When I set out to teach my child sight words I purchased an age appropriate set of sight word flashcards. After one week with our flashcards I had found we made absolutely no progress-none. I relasped to the fear that I would not be competent enough to educate my child at home despite being an educated individual myself. Determined none the less, I began searching to find out how other educators, in both public and home settings, were successfully teaching these basic words.
Compiled here are the 10 most important lessons I learned about teaching sight words. After one week with a new approach my child had successfully learned five words. She learned five more the following week and again the next. Changing my approach completely changed our outcome.
- Sight words are not frequently used words. We learn sight words early on and by memory because they are not words that can be sounded out. Frequently used words don’t have be learned by memory. However, committing a few to memory will be helpful to later facilitate reading.
- Do not present words which are simular at the same time. The English language has enough tricks in the bag without throwing unexpected curve balls at our kiddos. Present new words which are distinctly different from one another. My week of failure consisted of words simular in sound and/or appearance: an, at, all, are, and. My week of success consisted of words which looked and sounded very different from one another: go, me, the, was, in.
- Knowing the word by sight is as important as understanding how to use it. As a child successfully commits a word to memory they should also be learning how to apply that knowledge. Have the child participate in simple writing activities where their sights words are placed into simple sentences. Challenge them to trace your letters, copy your letters and even try writing the word on their own as you dictate to them. If doing these writing exercises spontaneously isn’t your cup of tea there are many free printables online which can be used.
- Use story time to practice sight words. While reading aloud to your child provide sporadic opportunities for he or she to read a sight word. If they miss it, read the word and move on. Avoid stopping for the child’s input everytime sight words appear as it may become frustrated to them. But when they get it right, make it a big deal. Especially for the child who is not reading yet- correctly identifying a word in their bedtime story is a great accomplishment they will be thrilled to celebrate.
- Let there be movement. One of our biggest issues with using flashcards to master sight words was my daughters need to wiggle- a lot. Our solution was making sight word floor cards and creating games. I may place the cards in a circle and tell a simple story having her jump on a sight word floor card when she hears the word spoken. Or we play a life size version of Candyland by placing sight word floor cards in a path around the house and moving ourselves or stuffed animals to the appropriate floor card as we draw words from a tin can. She loves this game!
- Play sight word bingo. Sight word bingo cards can be printed for free online or created very simply by using a 3×3 table in Microsoft Word. I’ve saved a template in Word so that I can easily swap out words and create new cards as needed. This is an especially great way to tackle words which your child may be having trouble with. Not only do they need to recognize the word when you call it but they need to read back their words when they get “BINGO!” I usually save this game for none school time, when other people can play with us. We also keep it fresh by choosing different bingo markers each time. One time it’s buttons or beads, next time it’s a favorite snack.
- Place the words where your child can frequently see them. On our first day of our second attempt with sight words we began making the word worm which now stretches down our staircase. I provided my daughter with construction paper circles, each with a sight word clearly written on it. Her job was to decorate the circle and add it to her word worm. The worm was about 18″ off the floor where she could easily see it as she passed by daily. We even encourage her to line up her stuffed animals in front of the worm and teach them the words (that may or may not be age appropriate for every child). This art project was an instant hit.
- Look for word building activities. This could range from using refrigerator magnets to spell sight words to building them with sticks outside. Writing with you fingers in the sand box or doing a cut and paste activity with a magazine or coupons. Break out the Scrabble tiles if you have them and do a mini sight word Scrabble game where the focus is just building words togather as a team.
- Find sight words in everyday life. One of my homeschooling goals is helping my child continually see how the things we are learning relate to and are necessary for life. So it is important to me that my child sees what we are learning outside of school time. Therefore, if we are at the grocery store and I see a sign which contains a sight word I am going stop (acting shocked and surprised for my child’s entertainment) and point out this great discovery. This is also very empowering to a child who can begin to understand the independence being able to read can give them.
- Mastery beats masses. When I first opened my sight word flashcard pack I felt slightly overwhelmed (and I wasn’t the one learning the words). Try not to think about how many words there are to learn. Instead set small goals of a learning a few words each week taking breaks to review and address words your child may struggle with. Taking the time to help your child master both recognition and proper use of these words will help them be a stronger reader later on.
Please share your successes, challenges and resources in regards to teaching sight words.