A few years ago, I was faced with an extremely challenging class. Not challenging in the behavior sense. In the words of Chrysanthemum’s father, they were “absolutely perfect” — I mean it! But, they were a challenging group for me because of how different they were academically; particularly when it came to reading.
In this class, I had one group of students that were diving deep into challenging texts early on in the year. However, in this same class, I had students that were just beginning to put letters together to make words. With my struggling readers, we were spending ample time on phonics and phonemic awareness skills, but they were still getting “stuck” on words as they were reading simple texts. They were already finding reading to be frustrating. That’s not how I wanted to begin my students’ journey to reading!
“What am I NOT doing to meet these students’ needs?” I asked myself. It wasn’t until I stepped back and looked at my reading block and discovered I was not incorporating enough of one very important piece: sight word instruction and practice.
That simple discovery completely changed how I organized my time with my small groups. Phonics and phonemic awareness were still integral parts of my instruction, but we also began tackling sight words through hands-on practices.
Below is a pie chart to show you an example of how I broke up our 20-minute small group sessions. A good chunk of time was spent practicing just sight words. Another chunk of time was spent practicing just phonics and phonemic awareness skills. Then, the rest of the time (half of the time) was spent reading. While reading, students were able to focus on comprehension while simultaneously applying all of those great sight word and phonics/phonemic awareness practices.
It wasn’t long before I began to see progress with these struggling readers. Why? Because they were no longer having to use up all of their energy and effort on trying to read high-frequency words, which meant they could begin focusing on the “meat” of the text. Ding! That was the piece of the puzzle I was missing!
So, why was that sight word piece so important?
Nine. That’s the number of times it takes an average child to see a word and automatically recognize it. That number is even greater for dyslexic students! Isn’t that number astounding? That’s why students need exposure to these words over and over and over again if we want them to “stick.” So, how can we do that?
Sight word practice does not have to solely take place during your small group instruction time. You can incorporate valuable, fun, and hands-on activities into other parts of your reading block, as well. Below you’ll find some of my favorite teacher-tested, kid-approved sight word activities that I have used in my classroom during small group time and at Word Work.
Touch and Feel It
Research has shown that one of the most effective ways for students to grasp new concepts is through hands-on learning! Allowing opportunities for students to manipulate sight words in various ways is the KEY to helping them lock in those words. Here are some of my past students’ absolute favorite hands-on sight word activities.
Sandy Sight Words
I bought these cafeteria trays on Amazon for a couple of bucks. They can be used in a variety of ways to practice sight words or any Word Work activity. For this activity, place a small amount of sand in the tray. Then, have students practice writing their sight words in the sand.
Sight Word Painting
Sight Word Painting is another great way for students to practice their sight words. To do this, place a small amount of paint in a Ziploc baggy. With this, you can have students write the sight words in the paint. They can then “erase” the word by smoothing out the paint. Fun and effective!
“Make It” Mats
These sight word mats are great to use in small groups or in your Word Work area. Students can use playdough, pipe cleaners, or pom-poms to fill each word. Using tweezers (I purchased the ones below at Lakeshore Learning) is an excellent way to build fine motor skills. I suggest modeling how to complete this activity during a whole group lesson.
Steps for Modeling:
- Saying the whole word first.
- Saying each individual letter.
- Then, say the whole word again.
Trace, Build, and Write
Trace, Build, and Write requires students to trace each word, build it, and then write it. Students can build the words with letter tiles (you can use old board game letters for this if you have them) or macaroni letters. The letters you see below come from an old letter string-up set that I believe I bought at Lakeshore Learning (don’t quote me here though!).
Fishing for Sight Words
Fishing for Sight Words has always been a favorite amongst students in my classroom. Who knew that a magnetic wooden rod and some sight word fish could be so thrilling?
Materials you will need:
- sight word fish
- wooden sticks
- magnetic tape
- large paperclip
- lily pads (not necessary, but they add an extra bit of fun)
- blue butcher paper
To prep for this activity, cut some blue butcher paper into the shape of a pond. Then, add lily pads to the top. Loop and tie the string around the wooden stick. Then, attach the magnetic tape to the other end of the string. You can find magnetic rods on Amazon, but they are a little pricier than the DIY option. Lastly, on the bottom of each fish, tape a large paperclip.
There are multiple ways to use this fishing activity. One way is to have Player 1 call out one of the sight words on the fish for Player 2 to locate and find. If the word is read correctly, the student gets to keep the fish. If not, the student must throw the fish back into the pond.
Another way is to have the same words printed out on cards (cards can be found here) and have students read the word on the card and then find the matching fish. If more than one student is playing, they could both go fishing at the same time to see who can find the fish the fastest!
Sight Word Ball
This acts as an excellent morning meeting or a warm-up game. You can complete this activity as a whole group or break your class into groups of 4 or 5 (that will require more balls, but it gives students multiple turns).
Students will toss the ball around in the circle. When a student catches the ball, they must read the first word they touch. After playing this for a few weeks, I like to add an additional step and require students to use the word in a sentence.
Large Letter Builders
These large sight word cards are perfect for word building. To do this activity, simply display a sight word card, have students build the word, and then allow them to “fill” the word with pom-poms, playdough, sand, etc. I especially like to use pom-poms because students can build their fine motor skills using tweezers as they are building words. If you’re interested in these large letter cards, they are included in the free resource found at the bottom of this post.
Read and Race
Read and Race is a fun and effective way to practice sight words. You can create your own game board or the one provided for you. Read below for the directions on how to play.
Materials you will need:
- board game
- chip/game piece
What to do:
- Spin the spinner.
- Move that many spaces.
- Read the word and use it in a sentence. If you don’t know the word, go back to your last space.
- Then, it is the next player’s turn.
- The person who gets to the end first is the winner.
Multiple studies have shown that incorporating movement into learning activities boosts students’ brain and body health by stimulating nerve growth. Also, let’s face it, kids love to move AND need to move! So I’ve listed a few of my kiddos’ favorite movement sight word games.
Sight Words with a “Twist”
You will need a Twister board, spinner, and sight word cards (included!). The game is played the same way as regular Twister. If you think your kiddos can handle the challenge, you can add an additional step and require students to use the word in a sentence. This will certainly become a classroom favorite!
Before playing, be sure to go over your rules and procedures for this activity (especially if you plan on having it as one of the activities in your Word Work area).
Stomp, “Paws”, and Read
This is a classroom favorite! We have played this game as a whole group and at the Word Work spot in my classroom. There are multiple ways to use these sight word paws.
Option 1: Place the paws in a “windy road” pattern. Have students hop from one paw to the next. Each time they hop, they must “paws” and say the word (additional step: use it in a sentence).
Option 2: Flip over a sight word card (cards are included). Students must then “stomp” on the card and correctly read it aloud (additional step: and use it in a sentence).
Option 3: Make two sets for each card. Scatter one set face down and scatter the other set face down in another nearby location. Play this game like Memory. Students must stomp on a card, read it, and then try to find the match. If they do, they get to keep the pair. The student with the most pairs wins the game!
Practice and Repeat
Remember that crazy fact I shared earlier on in this post? Nine TIMES! Nine times is the number of times an average child needs to see a word in order to automatically recognize it. If you’re thinking: “Oh no! How can I expose my students to the same words over and over again without driving them mad?”, don’t worry! I’ve got you covered!
Sight Word Assessment Strips/Sheets
Don’t feel like you have to be the only one doing all of the work here! These sight word strips/sheets are the perfect little nuggets for students to practice with each other, at home, or even with a parent helper/volunteer.
This version allows you to track three different dates. This is a great way to track progress as students love seeing their growth!
Sight Word Mats
One of the simplest and most effective ways for students to practice, practice, practice their sight words is by using these sight word mats. The mats can be used with ANY sight word and if they’re laminated, the words can be wiped off and used OVER and OVER again!
I like to have students build words with magnetic letters on cookie trays. This sight word mat is one of the free resources found through the link at the bottom.
This sight word mat is particularly beneficial for students who need help identifying the letters in the words. They can search and circle the letters and then write a sentence using that word.
How fun is this sight word mat? Students select a word and can practice writing it in various ways.
Giving students time to practice writing their sight words in sentences is extremely important—even if the sentences are simple! This sight word mat focuses on just that!
This Type It, Write It sight word mat is another one of the free resources found in the download below. If you have a specific set of words you want your students to practice, then this mat is perfect for that.
Search and Find
Search and Find activities have always been a favorite in my classroom. Provide students with a magnifying glass and you’ve automatically won “Teacher of the Year.” The fonts and text sizes are all different to help students become familiar with the many font styles printed in books.
Let’s Read Sight Word Sheets
These Sight Word Practice Sheets are great to use for independent practice. I especially LOVE these sheets because they allow opportunities for students to work with the focus sight word in a variety of ways: I Can Read It, I Can Trace It, I Can Decorate It, I Can Read and Circle, I Can Write the Word, and I Can Write Sentences. If you are familiar with the phonics sheets I currently have in my shop, then you will recognize this layout!
These Write-On Sentences are clean and simple lines for students to write their sentences using the highlighted sight words.
My Little Word Wall Book
How fun are these word wall books? These are a great tool for students to have on hand so they can reference word wall words all year long. When new words are introduced to them, have them write them down in these individual word wall books. You can print them as mini books (select “booklet” when printing) or you can print them at a large size. This is one of the free resources found in the download link at the bottom of this post.
Identify It in Context
I am an avid believer that the single most important thing you can do to get students reading is (drum roll, please!)…provide them with time to read! That’s why you’ll notice the “Apply it to a Text” takes up so much of my pie chart.
You can use leveled readers, Scholastic News articles, decodable books, Time for Kids, Nat Geo for Kids, and so many other books to help your students practice sight words! Give your students highlighter tape or Post-It notes and have them mark or jot down sight words they see as they are reading.
Here are a few other fun ways to help students practice reading sight words in context:
Sight Word Clip Its
Sight Word Clip Its require students to read each sentence and clip the one that matches the picture. These work wonderfully at small group, Word Work, or even as an early finisher activity.
Super Sight Word Readers
The Super Sight Word Readers can be used in small groups, Word Work, RTI, or even for independent practice. Students can practice reading them over and over again until they become proficient.
How can I incorporate these activities into my classroom?
If you’re wanting to incorporate the activities mentioned into your classroom today, you CAN with the Hands-On Sight Word Bundle. The Hands-On Sight Word Bundle is a teacher-tested, kid-approved resource full of engaging, rigorous, and fun hands-on sight word activities and games that you can begin using in your classroom immediately. The included activities can be used in the following parts of your students’ day: whole-group and small-group instruction, warm-up time, Word Work, RTI, Early Finishers Tub, independent practice, and even homework.
This bundle is massive. It includes activities that correlate with Fry’s First, Second, and Third 100 Words. This resource makes differentiation a breeze!
P.S. Don’t forget to sign up for the 60-page sight word freebie below!
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Get ready to tackle teaching with confidence and ease! Click here to find out more about the LK Teacher Club.
P.S. I have another phonics blog that you can check out. Click here to read!