Do you have a little book lover who is ready to learn to read? Here are seven simple and fun ways to to teach and practice sight words (one of the keys to reading) with beginning readers.
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I’ve really been struggling with our home preschool lately. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it. It’s just that Little Man has now mastered shapes, colors, letter identification, letter sounds, and counting from 1-30. I’m so proud of his progress and how much he enjoys learning, but for awhile I was kind of at a loss as to what to teach him next (and I got a little burned out during the holidays and had no desire to plan anything). However, he’s starting to show interest in reading now, so I decided to start working on beginning reading skills.
You’d think that as a former English teacher, I’d know how to teach my own kid to read, but my students were in seventh grade. They all came to me already knowing how to read. So, for Little Man, I did what I always do: I did A LOT of research, and then I experimented.
Two main “teaching reading” theories:
There are two approaches to reading instruction: the phonics approach and the whole language approach. Phonics is about teaching kids to sound out words piece by piece. Whole language is teaching kids to memorize the words they see, and identify the whole word at once (rather than identifying its individual parts). I’m of the opinion that the best way to teach reading actually involves a combination of BOTH approaches. Here’s a great article about why you need to teach both phonics and whole language.
We’ve been doing phonics activities for awhile, but I thought it would helpful for Little Man to start learning some of the common sight words. Fry’s list of the 100 most commonly used words in the English language is a standard in the education world, so I thought that would be a good place to start.
Read on to learn some of the fun and simple ways we have incorporated sight words into our home preschool time.
7 simple ways to teach sight words:
1. Word-a-day (or week)
I started out by just picking ONE word each day to introduce Little Man to. I wrote it pretty large on a sheet of paper and put it on our kitchen wall. I showed him the word, had him repeat it to me, we traced the word with our fingers on the page, and then I would use the word in a sentence for him. Simple, but I liked introducing each word in a meaningful way, and having it stay up on the wall for him to see and refer to over time (read more about the power of word walls here).
2. Word hunt
This is SUPER simple, but I think it’s important to help kids see how learning matters in real life. After introducing Little Man to a new word, I would pick a story to read a story together that I knew had the day’s word in it several times. As we read, I would encourage him to look for the word and shout it out when he saw and recognized it. This was a good way to reinforce his ability to identify the word and to see/hear it in context.
3. Race car flash card game
Once you have introduced several words to your child, write each word on an index card (or use the free printable flash cards I used from Teachers Pay Teachers). I do 10 words at a time with Little Man. Flip the 10 cards upside down on a table (or floor) and let your child choose one to flip over and try to read.
When I first did this activity with Little Man, he was getting really distracted by a Hot Wheels car that happened to be sitting on the table. I always try to make our learning activities fun, so I decided to use the car to my advantage. I invited Little Man drive the car along the card as he sounded out the letters. We would drive faster and faster until he got the whole word and he would “race” the car by the word super fast as he would say it. I was amazed that by adding a simple little car to the activity, he enjoyed it so much more. WIN!
4. Sight word match
Take the same 10 words you used in the previous activity, and make TWO copies of each word. Then, mix them up, flip them upside down, and play match (aka – memory) with them. Simple, but such a simple way to reinforce the words that your child is struggling with. We also used this match game to introduce new sight words.
Most of the words were ones that Little Man knew, but the second time we played, I added a couple of new words he hadn’t seen before. By focusing on playing the game, Little Man didn’t even realize that he was learning new words. But every time he would turn over a card, we would read it and so he got repeated exposure to the words, and he had to pay attention to the spelling to be able to find the matches.
5. Fly swatter game
This has got to be one of the oldest teacher review games in the book, but it was always a hit with my students, and my kids love doing it at home now, too. It’s best to do this game once your child is more familiar with a handful of sight words (which is why it’s at the end of my list). Take your flash cards from before, tape them to the wall, and give your child a fly swatter. Call out a word, and see how fast your child can find and “swat” the correct word.
6. Shooting darts
Pretty similar to the fly swatter game above, but you use nerf guns. We had some inexpensive ones that I bought several years ago and had lost all the darts to them. Last week, Little Man found them in the closet and we agreed to pool our money and go buy some replacement darts. He’s been shooting EVERYTHING all week, so I figured I would harness his enthusiasm and use it to practice sight words. He loved it!
7. Speed word building
Use your flash cards (you’re getting some good mileage out of them, aren’t you?) again. Just have one copy of each word in a stack, mix them up, and place them face down on a table. Get a set of magnetic alphabet letters or you can use Banagrams tiles. Invite your child to flip over a card and search the pile of alphabet letters to “build” the word on top of or underneath the word on the card. If you want to play with your child (or, more accurately, if your child wants you to play), you can make it a race.
NOTE: If you want your flash cards to last through several games, I highly recommend laminating them. I have had one for a few years and love being able to make our preschool activities a little more durable. I couldn’t find the one I have on Amazon, but this best-selling laminator looks like a great, inexpensive option.
We’re still imagining up and playing new sight word games regularly, but these have been some of our favorites so far. Enjoy!
How have you taught your kids to read? I’d love to read your ideas and resources in the comments below!
My daughter is starting preschool this August so this will all come in handy for me
Ashley | Spit Up and Sit Ups
While we’re not in the reading stage yet, this is also really great for speaking!
Vicki @ Babies to Bookworms
These are awesome ideas to teach sight words! I love the word hunt especially because we could add it in to our daily read alouds!
Thanks, Vicki. I love things like the word hunt that require no prep and really get at the heart of what we want kids to be able to DO…apply the learning to real life.
My son will love the race car game!!! I am in the process of teaching him how to spell!
It would be perfect for spelling!
Corey | The Nostalgia Diaries
I totally agree that using a combo of both approaches works well! I’ve always done both with my daughter and she’s learned to read quite quickly.
That’s good to hear, Corey. I’ve never taught kids to read before, but it just makes sense to me to do both (and all the research I’ve seen agrees). Glad it worked for you that way!
I love the flyswatter idea (which was totally new to me!). I don’t think we even have a flyswatter, but we’re definitely trying out a swiffer duster this week.
I hope you enjoy it, and I’m all for improvising…Swiffer duster to the rescue. 🙂
This is such a useful post and I love all these ideas! I am saving this for when my little guy is ready to start reading.
Ping pong balls with sight words written on them, sitting on golf tees, and then they shoot the correct ball down with a squirt gun is pretty fun in the summer time! Some really fun ideas here!
Thanks for the idea, Kate! I’m sure my little guys would love squirting ping pong balls. Plus, that’s a good fine motor skill to practice!
As a former first grade teacher, I love (and have used) these ideas! 🙂
Glad to hear it, Danielle! I’m sure you have a million more strategies, too.
Your tips are really helpful. My little one is still to small but at some point we will start as well.