5 Tips for Teaching Sight Words

There is nothing that will help your beginning readers feel more like readers than being able to instantly recognize sight words.  If you work with struggling readers, learning sight words and high-frequency words will help increase their overall reading fluency and comprehension.  Here are 5 tips for teaching sight words, from my classroom to yours.

Use these 5 tips to help you teach sight words in fun and engaging ways your students will love.

1. Teach the Word as a Whole

The goal for sight words is that our students recognize the word as a whole.  In phonics, we teach them sounds and phonemes and the strategies for decoding a word. But decoding and sounding out a word can be a laborious process for beginning readers.  As students recognize the word as a whole, they improve their overall reading fluency and comprehension.

Flashcards like these are super versatile and can be used for independent practice, as a center activity, or even as a whole group activity.

Note:  Sight words and high-frequency words are often lumped into the same category.  However, there is a key difference.  True sight words don't follow the phonics rules and can't be decoded in that manner, thus the need to recognize by sight.  High-frequency words are the words most commonly used in books and articles in the English language.  Some high-frequency words can be sounded out using phonics rules.  However, since these words will be seen often, it helps students overall reading fluency to be able to recognize the whole word.

A great way to present the whole word is with flash cards.  Flash cards are a very versatile tool in the classroom.  Besides the traditional use for drilling, they can be used as a teaching tool, on the word wall,  or as cards for a game.  You can easily make flash cards with index cards or you can buy pre-made flashcards and save some time.

Use these Fry first 300 words flashcards to help you when teaching sight words this year.

These flashcards include the first 300 words of Fry's Sight Word List.  I have also included color words, number words, days of the week, and months of the year.  There are also a couple of blank pages that are editable so you can add any additional words you might need.  These are perfect for creating a sight word ring for your students, adding to the word wall, or creating teaching tools for your whole class or small group teaching.

2. Reading and Spelling Go Hand in Hand

One of the easiest ways to teach the whole word is to work on reading and spelling together.  Most students will already know their letters, and if they don't you should work on that first.  Once students are able to recognize their letters by sight, they can begin to work on putting those letters together to recognize words.

In my classroom when we introduce a word we follow the same routine - read the word - spell the word - read the word again.  We do this a couple of times together and then the class does this on their own.  We might clap, snap, jump, or use silly voices, but we always read it - spell it - read it again.

Sight word practice pages like these include several different activities to help your students practice their sight words during center time.

We also practice the words in our center time.  A class favorite is these sight word practice worksheets that focus on reading and spelling.  Students work on both skills on this one page and it is a great way to introduce a new word.  

This is the first activity we do with each new word.  The reason I start here is that the focus is on the word.  Students work on reading, spelling, and recognizing a single word at a time. You can find the full set of these sight word practice pages in my store.

I try to give my students lots of opportunities to work on the individual word before moving on to the word in sentences.  We work on the word in a variety of ways both as a class and individually.

In small groups, one of our favorite activities is working on building words using magnetic letters or letter tiles.  This allows us to not only work on spelling the word but also left-to-right progression and letter recognition.  

3. Word Recognition is Key

Learning to read is tough.  By guiding our students through these scaffolded steps we can make the process a little easier for our students.  When we try to rush the process or skip steps we often see it result in student frustration.  

As I teach sight words I always remember that instant word recognition is the goal.  I begin by helping my students make the connection with what they already know - letters.  Then we work with just the word.  As students begin identifying the word, we move to add the word into sentences.  This basic progression of word use is a great example of scaffolded learning.  

Fluency building sentence activities like these help your students start adding sight words to sentences.

As we move to this next level, students also work on reading words in sentences.  These fluency building sentence activities get students to read sentences by adding one word at a time.  This is a great next step for students after they have spent lots of time working on isolated words. Plus, by using multiple sight words in the sentences, students get lots of great opportunities for review as well.

These worksheets ask students to highlight the words and then practice reading the sentences. I love using this activity in small groups because I can get a really good feel for students' progress on multiple words.

This set of sight word practice covers the second 100 words on the Fry Sight Word List.  

4. Repeated Exposure

Practice, practice, practice is my motto with sight words.  The more a student is exposed to a word, the faster they will learn to recognize it instantly.  As I plan activities in my classroom I am thinking about building this repeated exposure to the words in a way that is fun and engaging.  
Word searches and games like these are a fun way to get your students excited about practicing sight words.

Our reading and writing centers will be filled with different ways for students to use their sight words.  In addition to the sight word worksheets described above, we will also do word searches, games, and more.

Until students are reading the words fluently, there's really no way to practice too much! The key to repeated exposure is keeping the activities fun. Don't just do a flashcard drill and kill over and over again. Vary the activities to keep the learning fresh and fun!

These practice activities can focus on a single word or on a group of words that students have learned.  Using multiple words in the same activity is a great way to review and keep words fresh.  

In my classroom, we work on 3-5 words a week.  After two or three weeks we have a set of 10 words that we can work on together. For each set of 10 words, I have put together a variety of activities and games that students can use to practice their sight words.

This Fry Sight Words Bundle is the perfect resource when teaching sight words.

Each set of 10 words has the same activities.  What I like about this is that after I teach my students how to do the activities, they are able to work on them independently.  That means that after a few weeks, I can fill my centers with activities that students can work on with very few questions.  This enables me to focus on small group teaching while knowing that my students are working on skills independently. 

Another class favorite that my students are completely engaged in is sight word activities using the computer or iPad. I also created some digital sight word activities for use in the classroom or during distance learning. Digital activities are a great way to mix things up while ensuring that students get frequent exposure to the sight words they're learning!

5. Use a Multi-Sensory Approach

Multi-Sensory teaching involves choosing activities that use different senses as a primary means of learning.  Each of the senses sends information to the brain on different neuropathways.  By using a variety of activities you can make sure that all your students are learning, despite their primary learning style. 

Using a multi-sensory approach to teaching sight words means every one of your students will have the opportunity to learn their sight words in a way that works best for them.

Here are some examples of sight word activities and the primary sensory connection:
  1. Read it - Spell it - Read it again Chant (auditory) 
  2. Building words with magnetic letters or letter tiles (kinesthetic & visual)
  3. Sight Word Worksheets (visual)
  4. Building words with play dough (tactile)
For optimal multi-sensory learning, try to get an activity to use two or more senses.  It's not as hard as it might seem.  For example, on Read it - Spell it - Read it again, if you project the word on the screen or have students looking at a flashcard while they are talking, you have added a visual component.  Add to that students clapping each letter or air drawing each letter and you have a kinesthetic portion.  Put all three of these together (look at the word as you read it, spell it, read it again and air draw the letters when you spell) and you now have an activity that is visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.  

Pulling it All Together!

As I plan sight word activities for my students I do my best to pull all 5 of these tips for teaching sight words together.  Our time together is so limited that I want to make sure I am getting 'the most bang for my buck' with our time.  You can even try these sight word pages for free with your class.  Grab this free sample and use them with your kids today!

Save these Tips for Teaching Sight Words

Just pin this to your favorite classroom Pinterest board so you can come back for these ideas and activities for teaching sight words.

Teaching sight words is fun and easy with these tips and activities you can start using in your classroom today. From coloring pages to games, from worksheets to hands-on activities, your students will love learning and practicing their sight words. use these activities as independent practice, center activities, or even whole class instruction. Grab the sight words freebie to try out in your classroom today! #thechocolateteacher #chocolateteacher #sightwords #teachingsightwords

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