Word Identification and Sight Vocabulary | 123Read&Write


Sight vocabulary enables the child to construct a strong base of high frequency (words used often) words, for which they can learn to recognize on sight.


            For obvious reasons, reading cannot take place if a child has difficulty with identifying the words in front of them. To improve in this area, one can utilize both skills in decoding words and instruct on the meanings of words.

            To begin, let’s observe both sight vocabulary and context. Sight vocabulary enables the child to construct a strong base of high frequency (words used often) words, for which they can learn to recognize on sight.

            One such way to improve word identification is the language experience approach. This strategy, as outlined in the book Helping Students with Reading Problems (Rude and Oehlkers, 1984) allows children to utilize abstract information in understanding the written word; thereby, making it a more manageable process for the child.

            While the first step in improving a child’s reading aptitude dealt with sight vocabulary and contextual clues, the next logical step utilizes word identification strategies. When a child happens upon unfamiliar text, it’s beneficial for them to develop a strategy to allow them to identify such difficult words, etc.

            To offer a simplistic strategy, review the following steps regarding the child:

a. Have the child skip over unknown words and only return to these particular words when he/she has reached the end of the sentence. Then, the child can go back to the challenging word and attempt to replace the difficult word with another, which logically makes sense.

b. Utilize phonetic strategies in correlation with the surrounding text (Rude and Oehlkers, 1984).

            Another strategy, which can be beneficial regarding word identification, is the Cloze strategy. The Cloze strategy works by deleting various words in a text; thereby, allowing a child to insert a word which logically makes sense. See an example of the Cloze strategy below and the steps which follow:

(University of Minnesota: © 2013 Regents of the University of Minnesota)

1. Read the cloze section to the child.

2. Read again, but allow the child to make their choice as to the appropriate word.

3. Discuss the responses given by the child as to whether they make sense in regards to the passage.

            The next strategy in improving a child’s word identification is establishing a conceptual understanding of vowel structure. Remember, vowels are the letters a, e, i, o, u, and at times y. As outlined in Helping Students with Reading Problems (Rude and Oehlkers, 1984), there are two applicable ways to develop a child’s understanding of vowels. Number one is the synthetic approach. With this strategy, portions of words are combined into a whole. See the example below of the synthetic technique:




Now, utilize the following steps with this approach.

1. Have the child recognize the short a sound.

2. Instruct the child in a blending exercise. A blending exercise is where a child is given a consonant/vowel pair (i.e. ta). Then, an ending is applied to show that the blend leads to the construction of a real word (i.e. ta + n = tan).

            An additional strategy is instructing the child as to the benefits of being versatile. In essence, versatility allows the child to not fear trying new things and making a mistake. The child should feel empowered to play with different long or short vowel sounds; experiment with different blends, etc.

            The most common vowel sounds are indicated in the chart below:

When dealing with word identification, vowels can at times be tricky; especially with blending certain sounds, such as oi. According to Helping Students with Reading Problems (Rude and Oehlkers, 1984), there are a few approaches to help in these instances:

Synthetic – combining separate sounds (i.e. h – o – t)

Letter Cluster – analyze a group component of letters that make a certain sound (i.e. oi = rejoice).

Generalizations – approach confusing words and letter combinations through practice and trial and error.

            The next strategy when working with word identification is identifying multi-syllable words. When working with these forms of words, it’s pertinent to divide the word into pieces. For example, the word football can be divided into two syllables (parts): foot and ball. This strategy confirmed, in a 1979 study, by Patricia Cunningham, offered that children, when approaching a word they do not comprehend, break the word down into sizable chunks, which they are comfortable with. So, using the term football again; if a child does not recognize this word in its entirety, they may understand the word ball. Then, the child can use phonetic awareness to possibly sound out foot and then combine the two together.

            By utilizing the strategies outlined in this article, a child can slowly increase their aptitude at word identification; thereby, be well on their way to improving their reading abilities.


Rude, Robert T., and William J. Oehlkers. Helping Students with Reading Problems. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1984. Print.

Cunningham, Patricia M. “A Compare/Contrast Theory of Mediated Word Identification.” Reading Teacher (1979): 774-78. Print.