Sight Words Teaching Strategy
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.
Correct a child’s mistake by clearly stating and reinforcing the right word several times.
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
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.
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.
- See & Say — A child sees the word on the flash card and says the word while underlining it with her finger.
- Spell Reading — The child says the word and spells out the letters, then reads the word again.
- Arm Tapping — The child says the word and then spells out the letters while tapping them on his arm, then reads the word again.
- Air Writing — A child says the word, then writes the letters in the air in front of the flash card.
- 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.
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.
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!
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.
7. Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Progress is slow. We have been on the same five words for a week!
A: 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?
A: 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!!!
A: 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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