Is your child struggling with sight words? Learn fun and effective strategies for teaching sight words without the stress and pressure!
We’ve all seen it: the list of words our kids are supposed to master by the end of the year, often as early as kindergarten.
For some, sight words can be a challenge to teach. Maybe your child isn’t able to read or spell this week’s sight words, making both of you feel discouraged. Getting her to practice at home feels like pulling teeth. If she doesn’t know the word or finds it too hard, she might even start crying.
And other times, she’s just not be interested, making you feel worried or stressed that she might fall behind in class. No matter what, it feels like you’re not doing something right.
You don’t want sight words to be an issue all year. How can you help her learn and understand them without turning this into a power struggle?
6 strategies for teaching sight words
If you can relate, don’t worry—I’ll show you a few strategies for teaching sight words that not only can work, but are fun to do as well.
I’ve found that encouraging a love of learning, embracing mistakes, and not stressing about school are effective. A strict regimen, punishments, or arguments with your child don’t work nearly as well.
Take a look at these strategies for teaching sight words:
1. Read books with plenty of sight words
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I’m a fan of reading children’s books just for the sake of encouraging a love of learning and exposing kids to language.
That said, you can also incorporate books that focus on beginner reading. These are books that tend to focus less on story lines and more on the technical aspects of reading sight words. Some books highlight certain pronunciations while others encourage your child to try to read on her own.
One series I love are the Elephant & Piggie books by Mo Willems. These books use sight words over and over, but are still entertaining to read for both parents and kids.
Want to make reading even more interactive? Have your child find sight words on the page, or count how many of this week’s sight words he can find throughout the book.
By reading books with sight words, he’s more likely to see and hear them in sentences. This helps him retain not only the words themselves, but how they’re used in context.
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2. Start with simple, common, and high-frequency words
Start with the simplest and most common sight words. For instance, start with the word “a” or “I” so she learns how to spot these simple, single-letter words easily. Continue with two-letter words like “an” to help build on what she has just learned.
Then, show her similar-looking ones, especially those where you can swap one letter to make a new one. For instance, introduce “it,” then the next few words she can learn can be “in,” “is,” or “if.”
Showing these slight differences cements the idea that letters stand for sounds and can be swapped to form new words.
You can also start with “the” or “who,” since these are some of the most common she’ll probably find in books and in everyday speech. Tackling common sight words can make word recognition and stringing sentences together easier.
3. Play sight word games
Kids are drawn to games and playing—it’s how they best learn. Sight word games enable you to tap into a fantastic way for your child to absorb information, without making learning something to dread:
- Go Fish: Write sight words twice on index cards or card stock, and shuffle them like a deck of cards. Take turns asking one another if either of you have a sight word in your hand. Any pairs of matching sight words get stacked in a pile, with the first person to have zero cards winning the game.
- Memory Game: Using the same stack of sight word pairs, lay the flashcards face-down on the floor. Take turns flipping two cards over, trying to remember where each sight word is. The person who can match the most sets wins the game.
- Word Search: Create your own word search using your own word list! Help your child find these words in the puzzle. You can make your own word search here.
- Simple Word Search: Want to keep it even simpler? Write a word on a piece of paper, and have him go through her deck of sight word cards to find the match.
- Bingo: Like the classic game of Bingo, make Bingo cards with a few sight words. Randomly read aloud sight words, marking (or placing a small item) on each square with the matching sight word.
- Word Stomp: Does he love to be active? Print a few sight words, one on each sheet of paper. Scatter these sheets on the ground face-up. You might want to tape them to the ground to avoid slipping. Then, randomly select a few sight words, and if he sees the word on the ground, have him stomp or jump to it from where he is.
4. Write sight words everywhere
Kids learn in many ways, including using all their senses. Find creative ways to “write” beyond paper and pencil. A few strategies for teaching sight words include:
- Sidewalk chalk: Take a few pieces of chalk to the sidewalk and write sight words.
- Shaving cream: Spray shaving cream (the kind that foams up right away) on a tray, and have your child use her finger to write the word in the foam.
- Magnets: Stick a set of magnetic letters on your fridge. Display new sight words she’s learning, and also encourage her to move letters around.
- Rubber stamps: For kids who may not be able to write with a pencil quite as well yet, rubber stamps allow them to write words on paper.
- Sand: Pour sand on a tray and, like shaving cream, have her write sight words with her finger.
- Play dough: Form sight words using play dough. Roll a few pieces out into long strings that you can mold into letters.
- Paint: Whether with finger paint or a brush, have her practice her sight words using paint.
5. Make sight words a part of your routine
Do you butt heads with your child when you suggest going through sight words? Do his shoulders sag in disappointment when he hears it’s time to practice?
Besides focusing on the positive aspects of learning, you can also remove many of the obstacles by making sight words a part of your routine. With repetition and consistency in his schedule, he’s less likely to resist. Instead, he sees learning sight words as an inevitable part of everyday life.
For instance, play sight word games after he has his afternoon snack. Read books every night before bedtime. “Write” sight words with art materials every weekend.
Simple, predictable routines make learning sight words more familiar and reduce the risk that you forget to do them as well.
6. Don’t stress about sight words
I don’t know about you, but the minute I hear that my kids need to learn something or might be struggling with a topic, I go into panic mode. The irrational fear that if I don’t do anything about it, they’ll be left behind takes a firm grip on me.
That only leads me to stress, or puts unnecessary pressure on my kids. I’ve since realized that 1) it’s never as dire as I make it out to be, 2) stress is not good for anyone, and 3) it always works out.
As I say in my book, You Are Enough:
“Everything that you worried about in the past has somehow worked out, or you’ve at least lived to tell the tale, no matter what eventually happened. Whether big or small, know that the worries you have about your child will work out in the end, in some way or another. Give yourself the ‘wisdom of hindsight’ and remind yourself of all the other things that had one point been a huge concern and is now something of the past.”
So, make learning fun! I can’t stress this enough. Sure, you might see short-term gains if you implement a strict regimen, but you lose the opportunity to nurture a natural love of learning.
One easy way to not stress out? Limit how many words you teach each week. Ask your child’s teacher how many words a week he or she recommends, and stick to only those. Learning that list of sight words is generally a year-long process, not an exam to cram in a week.
Teaching your child sight words can be a source of conflict and stress for both of you. Avoid pressure and arguing by applying the strategies for teaching sight words you learned.
For instance, introduce simple and common words strategically to build on what she has just learned. Make a game out of learning sight words, from word matches to word stomps. Tap into her ability to learn through all her senses, using different materials to write sight words.
Make learning sight words part of your routine so she expects it as part of her day. And finally, remind yourself that a love of learning—one driven by her own curiosity—is more enjoyable and effective than forcing it on her.
Experiment with different ways to teach sight words. What works for one child may not work for another. Don’t feel discouraged if one way isn’t hers preferred method to learn—there are plenty of books, cards, and yes, even shaving cream, to find one that does.
Get more tips:
- How to Make Learning Stick
- Why We Need to Encourage Our Children’s Interests—Even when They Seem Strange to Us
- No Excuses: Why We Need to Read with Our Kids Every Day
- What to Do if Your Child Is Talking in Class Too Much
- 9 Strategies to Help Beginner Readers Build Strong Reading Habits
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