Sight words are high frequency words that are most readily seen in a text. Once students know their sight words, those words can be read more easily and require less effort. There is quite a bit of data presented that suggests knowing sight words bolsters a student's ability to read a whole text (Hayes, 2016; Marzouk, 2008). In addition, sight words do not follow the conventions of using letter sounds to read the word. As Marzouk (2008) mentions, sight words "do not follow regular rules of spelling, so students will not be able to easily decode, or sound them out" (P. 5). Sight words also do not follow the phonics pattern, so students may find it easier to read a word like elephant instead of a word like was (Read Naturally). This is why these words have to be taught separately from words that can be decoded and sounded out. Furthermore, as sight words become a part of the language arts curriculum, it is important to include these words in everyday reading and speech to provide students with further practice.
Activities & Games
Bingo: You can find ready-to-use bingo sheets online for students to practice their sight words in a short five to ten minutes drill.
Boom:My personal favourite game is Boom! Unfortunately, I cannot recall where I first read about this activity, but I am still appreciative of its existence. On popsicle sticks, write a bunch of sight words. A few of the popsicle sticks should have the word Boom! on it. To do the activity, students stand in the circle. One student begins by pulling out a popsicle stick and saying the word. They can keep the stick if they say the sight word correctly, but have to put it back if they do not read it correctly. There is, however, one catch. Any student who gets Boom has to put back all of their sticks in the bag. In a way, no one is ever out of the game, but there definitely is a fun element added to getting (or not getting) the Boom popsicle stick.
Go Fish: In a group of four students, shuffle a deck of sight words cards. There should be two cards for each sight word (e.g. two cards that have "blue" written on them). Each student receives the same amount of cards and students go around the circle. For example, in a group of four, I would have each student have five cards with the remaining cards faced down in a pile. How many cards should there be in total? Well, for instance, if we are using the Pre-K Sight Words then I would have 40 words in total for 80 cards in total. The first student starts, asking a student for a sight word. If that student being asked for a sight word does not have the card, then the first student takes a card from the pile. If the first student finds a matching card whether by asking or the student or from the pile, they have found the pair and can remove it from the deck of cards in their hand (i.e. leave it somewhere on the floor to collect as many pairs as possible).
Guess Who?This is similar to the game board. This Reading Mama has several game boards with sight words, which I have not linked here because of user rights, but the blog link will lead you to the free document. Print two identical boards and pair students up with each other. Each student has their own board, making sure the other student cannot see it. Each student has a secret word that the other student is trying to figure out, asking yes or no questions (e.g. Does your word rhyme with bat?). For more information, click the link and read more on the blog.
Hide and Seek Words: "Hide 10-15 words. Let your child [or rather student] find them and then read them to you" (Forsyth County Schools).
I'm Thinking Of...: " Play a game of “I’m thinking of a word …” One player starts by giving a clue about one of the sight words – for example, “I’m thinking of a word that starts like horse and has three letters.” The other player looks at the list and tries to identify the word" (Forsyth County Schools).
Match That: Have sight words written on several cue cards and then have a duplicate set, as to ensure that there are two cue cards with the same sight word. Students have to turn over all the cards on a carpet or floor. Then, they take turns trying to turn over two cue cards at a time to match the sight words.
Paper Plates Sight Words: Write several sight words by grade level on a few paper plates (about 10-15 is appropriate). Place the paper plates on the carpet or ground. By taking turns, students have to throw a beanie bag to land on one of the paper plates. If they get it correctly, they have to say the sight word and collect the paper plate. I usually write two sight words on each plate, having students read both sight words.
Sentence Building: Provide students with a small kit of sight words, a paper, and a pencil. Alternatively, student can also use whiteboards, if that is an option in the classroom. Then, have students build sentences with the sight words they are learning.
Sight Words Snatch: In a group of three students, have cue cards with different sight words spread out. By taking turns, have one student read out a sight word and then have the other two students "snatch" or find that sight word. I would recommend asking the student taking on the role of the facilitator give turns to the other students, asking them one sight word at a time to find, making it less competitive. Then, once the round is over, select another student to become the facilitator.
Spiderman: This is a classic favourite. Make students guess the word by playing Spiderman. This is really useful for emergent students who are also struggling with letter and sound recognition.
Snakes & Ladder:Find a printable Snakes & Ladders board or make one. Then, fill out the boxes with sight words. I have mine laminated and ready-to-use along with a dice and a few game pieces.
Homework List: As I explain in the spelling section, it is necessary to provide students a word list of ten sight words weekly (decide what works for the students; it may be more or less) to practice on their own at home.
Quizlet: This is a wonderful website that I discovered on the Reading Strategies blog. On the blog, there is an example of a sight words activity on Quizlet. Students listen to the sight word and then type in the spelling. For example, if the audio says "going" then students type in going. There are other sight words activities on Quizlet that are free to use, so be on the lookout for those as well.
Repeated Reading: The teacher has to create a space where these sight words are seen in texts. If you teach sight words, but never use them through reading, then students will question the purpose of learning sight words. This is also an opportunity for the teacher to point out how sight words support our reading. I often say, "It is so wonderful to see [student name] reading so well, especially because they have been working on their sight words." If repeated readings are not useful for you, I suggest using other parts of the language arts block (e.g. guided reading or shared reading) to ensure that sight words are being read and practiced.
Spelling Test: Again, this is something I mention in the spelling section. At the end of the week, have a spelling test to see if students are able to spell the words. I often find that students can read the words, but not spell them, which defeats the purpose of learning sight words. As a way to navigate that concern, a weekly spelling test is helpful strategy.
Once the sight words are covered, you can introduce students to Fry's Instant Phrases. These are phrases and short sentences that are readily used in many texts students come across in elementary years.
Hayes, C. (2016). The effects of sight word instruction on students' learning abilities. Fisher Digital Publications.
Marzouk, N. (2008). Building fluency of sight words. Digital Commons.