If you teach early readers and writers, you know as well as I do that the experience of remembering sight words varies greatly among our students. We know that it takes a variety of strategies to make sight words memorable for kids, and that the most successful strategies motivate them with large dose of F-U-N!
5 ways to make sight word learning memorable and fun:
- BUILD A FOUNDATION: This is a job for all grown-ups in a child’s life: ensure that kids know what words are, that they are important, and that they LIKE them. Better yet, find them USEFUL and sometimes HILARIOUS. Make sure kids see words in their environment, and see and hear adults using them in a positive way. In a nutshell, have fun conversations, encourage kids to speak for themselves, read stories together just for fun and praise efforts to develop oral or written language and reading, or pretending to read.
- INTRODUCE and PRACTICE USING SIGHT WORDS IN CONTEXT: Words make sense and are far more interesting when they are in meaningful sentences, entertaining stories, readers and interesting facts. An engaged mind repeatedly exposed to the same little words = familiar words
- WELL-PLACED and DESIGNED VISUALS: Having an alphabetical, at-a-glance word wall for high-utility words is a must in a primary classroom. Students will wean themselves off it as it begins to take longer to find the word they need than to just visualize it from using it previously. Ideally, all students can clearly read the words from their desks, and similar words are in different colors (i.e. then, them, there) so that when a student finishes writing the word, it’s the same word s/he started writing!
HANDS ON FUN!
Something magical happens when kids get to play with letters and words, and the possibilities are endless:
- When I taught Reading Recovery, I had salt tray in my room [I switched to sand or shaving cream in the winter because of dry skin!] Some of my colleagues used rice, flour (only once – very messy), and small beans!
- With clean paintbrushes, in good weather,paint on the walls of the school!
- Sidewalk chalk never gets old (check with admin before creating a true Word Wall on the school wall – it doesn’t always come off so easily)
- Stamping or carving words into plasticene
- Magnadoodles, mini white boards, chalkboards, or apps on tablets (more on this later!)
- Of course, the magnetic letters!
- Lego / Duplo, blocks
- sentence puzzles (familiar sentence, cut apart, with a model [if needed] to reassemble word by word – see image below)
- word games – memory, sight-word bingo, sight-word Twister
- FOOD! This, of course, comes with a disclaimer: I have never done this at school because of the risk of food allergies. My own kids loved this. My friends’ kids, and the followers of my old blog did, too. This is one better left for home. Here are some of the most popular foods used to make words from:
- smarties and M&Ms
- raisons and chocolate chips
- goldfish crackers
- celery and carrot sticks
- cheese strings
- bread / toast fingers
What activities do you use for sight-word fun in your classroom? I’d love to hear about them in the comments or on social media! Here are some more ideas on teaching early reading and writing.