Eventually, everyone who learns to read makes the jump. The jump is to move from a more phonically based understanding of words to "reading" to "reading fluency." It is getting to this stage that I strive for every year. However, to get to fluency, most students must pass through a period of time where they recognize some words without being able to sound out the words phonetically.
The first sight words my students learn are their names. The first hurdle is usually getting them to move beyond the first letter of their name. This year might be a little harder. I have 5 students with names that start with the letter T, 4 with J, 4 with the letter D, and all the rest are single letters. So this year it is going to be vitally important to get those lower case letters out in the open quickly. I usually teach them at the same time and then when we start to discriminate more, we talk about how some Mama letters look like their babies and some don't, just like people.
Recognizing sight words, just like recognizing letters, is an act of memorization. In order to teach memorization with 4 year-olds, you have to repeat, repeat, repeat. This is not the same as "drill, baby drill." Repeating recognition activities with student names through out the day, in various contexts, provides repetition without drilling it into children. Some ways to use student names include small group activities, circle time activities, and intake procedures, as well as incorporating student's names into word walls and journal writing. Using student's written names during recall time is fun for kids and accomplishes the goal of multiple opportunities for mastery.
Once children have their names in their pockets it is easier to introduce other sight words. In talking with Kindergarten teachers, I have been told that the dolche words are a great place to start. Dolche words are high frequency words that are used in most reading. A pre-k list includes words like:
Some of the ways I have used these words include highlighting them in online activities like the Zac the Rat on Starfall.com . Kids love when they start to know the words before the teacher reads them. I also use them in context while reading books, highlighting the word "the" several times and letting kids know they just have to memorize it helps promote students feelings of efficacy while they engage with new texts.