If you have children in kindergarten or the early elementary school grades, they will be building up a sight-word vocabulary. These words are often referred to as Dolch words, high-frequency or high-utility words, or by other names. Essentially, they are the words that kids need to be able to recognize quickly when they are reading that may not necessarily make phonetic sense in the way they are spelled. Ideally they are learning to write many of them in the process, too.
Children learn best when motivated. One thing that works well with my students is using fun materials to practice learning sight words. My lego word wall is very popular with the grade one students at school early in the year, and the kindergarten students after Christmas, for example. The children find the pieces around the room, help each other read them, then build a structure with them. Sight words are words that students can recognize instantly, on their own and out of context, but use in their reading and writing as time goes on.
Tips for teaching children new sight words:
- Model writing the word in front of the children
- Run your finger under the word slowly from left to right to encourage careful looking at all parts of the word
- Ask the children to be detectives while you repeat step 2, and to look for any ‘Rule breakers’ (letters or combinations of letters that do not make sense phonetically)
- If you find a Rule breaker, explain that Rule breakers are the reason for learning some words really well at a glance!
- Have the children raise their writing hand and pointer finger up in the air and ‘sky write’ the word along with you.
- Give the children many opportunities to use the word in context.
- Give students meaningful ways to practice printing the word, scaffolding the process to whatever stage he or she is ready for. Words are most meaningful when used in the context of a sentence or story. Is the student ready to fill in the missing sight word or does he or she need the support of tracing it for now?
- Use creative and tactile ways to create words. In nice weather, we like to take paintbrushes and water outside and paint disappearing words on the playground or the side of the school. Shaving cream, sand or salt in baking pans make for great finger writing surfaces. Cutting out foam or sandpaper letters also make it interesting! Magnetic letters are a Reading Recovery teacher’s daily tool.