Post Promise: Are you looking to get your K-2 students more engaged in learning sight words? In this article I will share with you three powerful (and easy-to-implement) sight-word strategies that will boost the engagement and help your students master those sight-words. (Don’t forget to grab the FREE Sight-Word Engagement Guide at the end!)
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Sight-Words can be STRESSFUL!
A big area of concern for Primary Teachers (Kindergarten, First and Second Grade) is the infamous sight-word list. I bet some of you reading this might even cringe at the phrase…. sight-word-list... right? In our Primary Teacher Friends FB Group– I asked the question: “How many sight words are you required to teach?” I was astounded at the results. 😱 The most common answer was 100! No wonder we are all loaded with anxiety about how to help students learn ALL THOSE WORDS and are frantically searching for the right activities and strategies to get them there.
Before we blow our tops worrying about these long, (usually district-mandated) lists… let me share some good news with you, teacher friend. You CAN get them there, it is completely possible. You know why I’m so sure? Read the next subheading for your answer. 😲
Sight-Word ID is the LOWEST-Level of Learning
I don’t like pulling out the educational theories too often (admin does enough of that for us all), but a well-known concept in our field is Bloom’s Taxonomy of Higher Order Thinking. As explained HERE in an excerpt from Center for Teaching, this model is represented by a pyramid of the different categories, organized into a “continuum from simple to complex and concrete to abstract.” At the bottom of that pyramid is a category labeled “REMEMBERING”- which is where we can find this skill that is keeping so many teachers up at night: Sight-Word ID.
So, what does this mean for you? First of all, don’t think I’m suggesting that juggling all of our students at varying levels of sight-word recognition is EASY. It isn’t at all! What I am suggesting is that ALL students in your classroom can obtain this level of learning. Every child can learn sight-words if we, as their passionate and caring guide, use the most effective strategies. (Which is why I’m writing this right now; to help you get them there! ❤)
Activities aren’t the ANSWER
I’m a Primary Teacher to MY CORE- which means I love fun, cutesie things. If you had access to my TPT wish-list, I bet you’d find at least 50 sight-word activities I’ve gawked over in the last few years. Sight-Word worksheets are among the top-searched terms on Teachers Pay Teachers because teachers can’t help but LOVE them. (I’m with you guys, I do too!)
Here is the thing though… Fun activities are everywhere but still there are teachers in literal tears over kids who haven’t learned these words. So, let me suggest to you that activities aren’t the answer… ENGAGEMENT is.
ENGAGEMENT is the KEY
I’ve said it before in a post all about How to Increase Letter & Sound Fluency, but it rings true for sight-words as well: Engagement is the key to all instruction and if our students aren’t retaining sight-words (one of the easiest levels of learning to obtain) this is more than likely where the problem lies.
So, let’s step away from activities and evaluate our levels of engagement. Let’s clear our TpT wish-list from our brain and think about SCIENCE instead. (What? Science has nothing to do with sight-word retention.) Well actually, you read that right, scientific research can help us here. We forget sometimes in our endless search for fun sight-word activities to consider what lies deeper within that- and science (specifically brain and memory related studies) can help us help our students learn their high-frequency words.
Scientifically Proven Engagement Strategies for Primary
Now that we understand that sight-word identification is the lowest-level of learning and that engagement is probably what we are missing, let me teach you three scientifically-proven engagement strategies that can help your kids remember their sight-words. I’m only sharing three here because I feel these are the most powerful and easy-to-implement strategies that I’ve found invaluable success with. With each strategy I will provide an explanation of how science has proven its usefulness in the classroom.
Strategy #1: Sight-Word Songs (Singing)
Wow, oh wow… singing is a powerful learning tool. I know many teachers feel that singing in front of others is an intimidating task, but let’s put ourselves aside and sing with our little people! Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on the brain-related research that backs up this strategy!
The science. There is truly too much science to insert in one small paragraph, but I think one powerful indicator of how singing and music affect our brain is the existence of MUSIC THERAPY. Did you know that Dementia patients are provided a special kind of therapy using music to aid in recalling memories and emotions? (Read more here at alzhiemers.net) That is because singing and music activates more areas of the brain than any other human function AND the area that stores musical memory is the last to be affected by dementia. WOW! Singing in particular crosses hemispheres and involves the right-brain function of music and the left-brain strength of language. There is no doubt that all classrooms should include singing and music EVERY DAY.
The strategy. Sing your sight words! Incorporate simple songs to help students recall the word and practice their spellings. You’ll find plenty of them on YOUTUBE, but I suggest skipping the fancy video versions and engaging students in singing on their own. I’ve noticed when I use videos my students are less likely to sing themselves versus when we just sing together with no visual accompaniment. You can find the songs I use in the FREE Sight-Word Engagement Guide included at the end of this post!
I give credit to Dr. Jean and this blog post for the songs that I’ve used in my classroom all these years. I’ve switched activities time and time again but these songs are a classroom tradition for me. I’m not sure if she created them or borrowed them from another teacher, but they are fantastic, simple for students to engage with and definitely bring some extra fun to sight-word practice. (Big thanks to her for giving me permission to re-print and share them here. You ROCK, Dr. Jean! ❤)
Strategy #2: Sight-Word Signals (Movement)
As I recently said in a FB LIVE mini-training about teaching students to Write CVC Words– if your students aren’t moving to learn, you are missing out on a goldmine of learning potential! Movement in the classroom (also referred to as kinesthetic learning) is invaluable. Why is that? Cause scientific research says so!
The science. The research that has been published about movement in the classroom and its effects in learning are vast. You could spend hours in a coffee-fueled binge read on the topic (trust me, I did it) and what you’ll find is that movement activates your brain and aids in memory formation. This article from Edutopia tells of how John Ratey, author of A User’s Guide to the Brain, “calls exercise “Miracle-Gro for the brain” because of its role in stimulating nerve growth factors.” Another fascinating study was published here in 2010 and it concluded that producing gesture along with speech makes the information encoded in that speech more memorable (Cook, Yip, & Goldin-Meadow, S, 2010).
The strategy. Add movement to your sight-word routine with gestures! Create a movement (I call them signals) that represents that word and have students repeat that signal (and phrase) each time they see the word. (Check out my Engagement Guide for a list of phrases/signals for the Pre-Primer Dolch Word List.)
For example, my signal for the word CAN looks like this:
Students hold two thumbs up and say, “You CAN do it! Can, can, can.” (See my FB LIVE video above for a demo.)
What you’ll find with repeated practice is that students can often remember the signal before they can the word! It’s really amazing when you realize the correlation between movement and memory!
After posting this video on my previous blog, teachers have begged me for years to share my own signals. Well, thank me later, but I have finally pulled them out of my brain and compiled the Pre-Primer word list for you to steal. Grab those 40 signals and phrases in my Sight-Word Engagement Guide below!
Strategy #3: Silly Sight-Word Voices (Humor)
Don’t forget in your exhausting journey to teach a long list of words to add some silliness in there. Not only because our kids DESERVE it- but because scientific studies have proven that humor increases memorization.
The science. We know that a hard laugh is good for the soul, but humor in the classroom boosts engagement. One author mentioned in this article from the National Education Association said, “We’re finding humor actually lights up more of the brain than many other functions in a classroom,” Kay Morrison, author of Using Humor to Maximize Learning went on to say that “ humor maximizes learning and strengthens memories.”
The strategy. Add some silliness to your sight word practice. I accomplish this by incorporating some silly voices to our spelling of the words. For example, instead of asking students to simply spell the word CAN, I’ll instead ask them to spell it in their monster voice… or baby voice.. or grandma voice. I even have a Voice-Choice Board that I hang in the classroom and I sometimes allow students to choose the voices they want to use. (Student choice is also a powerful engagement tool, by the way. EMOJI)
What results when you use this strategy? Full engagement, even from your most un-engaged kiddos. Everyone loves to do silly voices, right? You can get your FREE Voice-Choice board in the Engagement Guide below. I challenge you to use it for other activities in your classroom too! It is very versatile! (Think reading fluency practice, math facts, counting, etc.) Here is my Voice-Choice board.
Ready to Engage your Students? Here is your FREE GUIDE!
These are some of my most treasured ideas for teaching sight-words to my little humans. If you find success with them, please reach out and let me know! <3 To get your free-guide, complete this form and jump over to your inbox. If you don’t see it there within a few minutes- check out your SPAM and TRASH folders.
Here is what you’ll find inside your download!
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I know YOU KNOW a lot about teaching sight-words. Share your knowledge and expertise here! Leave your best strategies, activities and advice in the comments below! You never know what kind of impact your advice can have on another teacher reading here and the students in their classroom! I can’t wait to read and respond to you!
Good luck using these strategies and God bless you and your students!