Sight words are so important for our new readers but it can be frustrating to teach sight words when it doesn’t seem like any strategies are working. These 5 things will help you make the most of your instruction time to benefit both you and your students. 👏
Did you know that the 100 most common sight words and high frequency words make up 50% of what we read as adults? For our new readers, the percentage is even higher. 🤯
It is imperative that our students memorize sight words if they are going to become fluent readers.
Note: Did you know that sight words and high frequency words are different? I thought they were the same for the longest time. As I researched, I learned how they differ and it helped me teach them more effectively. You can read about that here.
When I was a new teacher, I really struggled to teach sight words. There were just so many factors that were out of my control.
I didn’t know how to manage the different rates at which my students learned the words. Also, I wasn’t sure how to increase their mastery through memorization when flashcards weren’t working. I assumed that students who had higher mastery were learning them all at home, so what was the point of even trying anymore?
So I did my favorite thing – I turned to research. 😉
Because sight words are so important for new readers, there has been a LOT of research done to help us understand how students learn sight words best.
A lot of the “best practices” defined by different studies, papers and academics overlap. (Thank goodness! Otherwise I wouldn’t know what to think. 😂)
5 Things You Should Know to Teach Sight Words
1. Teach 10 Words at Time
One of the things I was most confused about was how many words I should be working with at one time. Considering that students are learning the words at different rates, this problem becomes even more challenging.
Research shows that students memorize sight words more efficiently when working on 10 words at one time.
In my classroom, I choose 10 words to work on for two weeks. All are introduced together and practice each day. Each day we have a word we focus on specifically.
2. Provide MULTIPLE Exposures EVERY DAY
Our students should be seeing, hearing and reading all ten words every. single. day.
This can seem overwhelming but it doesn’t have to be. Just think of all of the ways we utilize sight words every day: in morning meeting, in books, in literacy stations, in everything!
I ensure exposure to these words by being intentional about them a few times a day. We have posters up for each of our 10 words, there are flashcards in the literacy stations, they are up on our word wall, and we call them out when they come up in our reading.
Once you’re intentional about recognizing 10 sight words for a few weeks, it becomes natural to integrate them into many areas of the day.
3. Instruction Should Not EXCEED 10 Minutes at a Time
This is probably my favorite thing that research proves. 👏
We have enough on our plates with instruction, classroom management and the million other tasks we do day-to-day.
Knowing that I can sneak little sight word activities into different parts of the regular school day day is such a relief. It doesn’t have to be a huge, drawn-out lesson every time!
I love to use sight word videos and books in instruction during these little pockets of time.
4. Repetition is NECESSARY
I don’t think this is surprising to anyone. Repetition is the cornerstone on which all sight word instruction is built.
Thankfully, this comes naturally when trying to reach multiple exposures. Flashcards have their place, for sure (in fact, you can head the this post to download free, editable sight word cards!), but I am also always looking for ways to make repetition more meaningful.
I give my students opportunities to build sight words, engage in hands-on sight word activities and play sight word games, too. All of these offer engaging, meaningful and repetitive practice.
5. A Student Shows Mastery When…
- The word is recognized and read in 2 seconds or less
- The word is read 3 unique times
I think we can all agree that sight word mastery is our goal. We want our students to quickly recognize and read sight words to increase their reading confidence and fluency.
If mastery is the goal, then knowing what mastery looks like is essential.
I used to give my students all the time in the world to try to read a sight word. They could make the beginning sound, look at the letters and try to figure it out.
Now I give them 2 seconds to read it. We set this precedent at the beginning of the school year so they don’t feel like they’re “failing” when I move on. My students instead think “I don’t know that one yet.”
(If you want to know more about the power of the word “yet,” check out this blog post!)
I also make sure that a student reads a word three times before I mark it as “mastered.” This shows that they can read it every time, with no pauses or breaks.
When I began incorporating these 5 research-based tips for sight word instruction, it completely changed the way I teach sight words.
It allowed me to give myself a break on memorizing 100 words at a time. It gave me the “out” to only teach them in little spurts. Also, it allowed my students to find a ton of success.
How do you teach sight words? I would love to know any tips and tricks you might have or favorite activities that students love. Let me know below! 👇
Thanks for doing the research! I also love to delve into what the research says especially brain research .