Friday, November 2, 2012

Teaching Sight Words


These children may seem very young for such a huge undertaking as reading, but they are ready. How do I know?

  • They have mastered letter recognition, both upper and lower case.
  • They have mastered phonics.
  • They have excellent comprehension of stories.
  • They spell their names.
  • They recognize each other's names in various print.
  • They have extensive vocabularies.
  • They speak with proper grammar more than 90% of the time.
I also know that they are cognitively ready. They can all swing independently on a swingset. That may seem rather odd to throw in here, but there is a scientific correlation between the ability to swing independently and the cognitive ability to read. 


As with all my teaching, it is child-led, teacher-facilitated, physical and interactive. You may wonder how that could be with reading.

We began by watching MEET THE SIGHT WORDS during our pre-lunch educational video time. The children say the words with the video, and act out any actions going on to the best of their ability. It isn't just sitting staring at a screen. Memory retention is shown to increase by 10% per sense used. This enables them to use speech, hearing, sight, and touch in concert to help remember the sight words displayed. They do this independently, by choice, while I fix lunch. I try to participate and reinforce the concepts as much as possible .
Preschool Prep Series: Sight Words Pack (Meet the Sight Words 1-3)
Our first hurdle was getting the children to truly understand that words were letters stuck together. We had covered vowels, and the children had watch LEAP FROG WORD FACTORY and LEAP FROG CODE WORD CAPER, so the concept was not new to them. We have always used the phrase, "Blue is the glue that holds the words together." 

However, after pointing to each letter for so long, it took a couple of days to get them to point to words as a unit. To help with this, I added green dots below our first sentence strips for them to touch as they read. I used the blue vowels on the first simple sentences just to reinforce the concept of them sticking together.

On our next one, I did it both ways, black/white text and color coded.

Then I created our Dolch sight word cards. The unit with the word cards, pre-writing word cards, and BINGO cards is available through my TPT store

You might think that I would start with the pre-k word list first. If this were a teacher-directed learning activity, or an elementary activity, I probably would. But it isn't. Teaching little ones requires it to be personal and active. I have to use the words that interest them and convey what they want to say and learn to read. I can't be confined to a pre-set selection. We are actually using more of the kindergarten level than the pre-k words. We will also be adding in non-sight words such as mom, dad, cat, dog, baby, etc. to personalize the experience.

Each child has very individual wants, needs and desires. By throwing out a ton of words, each child will choose the ones that speak strongly to them and learn those quickly. It can be a particular cadence to the word, a particular letter sound that strikes a cord, or a specific meaning that holds some tangible force within it that grabs a particular child's attention. By limiting their choices to a few chosen words, a teacher may be denying a child a richer experience and discovery.  

While a few words are universally being learned in equal measure by the children, each one has their favorites, and they are different. This is super important because they are learning from each other in a collaborative effort. Basically we have four teachers, me, and each of the children presenting their favorite words to the ones who don't know them.

I said that it needs to be movement based. For our first sentence I chose, "I am a..." The children took turns touching the green dots and saying the words. Obviously they already knew "I" and "a," so it was an easy one. After they read the sentence, then the child chose what to be for us all to act out. Since it was Halloween time, many of the first ones were, "I am a GHOST!" and we would flap our arms and wail around. The next child would say, "I am a WITCH!" and we would cackle and fly around. They enjoyed this enough, that they would choose to do it as a group independently, always pointing to the words first and taking turns to choose. Penguin, lion, snake, dog, cat, airplane, elephant, frog, kangaroo, countless critters and things have been used with that sentence. They know the word "am" now. We moved next to "He is a..." and Mr. G got that one to himself while the girls still used "I am a..." Now we have "She is a..." as well. 

Our big sentence, "My big dog can go to the..." is a good one. It's chock full of sight words, and all the children are interested in their dogs. It's fun to stretch their minds. They first would say park, dog park, or store. I added in moon and they all got the idea that they could be silly with it. He's now gone to school, the zoo, museum, etc. We always add in a physical activity to go with it, such as swinging on the monkey bars at the park, or petting the goats at the zoo.

We used our sight words to add above the sentence to break it down and learn them individually and out of order. The children get to take them off and match them back up as an independent activity.

Here are some of the other activities we have been doing.

Sight Word Swatting

Letter Match

Sight Word Hunt

Stamping and Writing

But most of the time, we just stand at the door where we have them posted and make sentences that we act out. 

Learning should ALWAYS be fun.

UPDATE: A few months down the road, and they have all the pre-primer and most of the kindergarten words down, along with about 25% of the 1st and 2nd grade words and a few of the 3rd grade.

We also do story extensions. For instance with Eric Carle's From Head to Toe, I put the words on the white board, using our sight word cards and writing in as needed, and the children took turns reading it and filling in the blanks. The words they added, they sounded out and told me the letters to write, then we sounded them out again once written. This enables them to start transitioning from the cards to environmental print. 

The next stage in reading will be sounding out words and phonemic awareness. We are already working on digraphs and I'm tossing in some sound outs, such as with AND, the sight words that can also be sounded out. 

In teaching sight words first, it lends itself to seemless transitioning to more advanced skill sets, while setting the stage for early success. When a child can recognize a good portion of the words on a page, they innately desire to learn the others, to have mastery over the reading experience.

In anticipation of that, we also are reading some of our beginning readers. My favorite is the NOW I'M READING sets from Nora Gaydos. I've used these for 10 years with great success. The stories have meaning, but build one word at a time, working one sound a book, to gently build reading ability.

Advanced reading skills will be a steady progression at the individual children's pace of learning, taught more through exposure and one-on-one experiences than formal activities.

UPDATE: 7/11/2014 They have read all 80 of the Ready to Read! books! Woo hoo! 20 months after they first started putting words together and began their reading journey. They know all their blends and digraphs, can sound out pretty much anything, and are reading at a kindergarten-1st grade level. 

 Mr. G and Miss A turned 4 in April, 
and Miss H is almost 5.

They know all their pre-k, kindergarten and 1st grade Dolch sightwords, and many of the 2nd and 3rd grade ones. We continue to read daily.

UPDATE: 10/17/2014 They put on their first Reader's Theater show for the parents and grandparents. They performed The Ant Bully, If You Give a Pig a Pancake, and an owl poem. They are now all reading at a 2nd grade level and working on synonyms, antonyms, big words, and expressive writing.

Tags: reading, read, sight words, sight, words, word, phonics, phenomes, language, literacy, english, beginning, preschool, kindergarten, teaching, teach, kids, kids, children, class, group, dolce, fry, first,


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