Using Riggs Lessons to Establish a Sight Vocabulary

In a Riggs classroom, students build knowledge on knowledge, skill on skill, and success on success, so Riggs students do not read books, sentences, or words before they have learned the alphabetic principle, and they are never asked to use whole-word memorization techniques when learning to read. Instead, Riggs students gain a sight vocabulary by learning to read through the process of phonetic analysis. Riggs students always:

  • Learn how to read (decode) whole words as a result of first learning how to spell them.
  • Practice reading (decoding) whole words after they have learned how to spell them.
  • Practice reading (decoding) whole words until they can read them quickly and accurately.

In the first nineteen Riggs lessons, students master basic penmanship skills while learning how to write and read 55 common English spelling patterns. (See the Skills and Performance Checklists at the end of lessons 9 & 19 for a summary of what well-taught Riggs students know and are able to do at the end of these “reading readiness” lessons.)

In lesson twenty, Riggs teachers begin dictating whole words to students, teaching them how to analyze, spell, blend, and read each of these words with the spelling patterns they have just learned (see sample script in publisher's disclosure section at 

After the word has been correctly spelled and written (sound by sound and symbol by symbol) by the student, Riggs teachers help their students decode it by leading them to "read" (pronounce) the correct sound for each of the written symbols in the word. Since students have just finished learning how to "read" these symbols in isolation, and since they have just finished writing each symbol while saying the sound to spell this word, this exercise enables students to use this prior knowledge to successfully complete the task (building knowledge on knowledge and skill on skill).

When prompted to read the word aloud, Riggs students simply begin to decode it, reading the first symbol (grapheme) and continuing to read each of the graphemes in the word, in a left-to-right order (as they were written). For example, when reading the first word [me], students read the first grapheme that was written [saying ‘m’], then they read the next grapheme [saying the long ‘e’ sound], and then they practice blending the sounds to read the whole word [saying 'me']. They practice doing this throughout the day, seeing and saying the truth: “This word is _______; it has two sounds; the sounds are __ and __; the spelling patterns for these sounds are __ and __.”

From their first lesson with whole words (lesson 20), Riggs students are led to use their eyes, ears, hands, and minds to understand that English words are written and read symbol-by-symbol, sound-by-sound. With repeated reading practice, each word--along with its phoneme-grapheme relationships--becomes established in their memory, becoming a part of their "sight vocabulary." (Level I Riggs students study 750 words in this way.)

Riggs students practice decoding and blending their new spelling-vocabulary words throughout the day, because Riggs teachers know that:

Readers learn sight words by forming connections between letters in spellings and sounds in pronunciations of words. The connections are formed out of readers’ knowledge of the alphabetic system. This includes knowledge of grapheme-phoneme relations and phonemic awareness, that is, knowing how to distinguish the separate phonemes in pronunciations of words. This also includes knowledge of spelling patterns that occur in different words. When readers learn a sight word, they look at the spelling, they pronounce the word, they distinguish separate phonemes in the pronunciation, and they recognize how the graphemes match up to phonemes in that word. Reading the word a few times secures the connections in memory.” [Linnea C. Ehri, Learning to Read Words: Theory, Findings, and Issues]

In addition to having students practice reading their own correctly-spelled words repeatedly, Riggs teachers take care to have students practice writing and spelling each of these same words. (Neither activity can be skipped.) They know that writing the word while saying its sounds helps to secure the word's spelling in the memory, and they know that this practice activity gives auditory and kinesthetic learners the same opportunity to master the word as is enjoyed by those who learn best through primarily visual pathways. (The Riggs program provides all learners with an equal and optimal educational opportunity through multisensory language arts.)

For Riggs students, the end goal of decoding practice (at the word level) is the establishment of that word in the memory (having it become a “sight” word), because Riggs teachers know that, “If readers know words by sight and can recognize them automatically as they read text, then word reading operates unconsciously.” Since Riggs teachers understand that word-reading must operate unconsciously before the mind can attend to the meaning of what is being said in the sentence, Riggs teachers help their students acquire a large sight vocabulary. However, in a Riggs classroom:

  • Students practice writing, spelling, and reading at least six new words per day
  • Students learn to read by learning to spell
  • Students continue to practice reading previously learned words until they are fluent with them
  • Students understand that any word that is read sufficiently often becomes a sight word that is read from memory.

To summarize: Riggs students are never asked to do things before they have been taught how to do them, so you will never see a Riggs teacher asking her students to memorize words "by sight." Instead, you will see Riggs teachers helping students to learn the alphabetic principle, and you will see Riggs students using these principles to encode (spell) and decode (sound and blend) commonly-used whole words (Ayres List words, Dolch List words, etc.--we teach all whole words in this same way). You will also see them blending and reading these words until they can read them fluently.







For more information on the importance of teaching phoneme-grapheme relationships as a means to establishing a sight vocabulary, see Linnea Ehri's outstanding article on this topic: Learning to Read Words: Theory, Findings, and Issues.


It amazes me how the public school system attempts to teach our children to run before they have learned to walk. It is like attempting to teach one to do calculus before basic arithmetic. Thank you for a systematic system that enables our children to build skill upon skill; and confidence upon confidence; "not a guessing game".

Submitted by Chris Tuck (not verified) on Thu, 03/20/2014 - 06:39

Hello, Mr. Tuck. Thank you for your comment. While it is true that most public school teachers were never trained to teach reading in a systematic way, the same thing is true of most private school teachers, and some public school teachers do use our program. Like all Riggs teachers, they've either taken one of our training seminars to learn the basics, or they've trained themselves with out Level I Teacher's Edition. And every teacher is free to do that. The main problem seems to be a lack of awareness. Most teachers don't realize that methods like ours exist--methods by which all children can learn. Also, they've been led to believe that many children have disorders which prevent them from learning basic language skills, regardless of the method being used or the content being taught, so their expectation is that some children will not learn these skills. Since Riggs teachers know from experience that effective instruction enables all children to learn the subskills of reading and writing, they see things differently.

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