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A sight-word is anything you memorize ENTIRELY AS A VISUAL OBJECT. (Google either currency symbols or electrical symbols, find something you never saw before, and stare at it. You won’t be able to pronounce it in any way.)
Meanwhile, a vocabulary word is something you memorize in many ways: spelling, pronunciation, number of syllables, appearance, similar or rhyming words, the history of the word, personal associations, etc..
We won’t be able to improve the schools until every kid is reading in the first or second grade. This is unlikely to happen as long as children are required to memorize a few hundred sight-words.
Ideally, we push sight-words out of the schools. But the literacy experts continue to hide sight-words inside the general understanding of what a vocabulary word is.
Many teachers feel that "sight words" are helpful, but it's likely they are usually thinking about vocabulary words when they say this. Ah, if you love confusion, this is the right topic.
Here is my newest attempt to explain these sly issues in a short article. (There is a good video with it and some other material.)