With all of its complex grammar rules and seemingly nonsensical spelling, we can all agree that the English language certainly is a tricky one.
For a child in kindergarten just beginning to learn to read, sight words can be a challenge to wrap their head around.
If you’re trying to turn your kids into proficient readers, here’s everything you need to know about sight words and how to teach sight words to struggling readers.
What are sight words?
Sight words are high-frequency words that don’t follow typical rules of spelling, for example: come, who, and does.
Since they aren’t pronounced phonetically, children often have difficulty memorizing their spelling. A student can’t look at “who” and figure out how to pronounce it unless they’ve been taught that it’s an exception to the normal rules of spelling and phonetics.
The most widely-used list of sight words is the Dolch Sight Words list, which is broken down by age range, starting from kindergarten.
After memorizing the most common examples, readers should be able to instantly identify and recall sight words, rather than waste time trying to pronounce them as they’re written.
How to teach sight words
While it sounds challenging, teaching sight words is actually fairly straightforward. After all, it’s just a matter of repetition, helping your child commit the words to memory. We can, therefore, apply regular memory practice to sight words to ensure they stick in young readers’ heads.
Once you’ve introduced your student to the list of words, you can play fun games and activities to help them memorize sight words with ease.
Music is an excellent and effective memory tool for all ages. Once you get a song stuck in your head, chances are you’ll remember the lyrics for a long time. We can apply this to sight words, teaching students to associate each with a catchy tune.
There are plenty of online resources for sight word songs and videos, like this Youtube channel. You’ll be able to find songs for all skill levels. Watching these videos a few times, your students will already have a deeper understanding of sight words.
You could even take a nursery rhyme they’re already familiar with (like “Mary Had a Little Lamb”) and replace some lyrics with whichever sight words your student is trying to memorize.
Frequent use is one of the best ways to commit something to memory. Block-building games are not only fun — so your student will be eager to play again and again! — but they get a child thinking creatively about sight words and how they apply to the real world.
Take a Jenga-like set and write sight words onto each block or on paper that you’ll then tape to each piece. Play the game as normal and each time a block is drawn from the tower, ask your child to read the word and use it in a sentence.
If you don’t have Jenga, you could also apply this to Lego blocks, getting kids to make a tower or other structure.
Making a simple memory game requires nothing but thick paper or card, a pen, and some scissors. Write matching words on two cards and start with about ten altogether.
Play as if it were a normal game of memory match, but ask your child to read out each word as they flip cards looking for pairs. This can be played alone or with a group, and is a great way to get your student repeating the same sight words over and over.
How to use sight words to help struggling readers
Every child learns at a different speed and will struggle with different things. Sight words can be tricky for some students to pick up quickly, especially if they’re not confident readers. Of course, it’s important to reassure them that this is perfectly normal, as well as giving them plenty of opportunities to practice reading.
There are also some more strategies you, as the teacher, can apply to help teach sight words to struggling readers.
Display tricky sight words
Print or write some of the sight words that your child is particularly struggling with on colored paper and stick them around your home or classroom. By giving them constant exposure to the words and how they’re spelled, your child will be able to lodge them in their memory without having to think too hard about it.
Read aloud together
Teaching sight words can take a lot of patience on the teacher’s behalf, but reading aloud together every day is a really helpful learning strategy. Get your student to read to you, and encourage them when they come to any tough spots. Create a memory bank from card to help isolate tricky words that need practice.
Children’s books naturally contain a lot of sight words. Start with something like Dr. Seuss, as the repetition in many of his rhymes is great in helping commit sight words to memory.
No, we’re not talking about writing a novel! Instead, try to come up with creative ways that your children can write. Break away from the usual routine of using paper and pencil to practice spelling words and get your kids to write in all sorts of other mediums.
Use fingers to write on a fogged-up window, shape PlayDoh into letters, carve into wet sand, spell words in flour… let your imagination run wild!
They could even use their bodies to spell out letters. It’s helpful — especially for kinesthetic learners — to practice forming the words over and over, and being creative will keep it engaging!
Practice, practice, practice
At the end of the day, the best way to teach sight words to kids is through repetition. You can mix things up with fun games and activities to keep their attention, but it’s one of those things that you’ll have to keep working on over and over.
Soon enough, with a little repetition and patience, they’ll be able to quickly and confidently identify common sight words while reading.
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