Why Should Students Practice Sight Words?
Since sight words are also high frequency words, students will encounter these words in their reading quite often. When we have students practice sight words they gain a better ability to comprehend what they are reading. In other words, they are not focusing their energy on sounding out words but on understanding what they’ve read.
When students know several sight words they begin to gain confidence in their reading ability. They begin recognizing sight words in print and this fuels their desire to learn more. Most sentences in the English language are comprised of sight words. Knowing these words is essential for reading.
Research-Based Strategies for Teaching Sight Words
The latest research-based strategies for teaching sight words shows us that rote memorization such as flash card drills is not the way to go. Instead, students should practice sight words by using phonics to decode the word parts. Really Great Reading has some excellent teaching videos using heart word magic to decode parts of sight words using phonics.
Students should also practice sight words by seeing the words in print. Show the word in a sentence, ask students to provide additional example sentences, and go on a hunt for the word in books or magazines. Building context around the sight word will help students learn and understand the word better than memorization.
I use this 5 step method to introduce new sight words each week. After I introduce the words on Monday students spend the rest of the week practicing their individualized list of sight words. I also plan my weekly sight words by grouping the words the best I can with common phonics skills. I find differentiating my sight words has a bigger benefit than having the whole class practicing the same list of words that most students may already know.
Fun and Inviting Sight Words Practice
Once words have been introduced using my 5 step process I then offer my students a variety of ways to practice during the week. Some of the fun ways students love to practice are very hands-on such as making the words in playdough, writing in shaving cream, and creating sight word necklaces using alphabet beads.
I model these activities throughout the first few weeks of school and students use their differentiated sight word lists to practice their words. As we learn a new way to practice we add it to our I Can chart which is placed near the word work shelf. I feel it’s important to provide daily opportunities to read and write sight words. I keep some of the ways to be released later in the year to keep this center fresh and new as the year progresses.
Another great researched-based strategy to use is making sure some of the sight word practice contains an anchor sentence. My sight word playdough mats and sight word letter boxes are an excellent example of this. Students find them fun and engaging centers that are easy to use. I simply place them in color coded bins so students can find their appropriate word from their sight word lists when they are in centers.
Assign Students a Practice Buddy
Since my students are assigned a differentiated sight word list of 5 words, I group my students on the same list to practice together. These sight word practice buddies last until one of the partners masters the list and moves on to a new list. This helps keep having a practice buddy fun and new as students often don’t get a chance to be bored with the same partner.
Partners can choose to work on the centers such as playdough practice and letter boxes together. I also allow 5 minutes at the end of every day for flash card practice. While I don’t think all students learn through rote memorization I feel it doesn’t hurt to see the same words multiple times.
Students use their flash cards and sit EEKK (elbow to elbow and knee to knee) with their practice buddy. One student will be reading and spelling, the other student will be holding and showing the flash card. Once they’ve run through the set of cards three times for their partner they switch roles. They can also choose to alternate partners after each run through.
To keep flash card practice fresh, I assign a different style of practice each day. Mondays and Wednesdays are simply reading and spelling the flash cards. Tuesdays and Thursdays students read the flash cards and then spell the words (without looking) on a whiteboard. On Friday we treat it as a practice test to help students who have test anxiety and the partner will read their word and their buddy must orally spell it two times. Then partners switch after each word. Students love this quick practice at the end of every day and it’s a great incentive to be packed up early enough to be able to do it.
Create Paint Bags
Creating paint bags is another fun (and inexpensive) way to practice sight words. Making paint bags requires a quart-size freezer bag (I find they hold up better than regular bags). You may also want a gallon size bag to place the quart-size into for extra sturdiness. Make sure to explicitly teach using a gentle touch with the bags or they will pop quite fast and begin leaking.
Inside the quart-size bag squeeze a small amount of paint. I’ve used finger paint and also acrylic paint with good success. I also like to add some tap water to thin out the paint. Then you will close the bag and seal up the sides with packing tape or duct tape. This helps keep the sides of the bag from breaking.
Students will now place the paint bag on top of their flash card to see and trace over the word using their finger on the paint bag.
An easy alternative to paint bags is to use hair gel. I like to buy the big containers from my local dollar store. I place several scoops of gel and a few drops of food coloring inside the bag. When using gel I do not add water to the bag as I find it works quite well without it.
If you liked these ideas, your students’ parents will as well. Many of these ideas are detailed in my bestselling Sight Word Practice at Home booklet available in my shop. It’s a great way to reinforce sight word and spelling practice in the home.