Engaging Activities to Teach Sight Words for Improved Reading Fluency (handout)

Engaging Activities to Teach Sight Words for Improved Reading Fluency
Heidi Hyte ¨ Email: heidihyte@gmail.com ¨ Blog: www.esltrail.com ¨ Twitter: @esltrail
TESOL Conference 2012 ¨  Philadelphia, PA

Presentation Objectives:
·         Establish rationale for teaching sight words
·         Establish rationale for providing variety and practice
·         Provide key ideas to keep in mind while teaching sight words
·         Provide three objectives for teaching sight words
·         Provide examples of practical, hands-on activities that can be applied in the classroom

Rationale for Teaching Sight Words
  • Learning sight words is useful.
  • Sight words must be rapidly, automatically recognized.
  • Readers need to recognize as many words as possible by sight. Because of real and immediate needs, some words have to be learned by sight initially.
“The time-honored sight words approach is still useful. You will need to teach the common, high frequency words (many of which are phonetically irregular) as sight words, because these must be rapidly, automatically recognized. Beginners also may need to learn other important words by sight because they are too long or too complex or too phonetically irregular to decode with their present level of skill.

“The concern in teaching words by sight is that adults who have struggled with reading have often relied too much on their sight memories and you don't want to reinforce what may have become a bad habit of ‘guessing’ based on the appearance of a word. Instead you want to help them build more efficient decoding strategies, using phonic and other clues.

“But remember that the eventual goal of teaching word identification skills is to enable accurate, rapid word reading, which facilitates more reading and increased exposure to words, which in turn leads to storing those words in memory as ‘sight vocabulary.’ In other words, we want each reader to come to recognize as many words as possible by sight. Because of real and immediate needs, some words have to be learned that way initially.”[i]

Rationale for Providing Variety and Practice
“[Teachers] need to provide a sufficient focus on structure and practice. We can’t just assume that literacy students will pick up reading and writing skills on their own, through mere exposure and continued acquisition of English. This may be true for students who have a sound foundation in literacy in the native language, but it’s not true for students who lack these skills…
“Students need a chance to interact with print, to practice, and to ‘get it down.’ At the same time, they benefit from different kinds of experiences that reinforce language and literacy skills. This kind of balance between routine and variety made a difference in their scores on standardized testing…
 “…Students need practice and they need variety. I think in our emphasis on communicative competence we sometimes forget how much practice is needed before literacy and English take hold and become internalized or ‘automatized.’ On the other hand, if language input and language tasks become repetitive and boring, the brain shuts down and learning slows way down. … By the same token, if everything was new all the time, and lots of different activities came at the students without a clear focus on what they needed to learn, they [don’t] do as well either.”[ii]

Key Ideas to Keep in Mind
·      Sight words should be taught a few at a time.
·      Students should review Most Common Words daily, using individual sight words flashcards.
·      Sight words should not be used as spelling words until the letters contained in the words have been introduced.
·      Make sight words instruction explicit. Tell students that sight words are words we use often. Explain to students that they will need to know them well enough to recognize and read them as soon as they see them.
·      Talk about the meaning and usage of each word, where possible.
·      Use sight words in sentences.
·      Analyze sight words with students as much as possible according to what is phonetic and decodable in the word. Analyzing the words helps students learn them from a linguistic standpoint rather than just rote memory. To analyze sight words, start by looking at what is correct or decodable in the word. Most of the words begin and end correctly; it is only the vowel or vowels that do not follow the rule. In the following example, the words at and come have been analyzed.
·     This is an example of analyzing the words at and come:
o  Print the word at on the board. Say, “The word at starts with a letter and sound we know: the letter a and the sound /a/. We haven’t learned the letter t yet. Can you guess what sound it makes? Yes! /t/. The word at connects other words together and is called a preposition. Here is a sentence containing the word at: “He is at the ball game.” Can you think of other sentences using at?”
o  Print the word come on the board. Say, “When I say the word come, do you hear the sound of the beginning letter c? Why did we use a c instead of a k? Right, because it is followed by an o. Do you hear the sound of m at the end of the word? What do we know about the letter e at the ends of words? Right, it is silent, but in this word, silent e does not make the working vowel o long. What sound do you hear for the vowel? Yes, it’s the sound of short u. All vowels can take that sound. It is called a schwa. (You could show students the marking for a schwa.) Now we can see that everything is right about the word come, except that it doesn’t follow the rules exactly. Instead of a long vowel, the o uses the sound of the schwa, and the word is pronounced /cum/. Let’s say it together. (Erase the word.) Now what was that word? (Class responds, come.) How did we spell it? (Class responds, “C-o-m-e.”) Good job!”

Three Objectives for Teaching Sight Words
The following objectives serve as a guide for your sight word instruction. Students should be able to do each of the following: 
1.       Associate the appearance of each sight word with its sound/pronunciation (sight-to-sound correspondence). 
2.      Read sight words in context. 
3.      Recognize sight words quickly and effortlessly (rapid recognition).

Activities to Practice These Objectives
1. Promote Sight-to-Sound Correspondence
·   Dictate a sight word, and have students point to or hold up the card for the sight word they hear. 
·   Dictate a sight word, and have students write the sight word they hear on the board or on their papers.
·   Write a sight word on the board in the correct letter sequence (e.g., and) and another form of the word with the letters scrambled (e.g., nda). Have students choose which word is the correctly spelled form of the sight word. 
·   Remove one or more letters in a list of sight words and have students fill-in-the-blanks.

2. Promote Reading Sight Words in Context
·   Provide students with reading materials that are appropriate to their levels and that can be marked up. Have students circle, underline, or use a marker to highlight the sight words found in a prescribed reading selection. Ask students to notice how frequently sight words occur in context. 
·   Have students scan reading material for a particular sight word. Give students a certain amount of time to do this. Have them count how many times they were able to find the sight word in the time allowed, and see which student or student pair was able to find the sight word the most times. 
·   Write sentences on the board, or prepare a worksheet that contains sentences from reading material being used in class. Insert a blank where a sight word belongs in each sentence. Have students fill in the correct sight word. (Note: Additional instruction on using articles and prepositions may be required to successfully complete the activity for ELLs.)

3. Promote Rapid Recognition (to recognize sight words quickly)
·   Play the “Slap” game by writing sight words on the board and having students compete to be the first to “slap” the sight word dictated by the teacher with fly swatters.
·   Divide the students into two teams. Have one student from each team at the board. Dictate a word, and have the students write the word as fast as they can. The first student to finish writing the word correctly wins. 
·   Use individual alphabet cards to spell a sight word with the letters scrambled in an incorrect letter sequence. Have students unscramble the letters as fast as they can to make a real sight word. 

·   Teacher Note: Students with dyslexia often skip sight words while reading because they have difficulty forming a pictorial reference for sight words that are abstract in nature. They can form a picture of words such as dog, hat, and other nouns, but words like and, for instance, are more difficult to reference. To address this concern, have students draw a picture of and. For example, a student might draw himself or herself and a friend, ham and eggs, or mother and father. This activity helps students get a mental image of the word’s meaning.
Game to Aid in Memorizing Sight Words
To improve recognition speed, have students play Sight Words Partners, using sight words flashcards. (Free download of sight words flashcards [Most Common Words] can be found at www.readinghorizons.com/literacydevelopment/.)  Use two identical sets of sight words cards. Give each player five cards from one set to hold in his hand. Put the remaining cards in a draw pile. Spread the other set of sight words cards on the floor or table. From the cards on the table, the first player finds the matching sight word card for one of the cards in his hand. As a match is made, he must say the sight word on the card. He may then put the match on the table in front of him and draw another card from the draw pile. The second player then finds a match for one of the cards in his hand. Continue playing until all cards have been matched.

Additional Resources
Sight Words Lists:
General Service List: http://jbauman.com/gsl.html
Composite List of Fry, Dolch, and General Service List: http://www.esltrail.com/2008/08/sight-words-vocabulary-list.html
Blog Posts:
Free Resources:
Sight Word Flashcards and Alphabet Cards: http://www.readinghorizons.com/literacydevelopment/
Fry List Activities: http://w4.nkcsd.k12.mo.us/~kcofer/fry_words_pg.htm

[i] National Institute for Literacy (NIFL). (2008).  Available at http://www.nifl.gov/publications/html/mcshane/chapter4.html.
[ii] Heide Wrigley; Focus on Basics; Volume 6, Issue C ::: September 2003. Available at http://www.ncsall.net/?id=189.