Whether your child is just learning sight words or is starting to show signs of trouble reading them, I have three quick and easy ideas for you to help strengthen sight word recognition.
And hey, why don’t we throw in a little bit of processing speed work while we’re at it?
Timed Sight Word Reading
(a.k.a. Off to the Sight Word Races)
On a scale of not-so-exciting to “this is really fun” I have to say that this first strategy is at the lower end of the spectrum. However, I begin with Timed Sight Word Reading because it will help you quickly identify exactly which words are troublesome for your child and which ones don’t require as much attention.
Step 1: Print a list of appropriate sight words.
By appropriate I don’t necessarily mean grade level sight words. If your fourth grader reads best at a first grade level, do not begin with the fourth grade sight word list.
In fact, if you choose to use Dolch or Fry lists (don’t worry if you’re not familiar with these) then I highly recommend starting at the very beginning regardless of what grade level your child is comfortable reading. You may be surprised at how many troublesome words from the early years still interfere with your child’s reading fluency years later.
If your child breezes through the first few lists, great! That only serves to boost those feelings of competency and success.
So you don’t have any lists to work with? That’s okay. I have included 8 printable sight word lists in The Free Printables Collection. (For access, sign in or sign up below.) These 8 lists include the first 400 Fry High Frequency Words, which are most appropriate for Kindergarten through Grade 5.
You are welcome to use your own lists if you have them. Keep in mind, I recommend that your lists have plenty of white space between words and that you can read the lists from left to right rather than from top to bottom.
By the way, I intentionally did not include grade levels on each list. First of all, we know that our young learners, especially the ones who struggle, learn at their own pace.
And second, why remind our older students that they aren’t quite reading up to grade level, yet? We are here to encourage our young learners, not magnify potential feelings of inadequacy.
Step 2: Grab a countdown timer.
You can use an actual stopwatch, a kitchen timer, or any countdown timer app on your phone, whatever you prefer.
Step 3: Count the number of sight words on the first list and set the timer based on word count. If you choose to use lists from The Free Printables Collection, this is already done for you. (The word count for each list = 50.)
We’re aiming for a speed goal of approximately one word per second at this point. So, if your list includes 46 words, set the timer for 46 seconds.
Rest easy. It’s really okay if your child is nowhere near that goal. That is why this exercise is so useful.
And if you REALLY want to give your child a sense of accomplishment, set the timer for 10 seconds longer, at least when you first begin.
Step 4: Ask your child to read each word on the list from left to right, reading as many words as possible before the timer goes off.
Pointing to the words while reading is perfectly acceptable.
Encourage your child to skip any word that isn’t immediately recognized. These are sight words, after all. We don’t want to devote any time trying to sound them out.
Step 5: As your child reads, keep a mental note of any difficult or incorrect words. If you absolutely MUST you may write them down or mark your own copy of the list as soon as you hear the error, but I find that taking notes distracts kids from the task at hand.
“Oh no, she’s writing something down. I must have missed that one. Oh no, I made a mistake. Oh no, I’m not perfect!” …and on and on the thought process goes, which only slows down the reading process even more.
If possible, wait until time is up. Then you may underline the words you want to review later. It’s a good idea to identify these words to your child, especially without any judgement.
“I see that you had a little trouble with the words “and” and “why.” Let’s practice these before we begin again.”
You can even start the activity by explaining that mistakes are completely acceptable. In fact, they are very informative, telling us where we want to focus more of our attention.
Step 6: When the timer goes off, draw a line after the last word your child read. Count the number of words, subtract any incorrect words, and write down the total.
Step 7: Repeat steps 5 and 6, starting from the same starting point each time.
Did your child read faster the second or third time, or read more of those troublesome words correctly? Track and celebrate any successes!
Step 8: Once your child can read every sight word on the list correctly before the timer goes off, you’re ready to move up to the next level.
If you took my earlier suggestion to add 10 second to the time, now would be a good time to subtract that 10 seconds and try the same list again, only faster.
Now, I know that not every child is motivated by the idea of improvement alone. If your child happens to need a little extra fun factor to engage with this particular activity, let’s give this one a new name. We’ll call it…
Off to the Sight Word Races
Grab 3 toy horses, or build 3 mini horses out of Legos, or print pictures of 3 horses. Heck, use silverware or condiment jars and call them horses if you want to. It really makes no difference. Label your race horses #1, #2 and #3. Place them at whatever “starting gate” you choose.
After your child’s first attempt at reading, tally the number of correct words. Assign that number to horse #1 and move it forward. (You can either ball park the distance if you want, or measure in millimeters, centimeters, inches…)
After the second attempt, move horse #2 either in front of or behind horse #1 based on the new tally. Finally, advance horse #3 after the final read.
Did horse #3 win? The race is exciting either way, but I’ll be rooting for #3 every time!
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