How to Teach Sight Words
Are you wondering how to teach sight words? You’re in the right place! Through small group instruction, you can effectively teach sight words and make it fun for kids! You’ll also find out how to weave trick word practice throughout your day, so your students are constantly practicing and memorizing their sight words.
What are Sight Words?
Sight words (also known as trick words) is a common word that is not easily decodable using phonetic strategies. Words like: the, put, have are all trick words because we cannot use our letter sound knowledge to figure them out. They also occur often in our reading, writing, and day to day language. Some sight words can be solved phonetically, however this should never be a child’s first strategy for a trick word. If a trick word follows typical letter-sound patterns, it is an exception – not the rule.
The Truth About Sight Words
There’s no beating about the bush – kids have to memorize sight words (or trick words) to effectively read. These words don’t follow normal phonics (or how we expect letters to work) so, we must teach our brains to recognize these sight words separately! The best method for how to teach sight words are memorization strategies. While phonics can support sight word growth, students will hit roadblocks if they rely on phonics alone. The evidence is clear: you must teach students how to memorize their trick words.
Importance of Sight Words
Sight words are vital to a child’s reading success! They create a foundation for the child to build upon as a reader. The more automatic a child’s sight word recall is, the more than can focus on other things. If they don’t have to worry about decoding or remembering a trick word the child can focus on: decoding new words, applying their knowledge to the story, remembering what they’ve read, or (most importantly) simply enjoying the book!
You may have heard the phrase: sight words anchor your reading – and it’s true! The more comfortable and confident a child is with reading trick words, the better reader they will be.
Are your struggling to teach sight words during small group instruction? Read here for 5 steps to master classroom management during small group instruction so you can focus on those sight words!
How to Explain Sight Words to Kindergarten (or any grade!)
To explain sight words to Kindergarten, or any student learning new words, is to stress that letter-sound strategies will not work. They need to practice reading and writing these words to make them stick in their brain. This is a great opportunity to talk about what makes a good learner. The sight words will only stick in your brain if you work to put them there. You can have your students make a trick word goal: they will know 10 sight words in their favorite book! These are words they can always read, no matter the story. With the right challenge and motivation, don’t be surprised to find practicing sight words soon becomes your students favorite part of the day!
What Order to Teach Sight Words
There are so many different sight word lists to work from. Should you use Fry™ or Dolch™ lists? What about the list from your curriculum? Or the words kids ask about? It can be overwhelming when figuring out how to teach sight words! The best order to teach students sight words is to balance the word length with the word frequency. Both Fry™ and Dolch ™, or your curriculum given list, are wonderful guides and places to start, but it’s okay to deviate from their given order if your students need different words. Often, I pre-read the decodable reader the student is interested in, or the one I am planning on using in my small group instruction, and teach the target words in that story.
How to Teach a Child Sight Words
There’s no sugarcoating it: you need to teach your child to memorize sight words. Kids (and adults) have two kinds of memory: short term and long term. Short term memory are things you remember in the moment, but forget later on while long term memory holds things that stick forever. To teach sight words, you need to help those words into your child’s long term memory. But, how do we teach a child sight words?
First, introduce the word. Pick one word at a time. Show the student a card, read the word then spell it. Have the student repeat. “Have. H-A-V-E. Have”. Next, practice the sight word using different learning styles: have the child circle the word in a group of words, make the word with their body, or sing the sight word song (My class loves Heidi Burkus www.heidisongs.com).
After introducing and exploring the sight word, it’s time to work on transferring the new word into the child’s long term memory. The only way to make a sight word stick is to write it over and over again. Research shows that new information is more likely to stick when it’s presented with the “magic three”: 1) the information is taught 2) the information is written 3) the information is read. These steps must happen three times each.
For each new sight word you should: introduce it and practice it three ways (finding, body writing, singing), write it three times (on whiteboards, paper, in sand…), and finally practicing reading the word in short sentences! This method will make you a master in teaching sight words to all children!
How to Teach Sight Words to Struggling Readers
You may say, “okay that formula sounds great but I have kids who are REALLY struggling to get their sight words down. How do you teach sight words to struggling readers?”. Well, the formula is actually the same. That’s right: there is no secret magic to teaching trick words, students have to practice and practice until it sticks. “But that’s so boring!!” it can be, unless you spice it up a bit! Have a write the room where you only post the same three words multiple times. Students can then organize the words into columns as they write! Or having the students paint the words, build words with blocks, or sing sight word songs to each other. Practicing trick words is the best because the only limit to how to practice is your creativity. Give the kids some power! How do you want to practice this word? What would be a fun way to write this word? Anytime you can give kids choice in their learning it is powerful.
How to Teach Sight Words Virtually
Teaching sight words virtually has become one of the newer challenges teachers face. It is so hard to keep engagement and focus on the screen! But the formula stays the same: introduce/practice, write, and read. Remember the rule of three! Complete each step three times over to help transfer the new word from the short term to long term memory. Limit the number of sight words you introduce at a single time. The more words, the more confusion. Start with 2-4 words, master those, then move on. Here are some great sight word boom cards and google slide sight word activities that focus on 2-4 words to support mastery!
How to Teach Sight Words at Home
Learning sight words can (and should!) happen everywhere! If you have a struggling reader at home, sight words are your new best friend. The more words your reader memorizes, the less work they do to read. The less work, the more fun! Sight words are the secret to success when encouraging struggling readers. At home, look for sight words throughout your day. In the newspaper? A commercial? The mail? Point them out to show your child how significant these words are! You can also build words with materials around your house, write sight words in cookies than bake them, hide words around your house for your child to read and find. With some paper and a marker, there are so many ways to teach sight words at home!
What are Kindergarten Sight Words
So, now you know how to teach sight words but what sight words are you teaching? Studies show you should start with the smaller words with the most frequency. Check out the list below for the best kindergarten sight words to start teaching!
Looking for more resources on memory? Check these out!