How to Teach New Sight Words (and make them stick)

We know sight words are important, but there are some big mistakes we have to avoid when teaching new words and there are 3 key elements to include in your sight word instruction!

You’ve likely had students who sound out every word in a sentence and it takes them forever. By the time they’ve reached the end of the sentence, they’ve forgotten the beginning!

When kids don’t recognize sight words with automaticity, their fluency is hindered, as well as their comprehension.

So we know they are important. But, how do we teach sight words so that they stick?

When teaching sight words, it's important that kids learn the letters that make up the word, the sounds of those letters, and the meaning of the word. Sight word instruction in context, with repetition and multisensory methods, is key to learning new words! #sightwords

TWO BIG MISTAKES TO AVOID WHEN TEACHING SIGHT WORDS

Do you remember “drill and kill” with sight word flashcards?

While isolated sight word flashcards have their place in review, when first introducing a word, there are two mistakes to avoid. I used to make them, too. They are common mistakes, so if they sound familiar, you’re not alone!

MISTAKE #1: ISOLATED SIGHT WORDS

Using isolated sight words just not effective in helping kids remember the words. It’s important to provide sight words in context so that kids understand the meaning of the word.

In fact, there are 3 key elements to include in sight word introduction and MEANING is one of them. I’ll tell you the other two after I tell you about mistake #2!

MISTAKE #2: ROTE MEMORIZATION

Asking students to memorize the spelling of sight words because they “don’t follow the rules” is not effective. I used to do this big time! I even had a little “word jail” we’d put the words in.

But, think about it. If someone gives you a phone number; unless you repeat it 3,198 times and make it into a song, it’s likely you will have forgotten it within a few minutes.

Likewise, asking kids to just memorize the spelling of words without giving them any phonetic reasons for the spelling is not going to result in magical sight word memory!

3 KEY COMPONENTS FOR SIGHT WORD MEMORY

Yes, there are some sight words that aren’t phonetic and kids will have to memorize those. But the reality is, that most sight words are phonetic.

The problem is that children often haven’t learned the phonics rules they follow before encountering them in text.

So, we can say that!

I tell my students that we are learning a new word that has parts we know and parts we haven’t learned . . . yet!

When teaching sight words, it's important that kids learn the letters that make up the word, the sounds of those letters, and the meaning of the word. Sight word instruction in context, with repetition and multisensory methods, is key to learning new words! #sightwords

Here are the steps for how to teach sight words

Read it slowly while sliding your finger underneath it, then ask kids to identify the letters they know are making sounds they know. Then, ask what the “tricky” parts are. Go over the phonics rule and explain to kids that this part is tricky because we haven’t learned that rule yet. But, when we do learn that phonics rule, that part will no longer be tricky.

By following this method, you will be including all 3 components that kids need in order to remember a word:

  • the letters that make up the word
  • the sounds the letters make (and therefore, the pronunciation of the word)
  • the meaning of the word
When teaching sight words, it's important that kids learn the letters that make up the word, the sounds of those letters, and the meaning of the word. Sight word instruction in context, with repetition and multi-sensory methods, is key to learning new words, especially in kindergarten and first grade! #sightwords

Now, even with these 3 elements included, many kids may forget the sight words. So, there are also 2 important things to include when introducing new sight words:

  • repetition
  • multisensory methods

Think of an important person in your life- your parent, sibling, teacher. . . What is something you can picture them saying?

It’s likely something they say often! I know when my students pretended to be me while playing during recess, I’d often hear, “I’m going to wait. . . ,” and “What’s the base word?” ?

We know repetition is key to memory! So repeated reading, writing, and practice of sight words in context will help with sight word memory.

Movement is also key to remembering! Besides increasing engagement, when kids use their bodies and tactile methods for learning, they are way more likely to retain information. Read more about incorporating movement in sight word instruction here.

LET’S PUT IT ALL TOGETHER!

So, when teaching a new sight word, it’s important to teach the letters, sounds, and meaning of the word, while using repetition and multisensory methods.

To see this in action, I modeled how I would introduce the word “first” in this video on my YouTube channel, incorporating all of the above!

WANT TO MAKE IT EASY?

I know there are a lot of steps to remember and each step is important. After a while, you will get used to the steps and it’ll be second nature to you.

But, if you’re looking for a resource that takes the guesswork out of introducing sight words, then I want to show you my favorite one to use when I’m teaching a new sight word (and you can try it for free)!

My Body-Spelling PowerPoints make it easy to introduce sight words while incorporating all of the key elements to make them stick: letters, sound, meaning, repetition, and multisensory, as it uses 5 tactile ways to practice each word.

The Body-Spelling Sight Word bundle currently includes presentations for 141 words and can be used whether you’re teaching in the classroom or remotely.

Each word has its own presentation, so you can introduce the words in any order you like, no matter which sight word list you use.

It also includes editable review slides for kids to practice previously-covered words with fluency (we don’t want them to forget, so spiral review is important!).

And, to add a little fun, kids get to use different voices when reviewing, because, who doesn’t like to speak in a robot or monster voice?!

These fluency review slides are perfect for reviewing previously-covered sight words in a fun way!

Once you have introduced the word, students can use my Word Mapping Sight Word Practice Pages to practice independently. There are eight different activities that students can complete all on one page! 

These pages cover the first 100 Fry Words, but there are also word mapping mats included that can be used for any words. These are fantastic for centers!

Sight words are a big component in literacy instruction, especially in kindergarten and first grade. With just a few tweaks, we can help make our sight words stick so that kids have increased fluency and comprehension!


GET YOUR FREE Sight Words Body-Spelling PowerPoint below!

Incoporating movement into sight word instruction helps students retain information better! This free PowerPoint guides students in practicing sight words using visual, auditory, reading, writing, and kinesthetic methods.

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