Every year, we hope to have a new class of students that possesses a firm foundation in reading. Many times this is unlikely. One obstacle that gets in the way of struggling readers is learning sight words, sometimes known as high-frequency words. After doing some research, I’ve found ways to teach these sight words to struggling readers to help them stick.
Why sight words?
They are those words that are commonly found in texts of all kinds and can stump students who either struggle with letter sounds or rely heavily on letter sounds. Not all words that are considered sight words are equal. So, after a little research on how to teach sight words to struggling readers…here’s what we know.
Struggling readers need focused teaching and constant review of sight words that are engaging and meaningful. Teach sight words with a multisensory approach and relatable images to activate the student’s schema. Review with fun games at the small group or guided reading table and in centers. Let’s look more closely at these teaching techniques to help sight word learning with your students.
Multisensory Sight Words
What is multisensory instruction? It’s the strategy of teaching with at least 2 senses–typically auditory, visually, or kinesthetically.
As students write out the sight words, have them put their paper over a tactile surface. You can typically find such surfaces in your home, like sandpaper or plastic with a raised surface. To make it even more sensory, have sight word cards with pictures nearby so students may refer to them as they practice writing.
Finger-tapping works well with phonemic awareness activities or phonics, but arm tapping by spelling out the sight words can be very effective. Amber from First Grade Diva shows you how to do this with right-handed and left-handed learners.
After arm tapping with students weekly, the majority of my students improved greatly on reading and spelling sight words. And it wasn’t just struggling readers utilizing the arm tap, but the students who were on or beyond track for reading and writing. Multisensory learning is perfect for all learners.
Sight Words with Pictures
Link a picture with a short sentence with a relatable subject for students. It’s pretty easy to open up Google Slides and search for images on the web. Some of my favorite places for free images are here:
Here, you can see the sight word “would”. All children eat and have strong likes and dislikes when it comes to food. How many of them have seen escargot? Using something that is unknown as a way to conjure a feeling or emotion that only strengthens the connection in the learning process.
When you ask students the following question with the sight word in it, “Would you eat escargot (snails)?”, lots of ooohs and ohhhhs will echo throughout the classroom. Reviewing the sight word “would” in this way really gets students’ emotions high and discussions going.
Plan out the sight words to be taught each week in your own Google Slides template. Just drop an image and a short sentence for each one. Create printed sight word cards with pictures for students to review when needed.
Sight Word Videos
There are so many videos available online to teach students phonics and sight words. In your search engine, type in “sight word video for ______”. There is usually at least one video for most kindergarten and first grade sight words. Here is a kid-friendly video for the sight word “would”.
In searching for that video, this one came up as a suggested related video.
Sight Word Activities
Teaching sight word games to students is easy at the small group or guided reading table. Having students read aloud each sight word lets you know if they are pronouncing the words correctly. Some games can be sent home to practice as homework with their parents or tutors. Eventually, students may work together in small groups to play the games together.
What are the best kinds of sight word games? Games that are low-cost, easy prep and simple to learn are typically best. Teachers are always looking for ways to engage students on a budget.
Also, teachers allot a certain amount of time for daily activities and core subjects. For this reason, simple to learn is best as there is a limited amount of time during centers and small group guided reading blocks.
Top 10 Sight Word Games
Sight word memory game
Write 2 matching cards for each of the sight words. Turn all the cards facing down on the table. Take turns flipping over two cards. Students will read the words aloud. If the words match, the students win those cards. Play until all the cards have been matched.
Picture-to-sentence memory game
Have 2 matching cards for each of the sight words–one with a short sentence with the sight word underlined and a picture illustrating the sentence. With these sight word cards with pictures, turn all of the cards face down on the table. Take turns flipping over two cards. Students will read any sentence cards aloud. If the card match, the students wins those cards. Play until all the cards have been matched.
Spread out letter magnets across a table. First, ask students to put them in ABC order. Then, say one of the sight words. Students take turns pulling out the letters that spell that word.
Sight word phrases
Compile a stack of cards with sight word phrases. You can find some at the Florida Reading Research Center site here or make your own. Having these sight word cards with related pictures can help students make an extra connection to help with memory. Set the timer and challenge students to see how many cards they can collect in 30 seconds.
Playdough sight words
Give students a list or stack of cards with sight words to practice. With a fun playdough color, they can shape the dough into the letters to spell the word.
Sight word puzzles
Write or type a sight word on a regular piece of colored paper. Make it thick and bold with an easy to read letter font. Cut out the page into 6-10 shapes that can be put back together, just like a puzzle.
Picture book search
Give students a list of sight words and have them search for these words. Have a stack of picture books and show them how to go page-by-page and looking at every line to find each word. They can then make tally marks for each time they find the word.
Tic Tac Toe
Tell students to play tic tac toe, but instead of X’s and O’s they will write sight words. Have a list of sight words you are working on ready. For each game, they need to choose only one of the sight words to use as their own place marker in the tic tac toe grid.
Create a word search easily with an online word search generator like this one, Discovery Education’s Puzzle Maker. You can also regenerate the Puzzle Maker to make many versions for morning work or centers throughout the week.
Sight word stacking
You can find cheap versions of the Jenga game blocks in dollar stores and discount sections at the store. Use a permanent marker to write a different sight word on each block. Students play the block after they read the word.
Struggling readers will need support learning words, and sight words are typically tricky for them to learn. By using multisensory teaching strategies, pictures, videos and games on a regular basis, you will teach those sight words to struggling readers more effectively.
No time to prep a sight word DIY?
These sight word editable templates are just a click away.
Match to make a snake game
Editable card matching
Read and collect cards to match 4 puzzle cards to make different colored snake. Use as a small group game or in a center.
Click link below
Spin a sight word center game
Editable spinner worksheet
It’s easy to type your own words in the text boxes, print, and use a paper clip as a spinner for fun.
Click link below
Sight word games
See all sight word games and all the seasonal holiday themes to make learning more engaging.
Click link below