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A Shortsighted Approach To Reading

a shortsighted approach to reading

The Problem with Teaching to Read by Sight

When it comes to teaching children how to read, various approaches exist, but one method that has been debated is the method of teaching to read by sight. This approach emphasises recognising words by their appearance rather than decoding the sounds and letters. While it can offer some initial benefits, there are significant drawbacks that can impact a child’s reading abilities in the long run.

What is Reading by Sight?

Teaching to read by sight, also known as whole-word or look-say reading, involves having children memorise words by their shapes and appearances. Instead of breaking down words into individual sounds and letters, students are encouraged to recognize whole words as distinct visual patterns. Words become like pictures, rather than a code.

The Shortcomings of Sight Reading

  1. Lack of Decoding Skills: One of the primary issues with teaching to read by sight is that it bypasses the fundamental skill of phonics and decoding. When children learn to read by memorising words, they may struggle with unfamiliar words because they lack the ability to sound out.
  2. Limited Vocabulary: Teaching to read by sight can lead to a limited vocabulary. Children may recognize a set of familiar words, but when faced with new words, they may not have the word attack skills to pronounce them. Children require a lot of time and effort to learn a set of words. This is very limiting, so they cannot access a wider vocabulary.
  3. Difficulty with Spelling: Sight reading often fails to teach children about letter-sound relationships, making it challenging for them to spell words accurately. Spelling requires an understanding of phonics and the ability to break down words into individual graphemes or letter patterns.
  4. Lower Reading Comprehension: Without the ability to decode words, children may struggle with reading comprehension. Students struggling with decoding words, cannot be fluent readers. Lack of fluency impacts comprehension of texts.

A Far-Sighted Approach is Phonics-Based Reading

Instead of relying solely on sight reading, a phonics-based approach provides children with the skills they need to become proficient readers and spellers. Phonics teaches children how to decode words by understanding the relationship between letters and sounds, and the rules that govern their usage. This method allows children to tackle unfamiliar words and expand their vocabulary more effectively.

The Benefits of Phonics

  • Improved Decoding: Phonics helps children break down words into sounds, making it easier for them to read new words and understand their meanings.
  • Enhanced Spelling: With a solid grasp of phonics, children can spell words more accurately, as they understand the structure and rules of language.
  • Greater Reading Comprehension: When children can read fluently and understand words quickly, their reading comprehension improves, allowing them to grasp the full meaning of texts.


While teaching to read by sight may offer quick initial results, its limitations can hinder a child’s overall literacy development. A balanced approach that includes phonics-based reading can provide children with the skills they need to become confident and capable readers. At Sound Spell, we are committed to empowering students with a strong foundation in phonics and literacy, setting them on the path to a lifetime of learning and success.

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