Children in grade school (more specifically in grades Kindergarten through third) are required to learn and master a set number of words automatically, without sounding them out. These word lists are commonly known as Dolch Sight Words or High-Frequency Words. These words are enforced in the classroom because they occur frequently in text. They become increasingly difficult with each passing grade level.
As a parent, you can become proactive in your child’s learning by first obtaining these word lists from your child’s teacher or an internet search. As an educator, myself, I would recommend obtaining word lists that are at your child’s grade level and below. This will help you understand where your child’s vocabulary strengths and weaknesses lie. Once you have the list(s) in your possession, get started on the activities below!
The following is an example of a week-long session.
1. Warm-up with words. At the beginning of each week, present your child with new sight words in the form of flashcards. Ten is a good number of words for a week, but this number may need to be adjusted depending on your child’s ability to retain words.
When introducing each word, hold the card up to your child. You say the word, (you) spell the word, and (you) say the word again. Have your child do the same (say-spell-say). Go to the next word and do the same. First you model (say-spell-say), and then your child copies. Before going on to the third word, show your child the first two words and ask him to say them to you. (Note: For the purposes of simplicity, “your child” will be referred to as “him.”) Continue in this pattern for the rest of the words.
Say the word if he is having trouble remembering it. These words are not meant to be sounded out. They should be read immediately upon sight. You may want to follow this routine the first three days of the week to help him remember these words. During the last four days, simply show your child the cards and have him read them to you. Your child may have a hard time with a particular word throughout the week; move it to the set of flashcards for next week.
2. Chose one of the following games to play for the day.
Game A: Which word is missing? Place three to five flashcards on a table in front of your child. Have him read the words to you. Help him read a word if he is having trouble or trying to sound it out. Tell him to close his eyes. When his eyes are closed, turn over one card or put your hand over one card. Tell him to open his eyes and tell you which word is missing. If he gets it right, reveal the card, say encouraging words like, “Good job!” and then say a sentence with the word or have your child come up with a sentence himself.
If he does not read the word correctly, keep the card down and say “Try again.” If he does not get the word after two tries, reveal the word, have him say the word and you or your child come up with a sentence for the word. Play more!
Game B: Unscramble the letters. On a sheet of paper or index card, write one of the sight words for the week. Cut out each letter and scramble them up. Have your child unscramble the letters to make the word. You can make this game easy or hard, depending on your child’s ability level. You can tell him the word and tell him to spell it. You can put out the flashcard words in front of him and say, “One of these words is your scramble word.” Give him clues like, “The first letter is…” if he is struggling. Again, once he spells the word, say a sentence with the word or have your child say a sentence with the word.
Game C: Play a game of memory. Make two sets of flashcards for the game of memory. Turn the words face down and scramble them. Fix the cards in rows. Tell your child that both of you (get other members of the family to play, too) are going to play a game of memory. Your child has to use his mind to remember where his word matches are located. Both words turned over must be read. If the words are a match, the player must say a sentence with the word before collecting it.
3. Write a sentence or two. This activity applies to children that are in the first grade or higher grade level. Have your child pick one or two of his sight words. Tell him to make up a sentence for his word. He may need help with developing a sentence the first few days, but you can help by saying, “Who or what is your sentence going to be about? Are you going to ask a question or a statement?” Once he has come up with a sentence, have your child say the sentence three times-once slow, once fast, and once regular speed. Then have him count the number of words he is using by saying the sentence and pointing to each finger as he says a word. Do this with him. Have him say the sentence once again before he writes the sentence.
The key in having your child write sentences here is to be encouraging. His penmanship may not be perfect or his spelling, but we don’t want to address that until after he writes his thought…and even then, focus on one or two corrections–even if there are more. He needs to feel total motivation here. As your child becomes more comfortable writing sentences, you can hold him more responsible for his mistakes. For example, after your child writes a sentence, you can tell him, “That’s a good sentence. Read it over again and make sure you check for capitals, spacing, and punctuation at the end.”
4. Review the words at the end of each week. At the end of the week, pull out all the sight words your child has learned and mastered. Have him read each one as quickly as he can. Each word should be read in less than three seconds. If he is struggling with a word, that word should be taken out and included in the next week’s flashcard pile.