How Do I Teach My Toddler Sight Words?

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    Sight words are a set of high-frequency English words. When a student learns to recognise them automatically, it can increase their reading fluency and comprehension.

    They are helpful for young children, struggling readers, and English as additional language learners to study, especially those just getting started with reading.

    That's because they are the most commonly found terms in English texts. Mastering them frees up attention for processing harder and less frequently encountered words.

    You probably don't remember learning how to read words like the, is, and am. 

    But these so-called "sight words" that you now read every day (without even noticing!) can be quite challenging for children to learn. However, they're crucial to reading success. 

    In simple terms, sight words are commonly-used words that children are encouraged to memorise by sight, so they instantly recognise them in a text without taking the time to sound them out. 

    That's especially helpful for the many sight words that don't follow standard phonetic rules and can't be sounded out.

    When children can scan sight words, they are more fluent readers and better comprehend a text. 

    Also, one classic study found that up to 75 per cent of the words used in text geared toward young readers are sight words.

    Here are ways to make learning sight words easier for your child and tools that will help you along the way. 

    More About Sight Words

    Sight words may require some extra effort and time to learn, but they can help a student keep up with their peers in the classroom.

    Most children are introduced to sight words in first or second grade when they begin learning to read.

    A child who is a strong reader from an early age may find they acquire sight words effortlessly through repeat exposure from extensive reading.

    More than 75% of the average children's book is made up of sight words.

    How Children Learn To Read

    Children develop pre-literacy skills, including individual sound, letter and word recognition, through conversations with caregivers and being read to from an early age.

    A child must first recognise individual letters and sets of letters and then map the correct sounds onto them to read a word. This process is called decoding.

    Sounding out words uses up a lot of cognitive energy and attention, which is why reading can be pretty slow initially when very few words look familiar to the child.

    But after a learner has sounded out a word multiple times, they will find it easier to recognise by sight, which is to say they will be sight-reading.

    Which Words Are Sight Words?

    Sight words are sometimes referred to as Dolch words because they first assembled them into the list most parents and educators teach today.

    Edward William Dolch published his list of sight words in 1948 while working at the University of Illinois.

    To create the list, he looked through children's books for the most common words they contained.

    Dolch felt that teaching young children to memorise too many words would be counterproductive. 

    He narrowed the sight words list down to 220, leaving out nouns. This means today's sight words are composed chiefly of service words such as prepositions, adjectives and verbs.

    Tips For Teaching Sight Words

    Sight words are learned through basic memorisation and can be taught formally or informally. 

    The trick is to make it simple for your preschooler by using a mixture of purposeful review of the words in instances both where your preschooler understands that they are learning new words and in the cases where they don't, such as play.

    Here are some other things you can do with your child and some strategies for teaching sight words:

    Expose Your Child to Sight Words Early On.  

    It's never too early to start reading regularly with your child (it will boost their language development and reading skills. Doing so multiple times per day can expose them to 1 million words by kindergarten!). In addition, this is the most natural way to familiarise them with a wide range of sight words.

    Also, point out sight words in your environment — say, by reading signs on the road or at the grocery store out loud. 

    This will help provide a solid foundation for when your child takes on more formal sight word learning in preschool and kindergarten. 

    Make Read-Alouds More Interactive. 

    When you read with your child, you'll notice that many repetitive phrases contain sight words like I, a, at, am, and it, in, is, and the. Have fun emphasising this repetition, and encourage your child to chime in on the refrains as you point to the words along the way.

    Since sight words make up a large percentage of all text, engaging in interactive read-aloud with your child is a great way to practice them. 

    Books that show text in speech bubbles are handy because they are concise and extensive, making it easy to point out sight words in each bubble as you read. 

    While reading aloud to your child or simply going about your day, be sure to point out sight words any time you come across one. 

    If you are reading a book, be sure to underline the word with your preschooler and have your preschooler do the same. Then, have them trace the letters. 

    Engage All of Their Senses.

    You may also use multi-sensory activities with children, in which they fill in missing letters or rearrange letters to correctly spell a sight word or "write" a comment using their finger in the air or on a table.

    Children are more likely to retain a sight word in their long-term memory when practice includes these multi-sensory strategies. For example, give kids pipe cleaners or magnetic letters to build sight words. 

    For more practice with spelling sight words — especially those that aren't phonetically regular — you may turn to literacy expert Jan Richardson's sight word technique.

    Introduce the sight word by writing it on a dry erase board or making it with magnetic letters. Then, ask the children to look at each letter as you slide an index card left to right across the word.

    Write a Story


    Write a book together, using sight words in repetition. For example, you might tell the story of a visit to the zoo, using the introductory sentence: "We go see the (fill in an animal name)." 

    The constant use and exposure to the words 'we,' 'go,' 'see,' and 'the' will help your little one learn them. 

    Play Games

    Play a memory game. Write each sight word on two index cards. (So the game doesn't get unwieldy, it only works with seven or eight words at a time.) 

    Lay the cards face down so the words are hidden. Then, have your preschooler try to match the words. 

    At first, matching will primarily be through letter identification, but as they get more fluent, they will be able to identify sight words independently.

    Use Flashcards

    Make flashcards. Using index cards, write each sight word on one side—practice going through the cards with your preschooler to quiz them and see what they remember.

    Sort Sight Words Into Categories.

    It can be helpful to show kids how to sort sight words into categories, such as "rule followers" and "rule-breakers. 

    However, this should be used with more fluent readers who have already built early decoding skills and can sound out words. 

    For example, the sight word 'can' follows regular phonics patterns.

    In contrast, ‘said’ is not decodable. Therefore, children must learn this word as a whole unit. 

    When introducing a sight word, discuss whether it can be sounded out or a rule breaker comment.

    Play a sorting game at home in which your child guesses which sight words can or cannot be sounded out.

    Read and Play With Sight Words Daily. 

    Children will automatically become better at reading sight words when they have daily opportunities to interact with text at home. 

    Reading daily will naturally reinforce the learning of sight words, and you can also get creative with games, art projects, and other interactive activities. 

    Sensory Play

    If you don't mind a bit of messy but brilliant fun, try this activity using shaving cream and a cookie sheet. 

    Spray shaving cream (cream, not gel) onto the cookie sheet. Help your preschooler write sight words in the shaving cream using her fingers. 

    What's great about this activity is that it is easily fixed if they make a mistake, and penmanship doesn't matter. 

    Having your preschooler "feel" how the words are formed will make it easier for them to recognise the letters. 

    Sight words are a set of high-frequency English words. When a student learns to recognise them automatically, it can increase their reading fluency and comprehension.

    They are helpful for young children, struggling readers, and English as additional language learners to study, especially those just getting started with reading.

    That's because they are the most commonly found terms in English texts. Mastering them frees up attention for processing harder and less frequently encountered words.

    More Ways To Make Learning Sight Words Fun

    Sight words (also known as high-frequency words) are the words that most commonly appear in the text. 

    These are words our emergent readers are encouraged to learn to read by sight without stopping and sound out or decoding. 

    Sight words are often taught by having students memorise or re-read words from a list or through a series of worksheet activities. 

    While these methods can be effective for some students, other students may seek a more creative or engaging approach.

    Sight Word Hunt

    Whenever you are working on a new sight word, please have your child find it in whatever picture books we enjoy together. 

    As you read, have my child read the word we are working on whenever you find it in the text. You can also practice with this fun sight-word hunt printable.

    Stamp a Sight Word

    Kids LOVE to play with stamps. The novelty of getting to use symbols and ink keeps them interested in their word work. 

    Create a written list of the words your child is working on, and then using a set of alphabet stamps, have your child stamp each word, letter by letter.

    Don't have alphabet stamps? No problem! Have your child cut out letters from old magazines, the newspaper, etc.

    Sight Words Readers

    Sight words readers are excellent for building the confidence of an emergent reader. These books are short in length and typically have between 10-20 different words per book. 

    As your child works through the books sequentially, they have the opportunity to learn new sight words while continuing to practice previous words and word families.

    There are many great sight word readers on the market — for example, we like Bob Books.

    Sight Word Bingo

    Kids also love to learn through games. Games help keep kids engaged and remind them that learning is FUN! 

    To play sight word bingo, draw a 5x5 grid, or search for a blank bingo grid online. Write one word in each box on the grid. You may want to repeat words for younger children or use a smaller grid.

    This game can also be adapted to help older students with their spelling words. In addition to locating the correct word and covering it with a tile, ask your child to spell the word. 

    Sight Words Hopscotch


    Sight word hopscotch is a fun and playful way to help your emergent readers learn their sight words. Kids will commit sight words to memory while they PLAY and MOVE!

    Draw a hopscotch grid on your sidewalk or driveway. Instead of marking each square with a number, write a sight word that your child is working on. 

    When your child's rock/beanbag lands on that square, have them attempt to read the word. As you continue to play the game, the terms will become more committed to memory.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Progress Is Slow. We Have Been on the Same Five Words for a Week!

    It is not unusual to repeat the same set of words several times, especially in the first weeks of sight word instruction. 

    The child is learning how to learn the words and is developing pattern recognition approaches that will speed his progress. 

    Give him time to grow confident with his current set of words, and avoid overwhelming the child with new words when he hasn't yet become familiar with the old terms.

    Do I Need to Do All Five Techniques for Every Word?

    Start by using all five techniques with each new word. The techniques use different teaching methods and physical senses to support and reinforce the child's memorisation of the word. 

    After a few weeks of lessons, you will have a sense of how long it takes your child to learn new words and whether all five exercises are necessary. 

    Start by eliminating the last activity, Table Writing, but be sure to review those words at the next lesson to see if the child retained them without that last exercise. 

    If the child learns fine without Table Writing, you can try leaving out the fourth technique, Air Writing

    Children who learn quickly may only need to use two or three of the techniques.

    How Long Will it Take to Get Through a Whole Word List? I Want My Child to Learn All the Words!

    That depends on several factors, including the frequency of your lessons as well as your child's ability to focus. 

    But do not get obsessed with the idea of racing through the word lists to the finish line. 

    It is much, much better for your child to solidly know just 50 words than to "kind of" know 300 words. 

    We are building a foundation here, and we want that foundation to be made of rock, not sand!

    Who Else Can Benefit from Sight Words?

    Sight words are typically taught as part of phonics and spelling lessons and used by teachers to facilitate reading skills.

    They are essential for understanding English, and that means the bilingual child and English as an additional language adult learner can significantly benefit from covering them in early vocabulary lists.

    Of course, for adult learners, Dr Seuss may not be the most appropriate method of introduction, so it is recommended that anyone teaching adults investigate other options, such as a touch-typing course in which students learn to recognise and type sight words on a computer.

    When Learning Sight Words Is Hard

    For children who struggle with learning difficulties such as dyslexia, sight words are not always that easy.

    Learning any word is tricky, but as sight words tend to be somewhat generic vocabulary, they are less amenable to the mnemonic devices dyslexic students sometimes use to remember vocabulary.

    If a teacher is aware of the learning difficulty, they can ensure the child receives extra help. However, it can be somewhat embarrassing when a student needs to work to keep up with their peers.

    It introduces a self-study measure that can be completed at a pace set by the learner, after class or at home, maybe the solution.

    4 Ways to Help Kids Struggling with Sight Words
    1. Use Sentence Strips and Flashcards.
    2. Make a Sight Words Journal.
    3. Color Coding Sight Words.
    4. Use Colored Blocks to Make it a Game.

    A: Children's language skills develop at different rates, so we can't give you hard-and-fast age rules. Most children will be able to master a few sight words in Pre-K (four years old). You can teach sight words earlier if your child is receptive to the material.

    Check out this list of the most common words 2-year-olds say. By age 2, most kids are talking. There's a wide range in the number of words they use, but it's typically suggested that they should be using at least 50.

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