Learning how to read sight words is one of the first steps in early literacy. Much of printed text consists of the same 100 words used repeatedly – words such as a, like, to, in, the, and so on. Years of research has been conducted on the most common words across children’s and adult literature. Many of these words are nearly impossible to “sound out,” and because of this, readers need to learn them by memorization or “sight.” When an early reader has memorized sight words and can recognize them automatically, they spend less mental energy trying to sound out every single word. They become more fluent, confident readers. One of the most essential ways to help your young reader be successful is by continuing to practice and master sight words.
While flashcards are an effective, simple and efficient tool to memorize sight words, many children need to experience these words in a variety of ways in order to fully master them. Here are some fun (and easy!) ways to practice:
- Hopscotch: Make a hopscotch board with chalk and write sight words in the boxes. Have your child hop and read the words. Or, for cold and rainy days, use painter’s tape on the floor.
- Sandy Words: Pour any type of fine material (such as flour, sand, salt, or sugar) in a dish. Have your child use a finger to write sight words in the dish and then read the word. Once they read it, they can “erase” and start again.
- Flashlight Words: Tape the words up on the ceiling or wall and turn off the lights. Use the flashlight to read the words or trace over the letters.
- Word Crafts: Use craft items like modeling clay, Popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners or cotton balls to spell the words.
- Bingo: Write sight words on a bingo board. When you call a word, have your child find it and place a colored square on it. Take turns being callers for even more practice.
- Sight Word Scavenge: Hide the sight words on sticky notes around the house and have your child find them as quickly as they can. See if they can beat their time each round. For an extra twist, tell them what words to look for and hide the individual letters instead. Then ask them to put the letters in order to spell the words.
- Word Hunt: Hunt for the sight words on billboards and store signs while in the car. Or, hunt for them on TV, in magazines and newspapers.
- Air Head: After the child reads a word, have them spell it in the air with their finger. An extra challenge: first write with your strong hand, and then switch hands.
Jennifer Mazzola is an elementary reading specialist in Lynn, MA. She has a master’s degree in K-12 Reading and Literacy.