2.3 Visual Memory Theory of Reading

Learning Intentions

At the end of this session participants will: 

  • Define “sight words”
  • Describe the whole word/sight word teaching approach
  • Examine the strong intuitive notion that we remember written words based upon visual memory


Watch the Session 3 below

*Please see the Transcripts resource folder located in Module 0 for a text copy of the transcript from this video. 


  • Researchers and educators define sight words as known, instantly familiar words that require no effort to read because they are very well secured in memory
  • Visual memory feels like the way words are stored in memory
  • This strongly intuitive notion has been shown to be incorrect via multiple lines of independent research
  • To understand reading we must elsewhere to determine how we remember the words we read

Reflect and Connect

If word-reading is not based upon visual memory, what skills is it strongly correlated with? How might this shift in understanding influence a shift in reading instruction?