Sight words are the most commonly used words in texts and are recognized immediately. For children who are learning to read, the early books they use contain sight words such as “the,” “a,” “my,” and “I.”
Mastering these frequently occurring words allows children to direct their efforts towards the use of strategies to solve less familiar words. Being able to recognize sight words automatically is also important because many sight words, such as “the,” cannot be decoded or “sounded out.”
Educators often refer to the Dolch Word List, which is organized by grade and is a compilation of common sight words.
Sight Words Teaching Strategies
To teach sight words, consider utilizing the important link between reading and writing. If a child can write a word, there is a strong possibility that he can also read it. Model writing short sentences that contain the sight words you are focusing on. You may want to provide sentence stems for children to use. For example, young children can create their own little books using “I like…” as the sentence stem on each page. Having them read their books to others will help solidify their knowledge of the sight words they used.
Along with purposeful writing activities, guided reading is another effective strategy for teaching sight words. Choose texts that are geared towards the child’s reading level. For beginning readers, this is typically books with one sentence per page, paired with a picture, that follow a highly predictable pattern. Use a book to introduce one or two sight words, and then follow that lesson up with another book that incorporates those same words. Frequent exposure to sight words will help children learn them.
As you introduce new sight words through reading and writing, consider displaying the words for children to refer to. Many educators use “word walls” in their practice, which are a visual aid for children who are learning new vocabulary. Words are displayed on a bulletin board or wall and are organized alphabetically. Children use the word wall to support them while they’re writing, with the end goal of memorizing how the word is spelled. Commercial word walls can be purchased, which contain sight words geared towards specific grades, or educators can simply create their own words using paper and markers.
The use of personal dictionaries can also support sight word instruction. Children are each given a book that contains high-frequency words, organized alphabetically. There is typically room to add more words as they are introduced. Like word walls, personal dictionaries are a resource that promotes independence as children are learning to use sight words in their writing.
Sight Words Teaching Tips
Reading is a complex process that proficient readers can take for granted. When teaching children sight words, it’s important not to overwhelm them with multiple new words at a time. Children can achieve much more success when they have solidified their knowledge of one or two words before being introduced to more. It’s also important to note that in the early stages, children will need multiple experiences with words before they can recognize them automatically. They may also need a review of words you thought they had mastered, but have forgotten on a subsequent day.
It’s important to take into consideration which sight words you are introducing and whether there is a higher opportunity for errors when teaching visually similar words. For example, children may stumble over words such as “like” and “love” or “here” and “there” because of their similarities. Ensuring their knowledge of one word is solid and introducing the similar word in later lessons may help decrease confusions.
You may find that children achieve success quickly learning words that hold personal significance for them. For example, a child may be eager to read and write about members of her family such as “mom” or “dad.” A child who loves soccer may be motivated to learn words such as “like” and “play” so he can incorporate them into his writing.
Take advantage of multiple ways for children to work with sight words. In addition to reading and paper and pencil activities, children can make words using magnetic letters, alphabet tiles, or letter stamps. They can create sight words using clay or write them in the sand, on salt trays, or in shaving cream. Using different modalities will help children recognize sight words in different contexts and avoid the simple memorization of words in a list, which may not transfer to other situations.
When Students are Struggling
When students experience difficulty learning sight words, it may be necessary to slow down the teaching pace. While one child may recognize a new sight word quickly after its introduction, another child may need many more experiences with the word before committing it to memory. In your guided reading practice, consider having struggling readers work with the same text over more than one day.
Some children may respond well to songs or catchy phrases that help them memorize sight words. Similar to the way lyrics get stuck in our head, children may be able to retrieve the spelling for sight words if they can relate it to a song or phrase you have taught them and practiced over time.
When children are struggling with a task, their motivation to participate may dwindle. Consider teaching them sight word games to help with their learning and to also add some fun into the mix. Create cards, similar to flash cards, which can be used to play various games including Go Fish and Concentration or Memory. Another favorite game is “Zoom,” which is played using a deck of sight words along with a few cards that say “Zoom.” Children take turns picking up a card from the deck and reading their word. When a player selects a card that says “Zoom,” he gets to take everyone’s cards. When the deck is gone, the player with the most cards wins.
To provide children with extra practice learning sight words, make them their own set of cards to use. Write the words on flashcards, punch a hole in each one, and attach them using a binder ring. As children practice their words, you may wish to make a mark on the cards that they know so you can track which words they need to focus on.
If despite time and your best efforts a child is continuing to struggle with learning sight words, visiting a healthcare provider can be beneficial for discussing concerns. He or she will be able to provide recommendations regarding next steps in the child’s learning journey.