I was wondering if you have suggestions for helping a student in the first grade learn sight words. My son’s teacher sent home quite a long list of words that he needs to be able to read and write before the end of the year. We have been practicing some of them and I am sure that he works on them at school, but he is finding it hard to remember them. Now that we are passed the half way point in the school year, I am getting nervous that he won’t be able to pass a sight word test. I want him to be as strong as possible in grade 2. Can you help us?
You are not alone. I have seen many children have problems with learning sight words. But no matter the perceived difficulty, you need to help your son with these words as they are crucial to learning to read. Sight words fill in the blanks and are like glue that links together words into sentences that make sense. New readers will be using phonics, phonemic awareness, and clues from a book’s pictures to help them figure out text. But knowing the sight words creates islands of certainty for a beginning reader. A solid core of sight words creates automaticity while reading. Knowing sight words increases confidence and moves a child forward in reading and writing. If they know basic sight words (those common words like and, the, see, go, etc.) it enables them to catch on and decode much faster.
So what can you do to help? First give an informal reading and writing test to see how many sight words your child knows, and which words he needs to work on. Take the words that he knows and put them on cards on the refrigerator or in his room where they can be read during the day to be sure they become automatic. Add to this list as your child learns each new word. Continue to review all words every day.
A child will often learn better when he or she is having fun. A fun way to work with sight words is to utilize lower case magnetic letters. If you don’t have a magnetic board, a cookie sheet works very well (not all cookie sheets are magnetic but most of them are). Put the letters for the word you want to work with on the board. For example, if you are working on the word the, say, “This is the word the.” Have him look at the word and draw his finger slowly under the letters as he reads the word the. Mix up the letters and say, “Make the word the.” Do this many times after each time he makes the word have him draw his finger slowly under the word as he says the word. Follow this procedure for other sight words. Mix them up. Don’t forget lots of praise.
A chalkboard or white board is another useful tool. Have your child write the sight word you are working on. Have him write it big, write it tiny, write it here (point to one of the corners of the board), write it in red, etc..
So you get the idea. There are a number of other creative (i.e. fun) ways to learn sight words. Here are some:
Paint the words.
Use pudding or shaving cream to finger paint the words.
Use alphabet cereal or crackers to spell and eat the words.
Make Rainbow Words -Write them using different color markers.
Do some Bean/Pipe or Pick Writing - Use black beans, pipe cleaners or toothpicks to spell the words and glue them onto index cards.
Make Stamp Words – Use letter ink stamps to make words.
Make Sand Words - Use white glue to write the word then sprinkle with sand.
Make Word Rubbings – Take your Sand Words and make word rubbings by placing a piece of paper over your Sand Word and color until the word appears.
Although repetition is required to succeed, change helps speed up and increases success. Mix up the different exercises listed above, or come up with some of your own to keep learning fresh and fun ( if you come up with an exercise that seem to work particularly well, please share it in the comments section following this post). As always, be positive and encouraging. With your diligent and creative encouragement, your son’s sight words will soon take over the ‘fridge.
 See my prior blog on phonemic awareness.