1. See & Say

A child sees the word on the flash card and says the word while underlining it with her finger.

2. Spell Reading

The child says the word and spells out the letters, then reads the word again.

3. Arm Tapping

The child says the word and then spells out the letters while tapping them on her arm.

4. Air Writing

A child says the word, then writes the letters in the air in front of the flash card.

5. Table Writing

A child writes the letters on a table, first looking at and then not looking at the flash card.

Corrections Procedure

Correct a child’s mistake by clearly stating and reinforcing the right word several times.

1. Overview

Sight words instruction should be paired with instruction in phonics. It is not a replacement for phonics! Phonics is a method for learning to read in general, while sight words instruction increases a child’s familiarity with the high frequency words he/she will encounter most often.

Use lesson time to introduce 3-5 new words, and use game time to practice the new words.

A sight words instruction session should be about 30 minutes long, divided into two components:

  • Sight Words Lesson — Use our Teaching Techniques to introduce new words and to review words from previous lessons — 10 minutes
  • Sight Words Games — Use our games to provide reinforcement of the lesson and some review of already mastered sight words to help your child develop speed and fluency — 20 minutes
Video: Introduction to Teaching Sight Words

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2. When to Start Teaching Sight Words

Before a child starts learning sight words, it is important that he/she be able to recognize and name all the lower-case letters of the alphabet. When prompted with a letter, the child should be able to name the letter quickly and confidently. Note that, different from learning phonics, the child does not need to know the letters’ sounds.

Before starting sight words, a child needs to be able to recognize and name all the lower-case letters of the alphabet.

If a student’s knowledge of letter names is still shaky, it is important to spend time practicing this skill before jumping into sight words. Having a solid foundation in the ability to instantly recognize and name the alphabet letters will make teaching sight words easier and more meaningful for the child.

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3. Sight Words Teaching Techniques

We recommend that you introduce new sight words using a sequence of five techniques to help the child remember the new words. These techniques work together to activate different parts of the brain.

  1. See & Say — A child sees the word on the flash card and says the word while underlining it with her finger.
  2. Spell Reading — The child says the word and spells out the letters, then reads the word again.
  3. Arm Tapping — The child says the word and then spells out the letters while tapping them on his arm, then reads the word again.
  4. Air Writing — A child says the word, then writes the letters in the air in front of the flash card.
  5. Table Writing — A child writes the letters on a table, first looking at and then not looking at the flash card.

These exercises combine many repetitions of the word (seeing, hearing, speaking, spelling, and writing it) with physical movements that focus the child’s attention and cement the word into the child’s long-term memory.

The lessons get the child up to a baseline level of competence that is then reinforced by the games, which take them up to the level of mastery. All you need is a flash card for each of the sight words you are covering in the lesson.

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4. Correcting Mistakes

Of course children will struggle with some words, making several mistakes in the process of learning. They might get confused between similar-looking words or struggle to remember phonetically irregular words.

We have developed a Corrections Procedure that you should use every time your child makes a mistake in a sight words lesson or game. Simple and straightforward, it focuses on reinforcing the correct identification and pronunciation of the word. It can be done quickly without disrupting the flow of the activity.

Do not scold the child for making a mistake or even repeat the incorrect word. Just reinforce the correct word using our script, and then move on.

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5. Plan a Lesson

5.1 Introduce New Words

When first beginning sight words, work on only 3-5 unfamiliar words at a time to make it manageable for your child. Introduce one word at a time, using the five teaching techniques. Hold up the flash card for the first word, and go through all five techniques, in order. Then introduce the second word, and go through all five teaching techniques, and so on.

This lesson should establish basic familiarity with the new words. This part of a sight words session should be brisk and last no more than ten minutes. As your child gets more advanced, you might expand the number of words you work on in each lesson.

5.2 Review Old Words

Begin each subsequent lesson by reviewing words from the previous lesson. Words often need to be covered a few times for the child to fully internalize them. Remember: solid knowledge of a few words is better than weak knowledge of a lot of words!

Go through the See & Say exercise for each of the review words. For any word that the child struggles to recognize, put that flash card aside for more extensive review. If the child has trouble with more than two of the review words, then set aside the new words you were planning to introduce and devote that day’s lesson to review.

You conduct the review of words the child struggles to recognize in the same way you introduce new words, by going through the full sequence of five teaching exercises for each word. If a child still struggles with a particular word, continue reviewing and reinforcing it in future lessons. If the child is reading the words quickly and confidently, add new words to replace these mastered words.

Note: The child should have a good grasp of — but does not need to have completely mastered — a word before it gets replaced in your lesson plan. Use your game time to provide lots of repetition for these words until the child has thoroughly mastered them.

5.3 Reinforce with Games

Our numerous sight words games are of course the most entertaining part of the sight words program, but they need to wait until after the first part of the sight words lesson.

Games reinforce what the lesson teaches.
Do not use games to introduce new words.

NOTE: Be sure the child has a pretty good grasp of a sight word before using it in a game, especially if you are working with a group of children. You do not want one child to be regularly embarrassed in front of his classmates when he struggles with words the others have already mastered!

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6. Scaling & Scaffolding

Every child is unique and will learn sight words at a different rate. A teacher may have a wide range of skill levels in the same classroom. Many of our sight words games can be adjusted to suit different skill levels.

Many of our activity pages feature recommendations for adjusting the game to the needs of your particular child or classroom:

  • Confidence Builders suggest ways to simplify a sight words game for a struggling student.
  • Extensions offer tips for a child who loves playing a particular game but needs to be challenged more.
  • Variations suggest ways to change up the game a little, by tailoring it to a child’s special interests or making it “portable.”
  • Small Group Adaptations offer ideas for scaling up from an individual child to a small group (2-5 children), ensuring that every child is engaged and learning.

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7. Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Progress is slow. We have been on the same five words for a week!
Particularly in the first days of learning sight words, it is not unusual to have to repeat the same set of words several times. At this early stage, the child is learning how to learn the words and is developing pattern recognition approaches that will accelerate his progress. It is important to give him time to become confident with his current set of words, and avoid overwhelming the child with new words when he hasn’t yet become familiar with the old words.

Q: Do I need to do all five techniques for every word?
Start out by using all five techniques with each new word. The techniques use different teaching methods and physical senses to support and reinforce the child’s memorization of the word. After a few weeks of lessons, you will develop a sense for how long it takes your child to learn new words and whether all five exercises are necessary. Start by eliminating the last activity, Table Writing, but be sure to review those words at the next lesson to see if the child actually retained them without that last exercise. If the child learns fine without Table Writing, then you can try leaving out the fourth technique, Air Writing. Children who learn quickly may only need to use two or three of the techniques.

Q: How long will it take to get through a whole word list? I want my child to learn ALL the words!!!
That depends on a number of factors, including frequency of your lessons as well as your child’s ability to focus. But do not get obsessed with the idea of racing through the word lists to the finish line. It is much, much better for your child to solidly know just 50 words than to “kind of” know 300 words. We are building a foundation here, and we want that foundation to be made of rock, not sand!

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23 Responses to “Sight Words Teaching Strategy”

  1. Kristina Demers

    What age to start?

    ADMIN – Hi Kristina,

    You will have to calibrate based on your child. Do a couple of lessons, and if they want to learn, have the attention span, and they are able to grasp the material, keep on going. If not, pause for a few months before trying again. In developmentally normal children, I have seen this as early as three, and as late as five. Ideally I will start a year before they go to school, because I like my kids to be reading before starting school, but if a child is an earlier or a later bloomer I will let nature be my guide.

    My only exception to this developmentally based timing is if a child is falling behind grade level. In that case, I would be a bit more pushy.

  2. Rose Oram

    Found this site to be very helpful, being a teacher of very challenged students who are struggling with reading and basic sight words. The games and instructions and other activities are great. I will certainly have lots of fun teaching my kids using these games and activities.

  3. Linda Pennicooke

    I will work these strategies, because they seem like logical ways to introduce and reinforce. Thanks very much.

  4. Rasheedah

    I like this website! I’m looking forward to start with my kids.

  5. Nancy Williams

    I’ve been looking for something like this for years. It allows me to create activities with the very words I’m teaching. I teach intervention to first grade students who are struggling to learn to read. I plan to share this site with my fellow teachers so they may enrich their instruction by using real strategies for teaching sight words. It is a multi-sensory approach that makes so much sense. I’m looking forward to using it this fall.

  6. Ashley C.

    When teaching a sight word do you imply all 5 strategies consecutively in one lesson, or use each strategy over the course of five days?

    ADMIN – Hi Ashley,

    We do recommend using all 5 teaching techniques consecutively in one lesson. The child will learn the words by repetition, and this will give him/her lots of repetitions of each word in a variety of ways. You may see after a while that your child has a firm grasp of a word after going through just 4 or even just 3 of the techniques. Then it’s okay to drop the last one or two techniques, but it depends on the particular child.

  7. Charlotte Gamble

    I would love to implement this into my teaching strategy. It will definitely enhance my children’s vocabulary as well as writing skills using words in complete sentences. However, how can I do this with a class of 3, 4 and 5 year olds at different learning levels?

    ADMIN – Hi Charlotte,

    Since our games and flashcards are fully customizable, you can print exactly what you need to suit the needs of your particular students. Our games are best played in small groups, so you can divide up the children by reading level and give each group a game with a different word list. For our Fishing game, print different level words on different colors of paper. Then everyone can play together, with advanced kids “fishing” words on green paper, for example, and less advanced kids “fishing” the words on blue paper.

  8. Grace

    This is awesome. Thanks a lot. Now I can help the slow learners using this method.

  9. Ann Marie Mc Donald

    I enjoyed your presentation and really appreciate it!

  10. bandana nath

    Please give me the list of words for my five-year-old daughter…

    ADMIN – Hi Bandana,

    The Dolch sight words lists are the most commonly used in American schools. For a five-year-old, I would suggest you start by reviewing the Dolch Pre-Kindergarten word list. If she already knows those words really well, then you can move on to the Dolch Kindergarten words.

  11. Brenda

    Hi, I’m teaching English to third and fourth grade students, but English is their second language (Spanish being their first) so I would like to know if I can teach them the sight words with this 5 techniques, and which sight words list would you recommend for them? I want to teach them how to spell the words and how to write them.

    ADMIN – Hi Brenda,

    Yes, this would be a good way to help them start learning Sight Words. I would use the Dolch Sight Words list. Both Dolch and Fry are good starting points, representing the most commonly used words in English. The reason I prefer Dolch is that it is the most widely used in education and consequently has a lot more resources available for teachers and students.

  12. Lady

    Would you make any changes to these techniques if using them with a small group?

    ADMIN – Hi there!

    For small groups, the techniques are very similar. Go back and forth between having the children do the exercises as a group, and calling on specific children to do the exercise one at a time. The key is making sure no one falls behind without your noticing while the other kids in the group master the word and move ahead.

  13. Kristina G.

    Our school uses the Fry Words. We have many students that have met their grade level goal and have surpassed. Some even know all 1,000 words. My question is what to do when they know all of the sight words? I have suggested practicing spelling them, as well as using them in sentences for practice. Do you know of anything else?
    Thank you in advance for any help you can give!

    ADMIN – Hi Kristina,

    Those are great ideas for reinforcing and cementing students’ knowledge of the sight words. We also recommend encouraging the students in their reading habits. With a solid foundation of phonics and sight words, kids should be well on their way to fluency in reading!

  14. Sujatha Chandrasekaran

    Hello, I am very happy to find this website for the cause of children. Thank you so much for your detailed materials. I Have a 4.3 yr old kid. She is good in grasping language and math but She is finding it difficult to copy write. Earlier she was incomplete but now she is not even starting her work in school. Teacher non-cooperative.. I decided to take the charge and now teaching her basic phonics and the way to join the letters. what else could I do to make her see the board and copy the lessons with ease.

    ADMIN – Hi Sujatha,

    Try using our Teaching Techniques, especially Air Writing and Table Writing, to be sure your daughter understands the words she is supposed to be learning. If she does not have a problem learning the words, maybe the lesson simply needs to be more fun. Reinforce the lessons with one or more of our Sight Words games. She will get to play a fun game while at the same time getting plenty of practice working with her newly learned words.

  15. sarah

    i have been working with my daughter for last two years.she was a non reader.i used “look and say method” and associated the words with the pictures.

  16. ana

    I personally find the best way to learn sight words is watching videos.
    For example my daughter love this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvnNKSQWMPU
    it’s fun, have nice music and pretty pictures.

  17. Summer

    That’s 2 clever by half and 2×2 clever 4 me. Thanks!

  18. katie woolsey

    Very helpful blog for kids…thank you very much for sharing this……i have seen kids improve their word learning skills by playing some games and completing some amazing activities like some interesting games in here: http://goo.gl/PkXXNn

  19. Jennifer W

    I just found this website and can not wait to use these techniques with my child. What an awesome resource this website is! Thank You!!!!

  20. cris

    thank you…. this blog helped me a lot….
    I was assigned to demonstrate some teaching strategies about sight words. can i ask for some advice if it’s okay ……thank you very much

  21. Carolina

    How many words per lesson?

    ADMIN – Hi Carolina,

    It depends on the age and attention span of your child, but we generally recommend introducing 3-5 new words in a lesson. Go through all five teaching techniques with the first word, then repeat all five techniques with the second word, etc., to give your child plenty of repetition and lock the word into the child’s long-term memory. After introducing the new words, you may want to review some previously covered words and then play a game to reinforce the new and reviewed words.

  22. Prachi Tripathi

    Hello There,
    I would like to know if this kind of activity will work for a child with borderline IQ. As I am working with children having learning disabilities. I try finding for and updating as many new activities and techniques I can to teach the sight words. Thank you.

    ADMIN – Hi Prachi,

    Actually, many of our teaching techniques were originally developed for children with learning disabilities. For children with lower than average IQ, we recommend spending lots of time on the Arm Tapping, Air Writing and Table Writing techniques. You should cover fewer words per session, with multiple, on-going review opportunities using a variety of the sight words games. The average child needs 4-14 exposures to a word for the word to stick. So children who struggle with reading need many more review and practice opportunities.

  23. Kim

    Began using this with students selected for summer services, kindergarteners going to 1st grade who knew less than 20 of the 60 kindergarten sight words. The students love the additional activities and for most it does help get the word into long term memory so they can remember it. The majority of these students have English as their second language, so I review words that have been learned, stopping if a word has been forgotten and focusing on that word. If they recall all of those words I introduce one more word. Three to five a day would be too overwhelming for them. We won’t get them to 60 by the time school starts, but they will know more than they do now.


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