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Effective Strategies for Teaching Sight Words to Primary Students

The ability to recognize high-frequency sight words is one of the most important indicators of reading success for young learners. Help your students develop awesome reading skills with these tips for effectively teaching sight words to primary students.

What Are Sight Words

Sight words are high-frequency words, meaning that they are some of the most commonly used words in a language. A major goal for kindergarten is to teach our students to memorize sight words so they can recognize them—you guessed it—on sight!

You can find several different lists of common sight words. Some of the most regularly used lists include the Fry Sight Words and the Dolch Sight Words lists. The Dolch list includes an estimated 80% of the words you would see in a typical children’s book and 50% that you would find in writing for adults.

The Fry list includes 1000 of the most frequently used words in English, with a list of 100 words for each grade level, 1-10.

Why Teach Sight Words to Kindergarteners

Why would we include memorized sight words as part of a phonics curriculum. Well, the fact of the matter is that many of our high-frequency sight words in English don’t play by our phonics rules.

Words like come, does, do, the, and said, aren’t easily decodable, and yet they are everywhere in day-to-day language. If kids can recognize several sight words on a page, they are able to read at least half the text. This not only helps them decode the other words based on context clues, but it helps them feel success with reading.

When our little learners are able to recognize such frequent words on sight, they gain so much confidence! With regular practice, they’ll be sight word masters in no time!

Ways to Teach Sight Words Effectively

The most important tip I can give you is to vary your sight word instruction as much as possible! Every child learns differently, and what works for one may not work at all for another. You’ll want to use different strategies to accommodate the different learning styles your students may have:

  • Visual
  • Musical/Auditory
  • Kinesthetic/Physical
  • Verbal
  • Logical/Mathematical
  • Social
  • Solitary

Here are some of my favorite ways to teach sight words to my primary students:

Play Sight Word Games

Every child loves to play games! From apps to dice games to concentration, there are so many options for teaching sight words with games. This one is my favorite:

Students partner up with a stack of sight word cards. There’s a mix of sight words and picture cards. They take turns choosing a card from the deck—if they can read it, great! If they choose a picture, they have to put all of their cards back in the pile. That way, the game never ends! Students can play this in a learning center or as an activity for early finishers. You can create your own, or grab this set: it includes 284 words from the Dolch pre-primer, primer, and first grade lists.

Sneak Sight Words Into the Background

It’s not exactly subliminal messaging, but kind of! I like to turn my computer screensaver into a slideshow of our sight words. That way, kids read them when they pass by. Some of my little learners get so excited when they see one they recognize! Another fun idea: attach a sight word to your lanyard and keep it front and center all day long!

Of course, another way to make your sight words seen is to create a bright and engaging word wall. The more often children see these words in different contexts, the better success they will have.

Practice Writing Sight Words

Sure, it’s important to practice printing sight words with a pencil, but there are so many other fun and creative ways to practice printing! Build sight words with magnetic letters, Wikki Stix, pipe cleaners, or blocks. Ask students to trace letters in sand, shaving cream, or in play-dough. Kinesthetic learners especially love to get their hands dirty while building their sight words!

Pencil work is important too! Early learners can benefit from first tracing letters and then working their way up to writing them independently.

Hunt for Sight Words in Print

Once my students have had some practice with a set of sight words, I like to encourage them to hunt for their word “in the wild.” I’ll give them a short poem or small passage from a story and ask them to point out the sight words they recognize.

My most enthusiastic learners are eager to tell me about the sight words they found on their cereal box, their bedtime story, or the credits of their morning cartoon.

Get Them Moving With Sight Words

We do plenty of movement-based sight word activities in the classroom, but these are some of my favorites to send home. Parents are always looking for productive ways to run down some energy, after all!

I like to provide my parents with flash cards and a variety of easy no-prep game ideas. Some examples include:

  • Line the stairs with flashcards and read them while walking up and down.
  • Arrange cards on the floor and have kids swat the word with a fly swatter as you call them out.
  • Shine a flashlight on the correct card as you call out words.
  • Write words in the air using big gestures.

For more ideas, download this free list of my favorite Sight Word Games at Home.

Create Sentences With Sight Words

Finally, be sure to practice creating sentences with sight words. It’s great to recognize the words on their own, but young readers need to understand them in context as well. That’s what it’s all about, right? Of course it will take time to build up to writing complete sentences on their own, but we can start early by helping them create sentences both on paper and with manipulatives like word blocks.

Sight word practice pages are perfect for this! <Find them HERE>

The Key to Teaching Sight Words is Repetition

Repeat, repeat, repeat! This biggest mistake I see is when teachers or parents focus on one word per week and then just move on. Keep recycling those words, bringing them up over and over again. Repeated exposure will help make those words stick. My best advice is to give students plenty of opportunities to not only see their sight words, but to also stop and recognize them. Remember to pause and identify sight words in your math problems, on their crayon boxes, or in the morning announcements.

With plenty of repetition and practice, your young learners will become confident readers in no time!

For a full pack of Dolch sight word lists plus a variety of activity ideas, grab this Sight Words Task Card set—you’ll never run out of ideas again!

How Do You Teach Sight Words?

I’d love to hear your favorite ways to teach sight words! Come on over to Instagram to join the conversation!

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