The term "sight word" is used by educators to refer to three different concepts:
High frequency words
Phonetically irregular words
Familiar words in memory
Researchers use the term sight word exclusively to refer to written words firmly embedded in the memory system and automatically recognized "on sight." It does not matter if the words are high frequency, low frequency, phonetically regular or irregular.
David A. Kilpatrick
Orthographic mapping is connected to the development of sight recognition of familiar words. David Kilpatrick calls it the most important reading discovery that is the least known to educators.
Simply put, it is a process in the brain where the pronunciations, spellings, and meanings of words or word parts are linked together in long-term memory so they are recognized instantly on sight (Ehri, 2013).
Orthographic mapping is not developed through rote memorization of letter strings, shapes of whole words, flash card drills, or labels on objects. Rather, it involves repeated encounters with a word where the connections between the sounds, spellings, and meanings are analyzed.
Dyslexia Connection: For typically developing readers, orthographically mapping a word takes one to four exposures. For learners with dyslexia or other word recognition problems, it can take many more repetitions. David Kilpatrick points to proficiency in phoneme awareness and manipulation as the key to encouraging orthographic mapping.
Podcasts & Videos about Orthographic Mapping:
Podcasts coming soon
The Four-Part Processor
The Four-Part Processor, based on the Triangle Model hypothesis created by Mark Seidenberg and James McClelland in 1989, represents the underlying brain processes through which words are recognized.
There is not a single “reading area” in the brain. Rather, humans must repurpose and establish connections between several areas of the left hemisphere of the brain in order to read.
In this model:
Recognizes letters, letter patterns, and word structures
Recognizes speech sounds and articulations
Orthographic Processor and Phonological Processor work together to determine word identity through sound/letter correspondence (phonics)
Confirms or questions the word’s identity
Activates after the pronunciation of a word is recognized
Uses word meanings stored in the individual’s memory
Helps determine the appropriate meaning of words within text
Activates when a word has several meanings
The arrows in the Four-Part Processor are bidirectional, showing that information flows back and forth between the processors during word identification.
Figure 1. Based on Seidenberg & McLellan (1989).
Dyslexia Connection : Individuals with dyslexia can have glitches in the orthographic and/or phonological processors, as well as inefficient pathways of communication between the processors.
Brain imaging techniques such as functional MRIs and magnetoencephalography have confirmed Seidenberg and McClelland's hypothesis about the brain process of word recognition, as well as illustrating the differences between a typically-developing brain and a dyslexic brain.
French neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene has identified the four areas of the brain that align with the Seidenberg and McClelland’s Triangle Processor hypothesis.
Nadine Gaab from Harvard University echoes the same brain areas identified by Dehaene and also shows the pathways that connect them.
Dyslexia Connection: Numerous fMRI studies have shown the differences in brain activation between the typically-developing reader and the individual with dyslexia, as well as showing the brain remodeling that can occur with evidence-based intervention.
Magnetoencephalography shows us the activation sequence of the reading brain in real time, confirming that word recognition begins with the orthographic and phonological processors, not the meaning processor.
Figure 2. Time-lapse sequence starting at the left of the brain of someone reading a word (Amplify, 2019).
In an era when we can image the brain as an individual reads and literally see the brain at work, it is unacceptable to have children (and adults) struggle to read without the benefit of what modern neuroscience has taught us.
Dr. Sally Shaywitz, Overcoming Dyslexia 2nd Edition (2020)
Ehri's Phases of Word Reading Development
Linnea Ehri’s Phases of Word Reading Development demonstrate the path that all learners follow as they develop the lower word recognition strands of the Reading Rope. With each phase, readers demonstrate more understanding of how sounds and letters are connected to identify words. They build sight word recognition of more and more familiar words, and they use a growing awareness of word structure and morphology to quickly recognize words and their meanings.
Figure 3. Adapted from Ehri (1996) and Ehri & Snowling (2004).
Dyslexia Connection: A typically developing reader passes through the pre-alphabetic phase in pre-kindergarten or kindergarten, the partial alphabetic phase in kindergarten or first grade, the full alphabetic phase in first or second grade, and the consolidated alphabetic phases in second or third grade. Students with dyslexia often reach these milestones much later. Early intervention is essential to keeping them on track with their peers.
Podcasts & Videos About Automatic Word Recognition
The cognitive science behind how students learn to read - S1-09 Science of Reading: The Podcast, Carolyn Strom
The Right to Read Project on nurturing automatic readers - S2-05 The Science of Reading: The Podcast, Margaret Goldberg and Alanna Mednick
How to Make Sight Word Instruction and Reading Intervention More Effective - Glean's Research to Practice Podcast, Katharine Pace Miles, Assistant Professor in Early Childhood Education at Brooklyn College, City University of New York.
How to Use Sound Walls to Transform Reading Instruction - EDVIEW360, Dr. Mary Dahlgren, Dr. Antonio Fierro
Is Word Learning Easier When the Written Word Is Present? - Research to Practice Podcast, Speech-Language Pathology, Tiffany Hogan (MGH) and Lauren Baron (University of South Carolina)
Neuroscience and early literacy - S1-12 Science of Reading: The Podcast, Dr. Bruce McCandliss
Retire Your Word Wall: How Sound Walls Support the Science of Reading - EDVIEW360, Mary Ellis Dahlgren, Ed.D., literacy expert and president of Tools 4 Reading
Role of Orthographic Mapping in Learning to Read, Keys to Literacy, Joan Sedita
Additional Resources About Automatic Word Recognition
10 Reasons the Three-Cueing system (MSV) Is Ineffective - Breaking the Code: Phonics and Reading, Erica Meltzer
The Role of Orthographic Mapping in Learning to Read - Keys to Literacy, Joan Sedita
What should we do when a reader stumbles on a word? Right to Read Project
Amplify. (2019). Science of reading: A primer (Part one). Amplify Education, Inc. https://amplify.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Amplify_Booklet-Primer1_111919__Digital-Pages_.pdf
Catts, H. W., Adlof, S. M., & Weismer, S. E. (2006). Language deficits in poor comprehenders: A case for the Simple View of Reading. Journal of speech, language, and hearing research, 49(2), 278–293. https://doi.org/10.1044/1092-4388(2006/023)
Ehri, L. C. (2013). Orthographic mapping in the acquisition of sight word reading, spelling memory, and vocabulary learning. Scientific studies of reading, 18(1), 5–21. https://doi.org/10.1080/10888438.2013.819356
Ehri, L.C. , & Snowling, M.J. (2004). Developmental variation in word recognition. In C. A. Stone , E. R. Silliman , B. J. Ehren , & K. Apel (Eds.), Handbook of language and literacy: Development and disorders (pp. 433-460). New York: Guilford.
Gough, P. B., & Tunmer, W. E. (1986). Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial and special education, 7(1), 6–10. https://doi.org/10.1177/074193258600700104
Kilpatrick, D.A. (2021, January). Can older struggling readers improve their word-reading skills?. Reading League Journal. 2(1), 26.
Kilpatrick, D. A. (2015). Essentials of assessing, preventing, and overcoming reading difficulties (essentials of psychological assessment). John Wiley & Sons.
Seidenberg, M. S., & McClelland, J. L. (1989). A distributed, developmental model of word recognition and naming. Psychological review, 96(4), 523–568. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295x.96.4.523
Shaywitz, S. (2020). Overcoming dyslexia (2020 edition): Second edition, completely revised and updated (2nd ed.). Vintage.
Simos, P., Fletcher, J., Bergman, E., Breier, J., Foorman, B., Castillo, E., Davis, R., Fitzgerald, M., & Papanicolaou, A. (2002). Dyslexia-specific brain activation profile becomes normal following successful remedial training. Neurology, 58(8), 1203–1213. https://doi.org/10.1212/wnl.58.8.1203
World Innovation Summit for Education [WISE]. (2013, October 25). How the brain learns to read - Prof. Stanislas Dehaene [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=25GI3-kiLdo
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. (2020, May). Wisconsin standards for English Language Arts. https://dpi.wi.gov/sites/default/files/imce/standards/New%20pdfs/ELAStandards2020.pdf
Figure 1. Seidenberg, M. S., & McClelland, J. L. (1989). The Four Part Processor [Infographic]. Adapted from A distributed, developmental model of word recognition and naming. Psychological Review, 96(4), 523–568. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295x.96.4.523
Figure 2. Amplify. (2019). [Infographic]. From Science of reading: A primer (Part one). Amplify Education, Inc. https://amplify.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Amplify_Booklet-Primer1_111919__Digital-Pages_.pdf
Figure 3. Ehri, L.C. , & Snowling, M.J. (2004). Phases of word reading development [Infographic]. Adapted from Developmental variation in word recognition. In C. A. Stone , E. R. Silliman , B. J. Ehren , & K. Apel (Eds.), Handbook of language and literacy: Development and disorders (pp. 433-460). New York: Guilford.