I have found through trial and error plus lots of research that there are 5 powerful ways for how to introduce sight words. I am also a firm believer that it is extremely important to have time built into each and every school day to allow for sight word practice. I also prefer focusing on a small amount of words (no more than 5) each week. (Five is the magic number to remember). Every introductory lesson students should see, hear, speak, spell, and write the new words.
1. Show Students Sight Words In Print
This step should be a no brainer. Well duh, Susan, of course they need to see the words! Maybe you have them posted on your word wall already. Maybe you post or write them on your whiteboard to be seen all week. Maybe your kiddos are giving the weekly words a high-five every time they leave the classroom because you’ve posted them next to the door.
These are all great, but can you do more? Is there a more effective way?
For years I had the weekly words written on index cards that I would stick with a magnet onto my front whiteboard. Before the weekly test I would take them down and after the test I would staple them to their correct spot on the word wall (with the students shouting what letter they should be put under).
But what about those students who do not pay attention when you are practicing the words? They look off into space, at their friends, pick at a spot on the carpet – anything but actually LOOK at the words while you try everything to get them to just look. Reminders and calling their name. Maybe you move them up front.
What about just giving them their own copy of the words? Pass out the week’s words for them to add to their own sight word rings. Or give them blank cards and ask them to write the words themselves. (Perfect for now when students need to have their own individual materials).
Have them take ownership in some way for the words they are learning. Then when you are asking them to look at the word they are learning, they are looking at their own copy in their own hands. Easy-peasy.
Also, you may want to share the sight word in a sentence. Students need to see the sight word in context to better understand it. The Science of Reading (SOR) promotes not teaching sight words in isolation but rather in context and using phonics when possible. Following the introduction day I make sure to spend the rest of the week using these principles and students practice finding phonograms within their sight words and practice writing and reading the words in anchor sentences.
Related Post: How to Learn Sight Words in a Fun Way (coming soon)
Here are some additional ways to incorporate seeing the words:
2. Make Sure Students Hear the Sight Words
Again, this should be a no brainer. But it shouldn’t just be the teacher saying the words so they can hear it. Your students should be saying the words to hear themselves as well.
There are lots of ways you can incorporate this when introducing a word. The simplest is to have students repeat the word after you. Remember to have students point and read the word with their finger when they are repeating it (they should have their own copy from their word rings).
I also love to have students body spell a word. For this they need to know their tall, small and hanging letters. (Don’t you love things that reinforce multiple concepts?) Students needing more practice with identifying letter formation might love this product of mine.
If they are spelling big they would say “b” and stand up with their hands up in the air (b is a tall letter). “I” they would put their hands on their hips (it’s a short letter – think of the hips as the dotted line). “G” they would bend at the waist and dangle their arms to the floor for a hanging letter.
Most importantly they would then repeat the word they are spelling - “big.”
More ways to hear the word:
3. Students Must Be Saying The Sight WOrds
When you are introducing new sight words to the class, you need to make sure they are saying the word multiple times. Of course you have them repeat the word back to you which helps them hear it and they are saying it. Win-win.
Let’s take it a step further.
Students should be saying the word, looking at the word, hearing the word. What is an engaging way to do this other than I say, you say and then we repeat that a few times for good measure?
What if students say the words in different voices? This is an oldie but a goody. There are probably a hundred ways to have students say the words using a fun and silly voice. Just a few off the top of my head are football player, opera singer, robot, mouse, bear, and quiet voice.
I like to pick one for each word. Students would say the word, spell it, then say the word again all while using this fun voice. Then just repeat for the other words using a different voice each time.
Other ways to practice saying the words:
4. Have Students Spell Each Sight WOrd WHen Introduced
So far students are introducing and practicing the sight words by seeing them, hearing them, and saying them. Now they are going to also spell them.
My go-to was always to have students write the words on a whiteboard. This is still a good idea but should probably be reserved for the second day. On the first day you are introducing the words and want a fast way to spell and practice the words.
Using those flash cards (the sight word rings) have students say the word, and trace the letters as they spell them. Don’t forget to have them say the word again at the end to reinforce which word they are learning.
The more times a student can say, hear and see the word in print each week the more they will remember it.
Another favorite way I like to practice quick spelling is to have students use their arms to spell (I believe this technique originating from Orton-Gillingham. I learned it at my first district I worked in and found it to be pretty effective). I am not formally trained in O-G but this is how I do it. Feel free to try it another way but just make sure you remain consistent for your kiddos.
Say the word and tap your shoulder using the hand you write with. (My right hand would tap my left shoulder). Keep your arm straight and spell the word, tapping each letter down your arm as you go. For example, I would spell a CVC word by tapping my shoulder, inner elbow and wrist. Then I repeat the whole word I spelled while sliding my hand from shoulder to wrist (blending the word). Once kids learn the procedure they get going really fast to say and spell each word.
Other ways to spell the sight words:
5. Students Must Write Each Sight WOrd
You’ve introduced the words. Students have repeated them back and spelled them in the air. The last step is that they should be writing them. If they spelled them out loud they should still have a written component in their routine.
Again, I’m going to borrow from Orton-Gillingham. A great way to introduce words and help make them stick is to ask students to copy the words over a different surface texture. For Orton-Gillingham this means that students are using a small rectangle of plastic canvas (the plastic sheets with tiny little squares usually for sewing with yarn). They slip this under a piece of paper and write the words three times with a crayon.
Other ways to write sight words:
It is important to have a routine when introducing the weekly high frequency words (sight words). You should have no more than 5 new words each week. The best way to teach and introduce new words is to make sure every new word is introduced with a seeing, speaking, hearing, spelling and writing activity.
Mix up the activities to keep engagement high and the routine fresh. Make sure each of the 5 components are used every time so that words are taught in a multi-sensory approach to really stick in their memories.