What Are Sight Words?
Sight words are commonly used words in literature that young children are encouraged to remember and recognize just by looking at them, without sounding them out. Once a child learns all the sight words on Dolch’s sight word lists, she can read 75 percent of the printed words in children’s literature. This article gives fun ways to teach these sight words using research based strategies. Keep in mind, many children have the most success learning sight words when taught in a small group or practicing one on one with an adult or another child with established skills.
Teach Sight Words Through Repetition
Reading and writing sight words multiple times, helps in grain them into a child’s memory. Reading or writing the same words over and over can be boring for a child. Here are some ways to make repetition fun by using turn taking or games.
1 – Pick a word, say it and spell it five times in a row, then have your child do the same. Go back and forth until you run out of words. The last person to think of a word is the winner. Help your child if she needs assistance thinking of or spelling her word. You can add to the excitement by having your child pick your word and you pick your child’s word. You can even turn it into a song, adding a tune when you spell each word. For a child who can write, you can have her write the word each time she says it. It may be fun for her to write the word on a chalkboard or dry erase board, in sand in a sand tray (as shown below),
in shaving cream (as shown below),
or on paper with crayons, markers, or coloring pencils. You can join in the fun by writing your words on your turn. If your child cannot write yet, have them watch you write the words. You can also have your child spell the words using magnetic letters like the ones below.
If you are looking to develop your child’s writing skills, see our article, Teaching Proper Pencil Grip to Develop or Improve Handwriting.
2 – Use sight word flash cards like the ones shown below.
Show your child the word, have her spell it three to five times while looking and then three to five times without looking. Again you can take turns to make it fun, letting your child be the teacher at times. You can also use the same strategy listed in number 1, of writing the words each time you or your child spells a word aloud from the flashcards. You can create your own flash cards at home using index cards, and ask your child or students to help if possible. To take flash cards on the go, punch a hole in them and put them on a ring as shown below.
3 – Read children’s books with your child frequently. Depending on her level, you can read while she follows along, she can read to you while you follow along, or you can take turns reading to each other. Children’s books have many sight words from Dolch’s lists, so frequent reading will allow your child to see words over and over, helping her lock them into her memory.
Teach Your Child to Connect Sight Words to a Visual Image
Teach children to connect each sight word with a visual picture. Having learners connect what they read to a visual image of what the word represents, is shown to help with memorization. Have children draw a picture for each sight word, or have them explain what each sight word would look like. You can turn it into a game. Here are some ideas:
- Draw a picture and ask your child to guess and spell the sight word that she thinks matches your drawing.
- Have your child draw a picture and you guess and spell the sight word she drew.
- Draw pictures or put images (you can pick pictures by doing a search on Google Images) on one side of a paper and write sight words on the other. Have your child match the words to the drawings.
There are also tangible games you can create on your own, incorporating your child’s or student’s help if you like. You can also print materials off the internet, or purchase games to help children learn sight words. Below are some examples:
Sight Word Bingo – This game is just like regular bingo. When you call out the word, the child puts his chip on his bingo card if he has that word on his card. You can create the cards on your own or purchase a game like Zingo Sight Words (ready-made sight word Bingo). See a picture below.
Word Searches – Many word searches containing sight words are available for printing on the internet, such as the ones at K12 Reader. You can also purchase word search books for grades K – 1 and grades 2 – 3. See an example of a word search book below.
Splat! (grades k – 1 and grades 1 – 2) is another fun game that you can purchase or make your own version at home. Splat comes with 75 sight words and can be bought for readers on grade level k-1 or 1-2. Players lay cards out in front of them. As the caller reads each sight word aloud, players look at their cards. If a player has a matching word, he or she says “SPLAT!” and flips the card over. The first player to flip over all of his cards wins. You can easily make your own version on index cards. See a picture of Splat! below.
Spot It! – This game allows players to match pictures to words, pictures to pictures, and words to words, by spotting the match between cards. It reinforces sight word recognition, reading comprehension, and builds English vocabulary. See a picture below.
Side-Note *If you are a teacher you can try all of the strategies and games above with your students. You can take turns with your student if you are working one on one. If you are working with a small group, you can let the children take turns with each other while you supervise or join in. Also older siblings or peers with strong sight word recognition can also work with children who need to practice their sight words. Many children love the job of teaching other kids and would also have fun playing games like the ones in this article.
Keep in mind that every child is different. Some respond to several strategies, others respond to a few, while others may not respond to any of these strategies. If your child is significantly struggling with recognizing sight words or acquiring other academic skills, despite consistent practice and guidance, talk to your child’s school and/or doctor. They should be able to refer you to the appropriate professionals to determine what might be interfering with your child’s progress and what additional strategies might help.
Remember to always stay calm when working with a child or student, even if you think they should be getting something that they are not getting. If you get frustrated with them, they may start to feel anxious, angry, inferior, stupid, etc. which will lead to a less productive learning session. Keep sessions short (5 to 10 minutes for younger children or children who get easily frustrated and 10 to 15 minutes for older children or children who can work for longer periods without frustration), unless the child is eager to keep going.
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You also might find interest in our article 78 Free IPAD Apps to Help With Learning, Behavior, and Language Development.
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For links to free worksheets and activities check out our resources page.
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