Finding fun, fresh ways to help students retain sight words is a big task every year. Along with letter and letter sound recognition, sight word recognition is one of the most essential literacy concepts students need to master. Sight words set a strong foundation for future readers to build off of, but I have noticed sight word retention is one of the biggest hurdles we face when guiding young readers. I have gathered four fun ways to bump up retention and help your readers master their sight words!
WHY ARE SIGHT WORDS IMPORTANT?
Sight words are words that do not follow the phonetic rules that we teach to young readers. Sure, sometimes you get lucky with a word that students are able to “sound out”, but usually these words are exceptions to the rules that require practice in order to master. If you have been teaching Kindergarten – 2nd grade students for any amount of time, I am sure you have experienced teaching students the “rule” for vowel teams such as “ai” (I can hear teachers around the world chanting, “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking!”) only to have a room full of very confused six year-olds when they try to read the word “said.” Since students essentially have to memorize their sight words in order to read fluently, this repetitive work can quickly become monotonous and “boring”.
I am a firm believer that retention is much higher when students are having FUN. Think about the lessons you remember from your days in elementary school–do you remember that one worksheet you completed in five minutes that one Tuesday, or do you remember the hands-on activities where you were up and moving while learning? Of course, you are more likely to remember what you are learning if you’re having fun in the process!
Remember, the point of learning sight words is for students to be able to recognize the words quickly without wasting their phonetic skills on words that do not follow the rules! Save the phonetic practice for the words that actually make sense when “sounding them out!”
One of favorite activities when teaching our new words each week is to body spell each letter. After introducing our new words, students will use their entire body to create each letter while spelling! once students are able to do this quickly, add a partner or even two partners to make it a little more challenging to create each letter. This will help students remember their sight words AND teach cooperative between partners!
Rather than using worksheets where students simply copy the word and rewrite it multiple times, have students use manipulatives to foster engagement! Here are a few manipulatives students have loved in the classroom:
Magnetic letters – students use their hands to rearrange the letters and build each sight word or work with a partner to unscramble them.
Dry Erase boards – students will write their sight words or sentences using their sight words. We’ve even played sight word “hangman” or pictionary using the white boards for a little added fun.
Legos – using a sharpie, write a letter of the alphabet on each lego piece and watch students create sight words while playing with something they love!
There are endless ways to incorporate manipulatives while practicing whether it is with playdoh (a classic), popsicle sticks, candy or even shaving cream (if you’re feeling brave!).
READ TO A BEAT
Over the years of teaching sight words, I have noticed that students have retained their words much better when I teach the words to a rhythm. Now, my singing voice leaves a lot to be desired, so know that the “beat” in which you present the sight words do not have to be the most elegant or catchy tune around. I simply spell and say the word to a beat that is repetitive and easy for students to say along with me.
A-T, at at at
T-O, to to to to
BEAT THE TEACHER
Now this is a game that I do not mind losing! Bump up the engagement with a little friendly competition against your students. The game is simple, but very fun! I simply hold up flashcards of our sight words, set a timer, and read them as quickly as I can (of course, I take it a little easy and read at a slighter slower pace.) Then, reset the timer and the sight word flashcards, and the student(s) will try to read the sight words more quickly than I did and beat my time!
Sight word board games are another class favorite! From the starting line, students roll the dice and move their board game piece as many spaces as they rolled. The student must read the sight word that is on the space they landed. If they can read the sight word correctly, they are able to stay at their new space. If the student is NOT able to read the sight word correctly, they must go back to where they were before. Students love this fun way to practice in partners!
FLUENCY AND FITNESS
Fluency and Fitness is an excellent site that gets students out of their seat and MOVING while practicing their sight words. From simply reading sight words to reading sight word phrases, Fluency & Fitness has options for each sight word list and challenge level. Did I mention there are fun dance moves for a fun “brain break” between sight words?