Dr. Blank’s Secret Sight Words Teaching Techniques


Dr. Marion Blank, PhD

Creator of Reading Kingdom



The term “sight words” has come out of the reading instruction process — a process that is dominated by “phonics” or “sounding out.” One of the core problems rests with a group of very common words (such as the, does, she, and are) that cannot be sounded out.

With “sounding out” not available, phonics programs deal with these words as “sight words.” In other words, they are not to be taught and understood. Rather, the reader should be able to look at them and immediately know what they are “saying.”

Because there is no method for teaching these words, they receive little instructional time. In the main, the teacher writes them on cards, holds up the cards and asks the children to say what they are. Essentially this is not teaching, but testing. In other words, in reading instruction “sight words” is a term that represents words for which there is no established method of instruction.

All this changes dramatically if we leave the instructional process and go to reading itself. While often not acknowledged, for effective readers, all reading is based on sight words. You look at the words and instantly recognize what they are saying. Typically, this skill is referred to as “instant word recognition.” Instant word identification, aka sight word reading, is what you are doing now. There was probably not a single word on this page which caused you to pause and resort to the strategy of “sounding out.”

What then is the best way to move a child so that he or she begins to see all words as sight words as soon as possible?

Here is one simple, but very effective technique you can use. Specifically, whenever your child asks you how to spell a word,

1. Do not offer the typical verbal response where you label the letters (e.g., for catch, you do NOT say “see, ay, tee,” etc.) Instead, write the word on a piece of paper.

2. Show the paper to your child and say “Look at this.” Then cover the word so that it is out of view.

3. With the word covered, ask your child to write the word.

4. If your child makes an error in writing the word, immediately stop him or her, completely blacken out whatever has been written and repeat the process (of showing, then hiding the word). Do this up to 3 times. If by the fourth time the child does not get it correct, try again later.

The basic technique (of seeing a clear model, but writing only in the absence of the model) encourages a child to look carefully at the set of letters that compose a word. By repeating that process over many words, the basic visual skills for effective sight word reading fall into place, with fabulous results for effective reading.

Our program, Reading Kingdom, has been designed to develop strong visual memory that makes reading easier, smoother, and easier to understand.

You can sign up for a free 30 day trial here:

If you want a list of those words typically called “sight words” click here to download our Recommended Top 100 Sight Words.


About the author:

Dr. Marion Blank is the creator of Reading Kingdom. She is a world-renowned literacy expert on the faculty of Columbia University where she developed and directed the Light on Literacy Program. She has lectured extensively around the world, authored dozens of peer-reviewed articles and books and developed numerous award winning teaching programs.


Browse Categories