellow of the Academy of Orton Gillingham Practitioners and Educators. There is NO one way to “do” Orton Gillingham. There is no “Orton Gillingham Program” (and anyone who tells you that there is one is someone you should be very wary of!) Most Orton Gillingham practitioners would be aghast at the number of “sight words” that we teach to young children (because many, if not most, are decodable).
I personally define a “sight word” as a word that a child will encounter frequently, but is not yet ready to decode. So words like “my” and “see” make my kindergarten sight word list. They are perfectly decodable words, but I generally haven’t taught those phonetic pattern to kindergarteners yet. (I also work within classrooms and try to “fit” myself into what is already happening in the classroom. So, sometimes I adopt sight words that I might not choose personally)
Sight words form a system of anchors for readers in text that is NOT phonetically controlled (in other words, guided reading and leveled books). These books require that readers use sight words, beginning phonics skills, common English syntax, and picture
clues to puzzle out the text. One of the first things I want young readers to understand about this puzzling process is “If your finger is underneath a word that you KNOW, make sure your mouth says the word.”. I don’t want the other parts of the process to override or get in the way. The sight words will act like jutting rocks in a climbing wall. By getting those words “absolutely, positively perfect”, the strategies can be more effectively and accurately applied to the other words.
Since my young kindergarteners want to read and write about personal topics, words like “the” and “my” and “love” are very useful words. There are kajillions of opportunities for practice. Once I get these words into them, they will use them over and over again, without me creating “fake” writing experiences for them.
Initially, I DO create some “fake” reading experiences (like the puppy book) to ensure success and complete attention to the sight word recognition. But I also select topics which are important and relevant to the children, so the reading stays real. (We’ll be doing a Shark Book and a Barbie Book coming up soon — personal requests by young friends of mine.)