Teaching reading can be difficult and teaching sight words to children can be particularly tricky unless you have some solid strategies and techniques.
Many parents and teachers aren’t sure when and how to approach this challenge.
To help provide proven techniques to teach sight words to children, we spoke with the team at All About Learning Press, makers of All About Reading and All About Spelling programs, to get their expertise on the subject.
They shared 5 essential techniques to teach sight words to children that are fun, easy, and — most importantly — effective.
First of All, What Are Sight Words?
Sight words are an important part of early reading and literacy development. These are words that young readers are usually encouraged to recognize and read by sight, rather than sounding them out phonetically. Learning these words is essential because they appear frequently and often don’t follow the usual phonetic patterns, making them especially difficult for beginning readers.
High Frequency: Sight words are the most frequently occurring words in the English language. They appear regularly in all kinds of written materials, making them essential for reading comprehension.
Irregular Pronunciation: Many sight words cannot be sounded out using standard phonetic rules, which is why they are taught as whole words. For example, the word “the” does not follow typical phonetic rules.
How Are Sight Words Taught?
As a result of these characteristics, sight words are often taught through memorization. While some of them can be sounded out phonetically, they occur so often that students should be able to recognize them and instantly recall how to say the word.
For children that don’t struggle with reading, very little practice is required before a word goes into their long-term memory. They might encounter a word just a few times and never have to sound it out again. On the other hand, struggling readers may need to sound a word out thirty or so times before they’re able to read it on sight.
When it comes to teaching sight words to children, many parents and teachers use these lists and try to help the children memorize all of them. However, there are plenty of tips, tricks, and techniques that can significantly increase the chances of success.
5 Essential Techniques to Teach Sight Words to Children
1. Make Learning Sight Words Fun with Games and Activities
When we make learning interactive and enjoyable, children have fun and are much more likely to remember the things that are being taught. Here are three entertaining games and activities that can be utilized when teaching sight words to children:
Sight Word Bingo: Because learning sight words is all about recognizing the words quickly, it works perfectly for bingo. Start by breaking up the sight words into batches of 30-40 words, and then play a few rounds with each batch until your child has mastered them all.
Have your child or student fill their card out with words from one of the batches, and then read the words out in a random order. Your child or student should cross out each word on their card as it is read aloud, and they win when they’ve completely crossed out one row or column.
Print out the image below on sheets of paper and write a sight word on each one. Spread the words out on the floor and then have your child or student stand in the middle. This game works particularly well with a toy hammer or mallet.
As you read from the list of sight words, your child or student needs to hit or jump on the mole with the corresponding sight word. You can start with 5 or 10 words, and add more to make the game more fun and challenging.
You can work through all the sight words by doing them in chunks of 10-20. As your child learns more words, you can add in some of the old words each time you play to help reinforce them.
Pack Your Suitcase: Lay out a variety of objects, each with a sight word label. The child’s task is to “pack their suitcase” with objects by reading the sight words on the labels. This activity not only reinforces sight words but also encourages vocabulary growth.
2. Use Decodable Books
Decodable books are simple books that are made specifically for children learning how to read. These books focus on certain grapheme–phoneme correspondences. That means that most of the words in each of these books share the same sounds and letter combinations.
Reading decodable books encourages students to look at how words are spelled rather than guessing from pictures or other clues from the story. Using these books makes it easier for students to master certain sounds and letter combinations before moving on to new ones.
Check out some free decodable readers from All About Reading here: Free Decodable Stories
3. Teach How to Sound Out Phonetically-Regular Words
While sight words are primarily recognized on sight, it’s crucial to emphasize that not all words fall into this category. Encourage your child to sound out phonetically-regular words. This technique helps them apply phonics skills to words that can be decoded, further enhancing their reading abilities.
Children who struggle with reading usually guess how to pronounce words they are unfamiliar with. Even though many sight words don’t follow the normal spelling patterns, it’s important to stop the bad habit of guessing. By looking closely at the letters and their combinations, children are more likely to recognize sight words and recall the correct pronunciation.
4. Use Sentence Dictation to Reinforce Sight Word Learning
Sentence dictation is a powerful tool to reinforce sight word learning. After teaching a group of sight words, have your child create sentences using those words. You can dictate sentences to them, or they can independently generate sentences. This exercise helps in context-based application and understanding of sight words.
5. Use Words Cards to Master Sight Words Through Repetition
Create word cards for each sight word you are teaching. Review these word cards frequently until your child has mastered them. The consistent repetition of these flashcards helps reinforce recognition and recall of sight words.
The Bottom Line to The 5 Essential Techniques to Teach Sight Words to Children
When it comes to teaching sight words to children, here’s what you need to keep in mind:
- The goal of teaching sight words is to enable your child to read the most common words without needing to sound them out, allowing them to focus more on new words.
- Some words can’t be decoded easily and must be learned through rote memorization. Making this as interactive as possible keeps it enjoyable and increases the chances of success.
- New words move into a child’s long-term memory after being encountered a certain number of times. Increasing the number of times a child sees a new word helps speed this process up.
When you teach sight words to children it is a vital step in their reading journey. By incorporating interesting games and activities, providing decodable books, promoting phonetic decoding, using sentence dictation, and diligently reviewing word cards, you can greatly increase your child’s chances of success. Remember that patience and encouragement are key in helping children develop their reading skills, so make the journey enjoyable and rewarding.
Gil Christenberry is a proud member of the All About Learning Press team.
As an avid writer and reader, he loves helping struggling learners achieve their potential and unlock the wonderful worlds of literature and education.
Related article: 7 Most Common Reading Problems and How to Fix Them