5 Strategies to Teach Sight Words
Sight words (AKA high frequency words) are the most frequently encountered words in texts.
Sight words make up 50 to 70 percent of any general text. Sight words cannot be sounded out. Therefore, it is important for students to be able to automatically recognize these words in print. Basically, students should memorize these words by sight in order to improve overall reading fluency; thus, improving comprehension.
Learning sight words also has been shown to help with writing. Automaticity with spelling sight words will inevitably aid fluency in written expression.
Some school systems use the Dolch Word List, some use the Fry Words, and others create their own priority word lists by grade level.
Regardless of which list you use, sight word instruction should include these 5 strategies!
Isolation & Context!
Teach sight words in isolation and context simultaneously.
Provide students with opportunities to read and spell sight words in isolation. Such activities might include reading sight words on cards or on a list. Dictate sight words for students to practice spelling them in isolation on paper, white boards, or with tools like play doh.
At the same time, provide students with opportunities to read and spell sight words in context. Read! Have students read texts to apply side word reading in context. Have students write dictated sentences that include sight words. This will allow students to practice spelling sight words in context.
My Guided Reading Passages provide students with isolated and contextual practice. Check them out!
Get students more involved in learning through multi-sensory learning. This includes the use of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic-tactile pathways to enhance memory and learning.
Have your students spell their sight words in shaving cream, type them, write them in different colors, do jumping jacks as they read and spell, march in place...and the list goes on!
All students learn differently and require different stimuli. Multi-sensory learning is a best practice approach for ALL learners, but learning must also be meaningful.
Remember Algebra class? Remember wondering when will I ever use this in life? Remembering wanting to ask, “Why am I learning this?”
Don’t let your students wonder why they are learning! Make their multi-sensory learning meaningful!
Having your students use stamps to spell sight words is a cute idea, but we can make it meaningful. After stamping, trace over each letter, saying the letter aloud, and then, reading the word at the end. Write a sentence using the word.
Motivate your students to learn with a little healthy personal competition! Have students keep a record of the sight words that they are able to read and spell with automaticity.
Spend a few minutes each week assessing student progress. Have them color in or check off the sight words they are able to read and/or spell in under 3 seconds. Award them for each level of sight words that they accomplish! Plus, your students are maintaining their own progress monitoring data!
A great motivator is my High Frequency Words and Sight Words Rainbow Challenge!
Include sight words in your word study or spelling lists.
I provide my students with lists of sight words. We highlight the sight words that they can read with automaticity in one color. They highlight the sight words that they can spell automatically in a different color.
Each week students circle 3-5 sight words in pencil. These words are added to their weekly list. They practice reading and spelling these words, and then, these words are included on their weekly tests.
At the end of each month, students are assessed on the words that they have chosen for the month to be added to their list. They are asked to read and spell the sight words. Any words read and spelled with automaticity are highlighted in their corresponding color and added to their charts! (Hey, look! The students are keeping their own progress monitoring data!)
You can use my Sight Words Pre- and Post- Tests to assess student progress!
Let’s get visual!
Visuals give students a trick for learning! Think of different ways you can use a mnemonic device to improve your students’ memory for learning. Mnemonic devices are a memory techniques to help a student’s brain better encode and recall important information.
For example, turn words or letters into visual representations. Turn the letter /r/ in the word /there/ into an arrow, and turn the letter /i/ in the word /their/ into a person.
Grab a FREEBIE of this idea here!
AND learn a trick for WOULD, COULD, and SHOULD!
When learning becomes fun, students make progress! And when students make progress, they achieve!
~ By Miss Rae
How great would it be for students to have ONE tool to use across ALL content areas? Think about the time it would save!
AND… How great would it be if your students could DIY the graphic organizer whenever it is needed - by the student or the teacher?!
I took a course a number of years back on teaching English Language Learners Mathematics. The course provided me with tons of strategies, and the best part was that they were applicable for ALL learners.
There was one strategy that stood out above the others; I have used it across the curriculum for ALL learners in ALL classrooms.
The Frayer Model is a graphic organizer typically used for building student vocabulary. It requires students to define target vocabulary and apply learned knowledge through examples and non-examples, characteristics, and/or a visual image of the word’s meaning.
A typical Frayer Model looks like this…
Frayer Models tap into students’ prior knowledge, enabling meaningful connections to be created. Students can link prior knowledge to new knowledge, and they can determine how one concept relates to another concept.
Student success is measured by the vocabulary of information that one holds regarding a topic (Marzano & Pickering, 2005). Thus, vocabulary is important. Vocabulary is the foundation for comprehension. And for students to succeed, they need to comprehend subject matter.
So if the Frayer Model helps students comprehend vocabulary, why can’t it help them comprehend content?
The Frayer Model can make content comprehensible!
Appear to be amazed… I will now magically turn the Frayer Model, typically utilized for vocabulary, into a tool for use across the curriculum!
Here is one way to use the Frayer Model in Reading!
The Frayer Model also promotes critical thinking in students for vocabulary and content. Critical thinking is the objective analysis of facts to form a judgment about a topic.
The Frayer Model helps students organize facts around a topic, formulate an idea connected to the facts and analyze the topic.
Use of the Frayer Model improves retention of information.
The model acts as a visual reference. The organizers can be posted as anchor charts or word walls in the classroom or kept in student notebooks for reference. Students can use them as a study skill tool. Additionally, some students may use them during tests as an accommodation.
Graphic organizers are important learning tools for our students. They help them make connections, organize thoughts, and access the general curriculum independently. And if independence is the ultimate goal for our students, let’s get them DIYing their own graphic organizers! (Plus, papers tight! How many of you have experienced the one ream of paper per month rule yet?)
Students can draw their own Frayer Model OR they can fold their own…
Make these whole class, individually, or in small groups. If the class makes a Frayer Model, it is acceptable to allow only some students to use them as reference on a test if the students’ IEPs require such supports.
~By Miss Rae
Marzano, R. J., & Pickering, D. J. (2005). Building academic vocabulary: Teacher’s manual. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Picture it - Sicily...1922...
To know this reference, you may have to be of a particular generation - or personality. So let me explain.
Sophia Petrillo, the wisest and eldest member of the Golden Girls, had the right idea when telling a story. She set the scene. She let you "picture it" -pun intended - before she told the story. Setting the scene helps your listeners visualize your words which improves comprehension, understanding of language, and memory of text!
Visualizing and Verbalizing
Visualizing and Verbalizing, an intervention program created by Nanci Bell of Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes, targets the development of concept imagery to essentially improve facets of reading. At its core, the program emphasizes the use of teacher directed questions to assist students in forming images while eliciting language.
Mental imagery has “reliable effects on improving memory for text” (National Reading Panel, 2000, p. 4-42). This skill is naturally developing for most students. However, those diagnosed with a learning disability in reading often struggle to form pictures in their head for presented words. This is often due to the fact that their focus, during reading, is on decoding the words.
If a reader has to spend most of his/her time decoding each word within a sentence, comprehension fails. This results in an inability to develop concept imagery impacts comprehension; thus, delaying the progression of reading for students.
The Verbalizing and Visualizing program employs an explicit and systematic instruction in order to support this lagging skill for struggling students.
Programs require time. And who has time for that?!
As a result of the realities of being a teacher and squeezing it all in, I modified the concept. It’s principles stand as the basis for a learning strategy that I call Visualizing, Verbalizing, and Vocabbing!
Visualizing, Verbalizing, and Vocabbing in Reading!
I consistently teach my students to visualize the text’s words in their head. There are moments in our reading groups, where we pause to imagine and/or act out the text.
While my students are amazing, they are like all students. We didn’t just jump right into these learning moments. Instead, I utilized some key tools to improve students’ reading comprehension.
The first step was through STORY MAPPING. Story mapping is a visual framework strategy for building comprehension. The map enables students to summarize main ideas, organize information and ideas, make connections, recall text events, and communicate about a text.
After reading a text, create a visual of what you read. Students should identify story elements such as characters, problems, setting, etc. Essentially, you are drawing what happened.
To help your students with this skill, ask them questions. Where were the characters? What could they see? What were the characters doing? What were the characters saying? What is the problem of the story? What actions did the characters take toward solving the problem? Did the setting change? Was the problem solved? What is the lesson learned? (Insert a social emotional learning moment here!)
Create a visual with these questions as a scaffolded support towards independence with the skill.
Have students verbalize the answers to the questions you ask. Teachers should promote a class discussion of the events that occurred in the text. This promotes oral language development, not only social language, but also academic language is being developed as students learn how to discuss text.
Verbalizing a text’s ideas also allows students to wrestle with the text! Any misunderstandings can be ironed out, while different perspectives can be debated.
The oral discussion enables students to apply newly learned vocabulary connected to the text as well as practice oral discussion rules and the language of book discussions!
My story maps include words and pictures. The words that I jot on our story maps are key vocabulary related to the text. The pictures tell the text’s story, while the words help to match ideas and images. Both tools go hand-in-hand to support understanding of the text.
You can use a variety of graphic organizers to support this strategy or just wing it with your own on the fly mapping!
Story mapping can be applied to the content areas too! After reading a non-fiction text, we re-read it, going line by line. We analyze what the sentences are saying by Visualizing and making connections between the ideas. We Verbalize these concepts through discussion. Simultaneously, we draw the ideas. Next, we do some Vocabbing, by jotting down keywords needed for comprehension.
Another tool to support Visualizing, Verbalizing, and Vocabbing is visual thinking.
Here’s how it works!
I will post an image on the front board related to the text we are reading. Students will come to the front and write around their images, their reactions, questions, things they noticed, etc. around the image.
I then have them discuss the image in groups. If they have any new ideas, they can write it around the image. Lastly, we discuss the image.
The writing around the image enables students to apply newly learned vocabulary in the context of the written language. It also gives struggling students a written support for the oral discussion of the image.
In both instances, students are getting multiple and varying opportunities to apply vocabulary.
For example, one of my groups is currently reading Number the Stars so I have been using primary source images from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. The students have begun referencing the images while discussing the text. Anecdotally, I believe that the images are helping the students visualize and as a result, are demonstrating improved comprehension and verbalization of this understanding.
Read alouds are another excellent practice that supports Visualizing, Verbalizing, and Vocabbing. Read aloud texts are chosen for their lively and explicit language. When we read aloud to our students, we should be modeling the language of a text.
So how do I implement read alouds using my 3 V strategy?
Read the text aloud. Have your students form mental images. Ask them to close their eyes and picture the image that the author’s words are creating.
Build oral language through discussion of these images. Make your visualizing real through modeling your visualizations of the text with visual representations. Draw quick pictures of what the words help you to imagine.
Talk about specific words and sentences. How do these change what you are visualizing? What tools is the author using to help the reader visualize?
Connecting Visualizing, Verbalizing, and Vocabbing to Writing
You can connect this strategy to a writing prompt or lesson! Have your students use language that creates vivid mental images. Partner them up to visualize each others’ writing!
Read a text about Paul Revere’s ride in Social Studies. What does the night look like? How are the people feeling?
Ask questions! How do the author’s words and your background knowledge help you to visualize? How does the vocabulary support your learning and understanding? How does this tool help you comprehend a text better?
Read a math picture book and follow the same procedure!
~By Miss Rae
Here are some resources that demonstrate this technique if you want to implement it in your classroom for enriching discussions AND improved comprehension!!!
National Reading Panel (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. NIH Publication No. 00-4754. Washington, DC: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Hi! I'm Miss Rae! I'm a Special Education Coordinator with a passion for creating research-based resources for DiVeRSe learners and helping teachers make their lives easier! #teacherrealtalk #missraesroom