Teaching Sight Words with the Science of Reading

Posted by Korbalagae On April 4, 2022

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Strategies to teach sight words have been challenged recently with the emergence of the Science of Reading. Many educators, myself included, have had to take a long look at the strategies for teaching sight words that we have used for years.

Yet, when we look at the concepts carefully and allow our long held beliefs about learning to read to be challenged, it is clear to see we may have something to learn.

The Science of Reading first came to my attention about a year ago through a teacher friend. At first I dismissed it as another fad name for something we already have been doing for a long time.

But after taking a closer look I found something new in it that I’d like to share. This will help your students learn how to read using skills you are already teaching but applied to a set of words we usually taught via memorization.

Teachers often equate sight words with words that we need to memorize. In fact many of us introduced sight words to our students using this simple definition. We told them they were words that didn’t follow the rules so they needed to memorize them.
Actually this is not accurate and I’ll explain more about that later. For now let’s take a look at 3 simple ways to teach sight words that align to the philosophy and approach of the Science of Reading.

All words have sounds, including sight words. Help children to understand the sounds in sight words by coloring the sounds they hear. This can be done in different ways.
One way is to give children sight words spelled out in bubble letters then have them color the different sounds they hear. Another option would be allowing children to write out the sight word sounds but using different color markers or crayons.

A third way could be to give children the sight word and have them circle each sound with a different color. It doesn’t matter how you do this and it may be a good idea to give children all three options during a lesson.

This gives them a bit of autonomy and who doesn’t love a bit of control in their life? This also allows you to see how well they are hearing the sounds in words. What’s great about this is they don’t need to know the sound, but that there is a difference in the sounds.

You can them support them in identifying the sounds. A visual cue like this helps them to recall the sounds in the words as they are reading. This low prep and fun way to teach sight words is a great addition to your teaching toolbox.

Being able to isolate the sounds in each word makes it more concrete and allows children to be able to read the words. Most teachers will use sound boxes with cvd words so this strategy is already familiar to children.

Use this in the whole group by pairing large magnetic letters with a sound box that is drawn or stuck onto the board or used via software on your smartboard. Spell out the sight word/s being taught then place each sound in one box.

Invite children to come up and do the same with the word just shown then show new words. Allow children to practice independently by making reading kits for them. Include in it sight words, cvc words, a white board, dry erase markers and magnetic letters.

Children can take out a word, draw a sound box then spell each word, placing one sound in each box. They can then read the word independently. This is also an activity that can be done with a partner or as part of your small group.

If you look up heart sounds you’ll see images of words with hearts under certain parts of the word. These hearts are actually one of many strategies for teaching sight words.

How does this work?

Well, each sound in the word that children know is represented by a different color square but when they encounter a sound made by a pair or group of letters not known they put a heart. These heart sounds are sounds that may actually follow a phonic rule that children have not yet learned. In fact they may not learn it in kindergarten.

Now I can hear you asking, so why are these types of words in our sight words list. Some may say it actually proves that children need to just memorize these words.

Actually nope.

The overwhelming majority of sight words do follow the rules children will learn in kindergarten but there are a few. When we highlight these heart words we are actually front-loading our students for when they are explicitly taught the rule. They will be able to reach back and recall ‘oh this is why it’s a heart word’.

The approach the Science of Reading brought to my attention with sight words is that many can actually be decoded. We are already teaching children phonics skills yet we push those to the side when they do.

These activities actually pull on the hard learned skills children have and allow them to apply it to new words thus improving their reading skills. Now that was a wow moment for me. If you’re interested in learning more about the Science of Reading strategies for teaching sight words check out this book here [insert book name here]. You can also join the Science of Reading What I Should Have Learned in College Facebook Group

No prep printables are one of many fun ways to teach sight words that actually save your sanity. Now when teachers think of no prep, often they think of worksheets but there are other printables that can help you teach an effective lesson without worksheets. Sight words BINGO cards are a great way for you to do this.

A fun small group can be playing a game of memory match with sight word flashcards for a few minutes then moving onto Sight Word BINGO. Both activities are low or no prep and children are actively engaged in learning the sight words they need to read to be confident readers.

Another low prep printable are sight words task cards. These task cards allow children to spell out sight words using manipulatives they already have in the classroom. You can grab some low prep and low prep printables at the link below.


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