5 Sight Word Strategies that can Work for All Students

Five sight word strategies that can work for all students

Sight words are a staple in all early literacy grades. The last blog post was differentiating between sight words, heart words, and high frequency words.

In that post we determined sight words are words that students recognize instantly and have no difficulty retrieving as they are reading. These words can be regular and irregular.

Irregular sight words are also known as heart words or red words. These words have parts that do not follow “regular” patterns in phonics, so students need to learn certain parts “by heart.”

High frequency words are the math part of reading. High frequency words are literally how many times words are found in text and how often students will be faced with reading those words. These words are not based in pattern or level.

Heart words and high frequency words can become sight words with practice and strategy.

Here are five ideas for helping to develop words become sight words.

mapping Sight words

There is no coincidence that orthographic mapping is first in this list.

Scientific studies have shown us we do not learn words as an entirety but we learn word parts that we can automatically put together.

Guiding the student through orthographic mapping is the best way to build this bank of known word parts.

Five sight word strategies that can work for all students

Erhi’s research reveals that orthographic mapping entails the establishment of associations between letters and their corresponding sounds to link the written forms, pronunciations, and meanings of particular words in one’s memory.

First, students learn to map the phonemes or the units of sound in a word. In the illustration the word down has three phonemes (the initial “d”, the middle “ow” diphthong and the ending “n”).

Students should be taught to tap or count the phonemes before matching letters and symbols to pattern. If a student taps 3 phonemes and writes 3 lines they know to fill in those three lines with the phonemes they hear.

The initial “d” and the ending “n” are traditional or regular spellings. The “heart part” or learned part of this word is the “ow” diphthong.

The “ow” is a “heart part” until this vowel pair is taught and used, so it is considered a temporary “heart part” or a temporary “heart word.” The more students practice mapping and writing, the more automatic this spelling will become.

Students can also be led in other lessons using the “ow” diphthong such as writing the word “gown” and “town”, as well as adding a phoneme when writing “clown”. Drawing the attention to phoneme/graphene matching and the correlation between the words down, gown, town, and clown, students are building a bank of automaticity.

Of course, mapping or building with any hands-on manipulatives or magnetic letters is the best for making guaranteed connections.

Five sight word strategies that can work for all students

Sort by Pattern

Continuing with understanding words relationships to one another, sorting by pattern is a way for students to see patterns in words.

When students can manipulate words in a variety of ways by comparing contrast the brain is making connections for automaticity.

Words can be sorted in a variety of ways obviously beginning with beginning sounds, vowel sounds the number of syllables, the number of phonemes, or by word pattern (cvc vs. cvce).

When students can recognize all of the words in an open syllable and in a vowel and have the long vowel sound they can internalize the pattern when they come to a new word.

This could be an easy independent center. The teacher could supply a basket of words and the Sort Mat of the Week. For extra accountability, once the words are sorted they can be written on a chart.

Write and retrieve

Write and Retrieve

this site word intervention is a great way to help students with word recall. It is an easy five-step system.  

  1. Write (she). Read. Erase.
  2. Write (she). Read. Erase.
  3. Write (she). Read. Erase.
  4. Write a different and known word (help). Read. Erase.
  5. Rewrite the initial word again.
Five sight word strategies that can work for all students

I like to explain to students that they are folding a blanket and shaking it out and folding a blanket and shaking it out and folding a blanket and then putting the blanket on the top shelf. They pull out a sheet. They fold the sheet put it back on the shelf and pull out the blanket again.

This is a great small group warm up for sight words. It is imprinting the new word, retrieving an old word. And they retrieving a new word.

Five sight word strategies that can work for all students

add some art

Incorporating any type of art is stimulating to the brain.

When we can add art to words students remember words better.

We can take known word cards and add art to them and increase the impact of the cards.

With the illustration you see students used a pink marker on the front to underline and/or put a heart above the heart part of the word.

This automatically grabs their attention when looking at a word to remember that irregular part of the word and blend it with the known parts.

The other art students can add is turning the card over using the word in context and drawing a quick picture. When students use these cards independently they have illustrations and context to help them remember the word.

Eventually the sentence and art are excluded from practice and then the annotations to the word are excluded. We can use this type of tool for learning but students must be able to recognize words without annotations.

Memory Aids or mnemonics

Finally, using memory aids or mnemonics, students can create internal helpers for spelling.

I know that I grew up being taught very specific mnemonics to remember things such as HOMES equals the Great Lakes and “Never Eat Shredded Wheat” equals the points on a cardinal rose.

However, some mnemonics are specifically for spelling.

Five sight word strategies that can work for all students

I also can tell you every time I need to spell restaurant, in my mind I say “rest-AU-rant”.

When I asked some of my friends what words they think of in mnemonics,  some said “Feb-RU-ary”, “friend is a friend to the friEND”, and “the principal is your PAL.” These are all great examples of mnemonics.

I love the idea of teaching the “oul” in could (which sounds like a short u) to remember “O, U lazy Dog” or “O U lucky Duck.” I think Babbling Abby on Instagram was the first person to teach me this. Of course I can’t find the post, but she had the cutest post with something along the lines of:  

“Could the dog get a bone? He could, but he won’t.

            O U lazy Dog.

Should the do chase the cat? He should, but he won’t.

            O U lazy dog.

Would the do go for a walk? He would, but he won’t.

            O U lazy dog.”

This cute tale not only helps students with the “oul” in could, should, and would, but helps them make the connections with all three words.

These activities are just a few of many ideas for helping your students take any word (high frequency, heart or content word) and make it a sight word.

Teaching them what that word is made-up of parts in the brain that are stored for quick retrieval and used to read and  learn new words.

Five sight word strategies that can work for all students
Five sight word strategies that can work for all students

Sight Word Practice in small groups provides more practice!

Here are some more sight word options to fit any decor in my store. BeesCactusDonutsFlamingosFrogsOcean LifePineapplesStars, and Sunflowers.

Cathy Collier

Would you like more ideas for sight words? Let me know!

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