How to Effectively and Explicitly Teach Sight Words

Monday, March 20, 2017

When I was starting my teaching journey, between classroom observations and my student teaching experience, I watched and taught a lot of introductory sight word lessons. They usually looked something like this.
"Ok, everyone, we are going to learn this week's sight words. I will show you the word on a flash card, tell you what the word is, and you will repeat it back."  I would say the word, and the students would echo.  I would flash through about 10-15 words and the students would continue to echo the words.  I would use the word in a sentence, or even ask the student to use it in a sentence.  THERE, that's it, I taught the sight words for the week! The next day, I would display the words on a board somewhere, and we would repeat the process until the students could read the words without me prompting them.  During centers, these sight words would be reviewed in our text and the following week they would be in an independent center.  
To say that I'm not super proud of my early sight word instruction, would be an understatement.  I owe all of those students and parents an apology letter! We know all too well that our students learn in different ways. After some searching and experimenting, I believe sight word instruction is one of the best times to include a variety of learning modalities all at once. It is so easy to differentiate.

Whether you teach sight words, high frequency words, bubblegum or popcorn words, our students need to be able to recognize words that appear in text with rapid visual retrieval in order in improve their reading fluency, and comprehension. As our students progress, most words become "sight words" and the content specific words become the words that need more instruction. However, early on, these "sight words" are crucial in our students' reading instruction. So, how can we ensure that our sight word instruction is the most effective it can be? In this three part blog post, I will share:

  1. How to effectively and explicitly teach sight words
  2. Ideas for sight word practice during literacy centers, and reinforcement at home
  3. How to re-enforce sights words in context 
Let's get started, and explore "How to Effectively and Explicitly Teach Sight Words"
As I admitted, my early sight word instructional practices were lacking! In my time as a reading intervention teacher, I have pushed into a lot of classrooms for reading support, and I love this opportunity! There is no one we can learn more from, than our colleagues. I have seen some amazing lessons and instructional strategies. At the same time, I have also watched a lot of introductory sight word lessons much like the story I shared. This means I'm not alone in my hunt and wish for better sight word instruction.

FIRST TIME instruction should be fun, engaging and get students excited to read. Flash cards may have their time and place, but I can say with good confidence, that they do not have a place in a first time explicit sight word lesson.  This time of introducing words is critical.  Our students need to know what the word is, how to recognize it, and how it is used in context.  We are growing readers! Let's give them all we've got!

Sight words rely on VISUAL recall. The shape the letters make allow students to know what the word is. However, to assume that a student will visually recognize that word after seeing it on a flashcard is a bit unrealistic. You can help your visual learners even more by providing a picture clue that relates to the word. If you are teaching the word 'down', write the letters d-o-w-n on an index card, in a downward direction. If you are teaching the word 'friend', have your students draw two friends on the back of an index card with the word on the front. Now, they can flip it over if they get stuck. Allowing your students to be involved in the process of connecting visual pictures to words will only help the words to "stick".

Many of our students are AUDITORY learners. They learn best by hearing. This can be a struggle because sight words are visually dependent. However, we can try to incorporate as much auditory feedback for our students as possible. One way to do this, is to read sight words aloud as much as possible. Now, those flash cards aren't so bad, but let's explore some ways to use them better. You can have students read to each other or do a whole class read of your word wall in silly voices.  You could first keep the card covered, while you spell the word out loud. Then ask students which word your are thinking of. Even if your struggling student isn't reading along (right now), they are getting that auditory support from their peers.
My favorite way, and an effective way for my students, is to sing or chant our sight words. Auditory support can best be given through spelling out the sight words. This helps with memory and writing, so it's a win win. Here is a link to some sight word chants and songs. I keep these right next to my small group table and I use them daily. Personally, I like the songs best. I try to predict which words are going to be tricky and use each tune only once. I have sometimes found that repeating a tune can cause confusion for my struggling readers. In the beginning of the year, I pick the chants, so they can be introduced . But now students ask for them by name! Additionally, any big body movement you use with the chants, help to activate your tactile learners.

I have always found my TACTILE learners the hardest to reach when instructing sight words. How do you make recognizing and reading sight words hands on? You can rainbow write, use play-doh and shaving cream. I'm not putting these ideas down, they are great hands on ways to practice spelling sight words.  However, unless you are a teacher saint, you probably don't want to tackle these whole class, during first time instruction. These explicit teaching moments are precious, and the chaos that can come with sensory activities have the potential to detract from your instruction. These activities are great for centers (and I will touch upon them in the next blog post), and lend themselves more to practice, once your target words have been explicitly introduced.

During the Spring of 2015, I was trained in the Orton-Gillingham method of teaching, through the Institute of Multi-Sensory Education (IMSE). By following a multi-sensory approach to teaching phonics and sight words you can activate all learning modalities. I have found this method incredibly successful and easy to implement. Additionally, it is the best way I have found to explicitly introduce sight words to my students (especially whole group).

Note: IMSE uses this strategy to teach "red words" or words that cannot be decoded. Red means STOP, I need to think about this. Decodable (phonetic) words are taught as green words, meaning the student can GO ahead and sound them out. Words such as 'like' and 'little' are decodable, however the phonetic skills needed to read them are commonly taught in first grade. I do not think I could get through the first few weeks of kindergarten without the words 'like' and 'little'. So, depending on what age group you are working with, 'like' and 'little' may need to be red words (or sight words). I have a district mandated "sight word list" on which, some of my words are true non decodable red words (was, kind), while others are decodable (man, car, them). I teach them all using the following strategy because these words need to be automatically recognized.  The thing to remember with "red" words, is that there isn't a set list of words, it is the strategy that is important.

All you will need:
Plastic canvas - You can get this a your local craft store or Wal-Mart (I have not found it at Target) :-(
Red crayons - You can really use any color, but if you are sticking with the idea that sight words are not decodable, red is a nice color
Paper - with primary lines that are appropriate for your students.

To start, you will need to put the new word you are instructing on the board (I will explain with the word 'little').
Be sure to tell your students what the word is (There is no need to make them guess, this is explicit, first time, instruction).
Spell the word for your students. "L-I-T-T-L-E" If you have picked a tune for your song, now is the time to sing your heart out.  The tune of 'Happy Birthday' is my song for 'little'.
You can use the word in a sentence for them. This will allow your students to make a connection to the word in context. "Reno (my dog) is very little." My students know my dog, I speak of him often, so this is a good connection they can all share.

Next, your students will use their red crayon to write the word on their paper. The paper should be placed ON TOP of the plastic canvas. The small holes in the canvas help to give tactile feedback - similar to a crayon leaf rubbing. The raised edges create bumps in the word.

Your students spell the word out loud while they are writing. The visual learners are seeing the word being formed. Your auditory learners can hear themselves and peers spell the words. While, your tactile learners are getting input from the bumps.
Next, model for your students how to trace over the bumpy letters they just made with their finger, while spelling the word out loud. This again, is providing all the sensory input for your class. Have students spell the word three times out loud. Each time repeating the word. "L-I-T-T-L-E, little. L-I-T-T-L-E, little. L-I-T-T-L-E, little."

Now have your students stand up and take their paper in one hand, and use the other hand to tap on their arm. I find it easier to have ALL students hold the paper in their left hand, put their right hand on their shoulder and tap down their arm toward their wrist.
However, in my IMSE training, this method of tapping was used for right handed students only. Left handed students need to hold the paper in their right hand, and arm tap with their left hand starting with the wrist, up to the shoulder. This allows for correct left to right movement.  I have found teaching both ways to be confusing because I cannot model both at the same time. And as a lefty myself, we are used to doing things the right handed way. I have not found it harmful to have all students tap from shoulder down.
While tapping your students are spelling and saying the word again three times. "L-I-T-T-L-E, little. L-I-T-T-L-E, little. L-I-T-T-L-E, little."

Students can sit back down, put the weave board on top of their paper and repeat the "trace, spell, say" process from before. The weave board on top of the paper is giving a little bit more feedback, and is just an easy way of switching things up.

At this point, have your students turn their paper over while you remove the word from the board. Next, your students can write and spell the word three times, while you circulate to make sure they are spelling it correctly. If so, they can write a sentence using the word. If they didn't spell it correctly, have them flip their paper over and "trace, spell and say" three more times for extra reinforcement.

That's it! This routine takes less than 5 minutes once your students have it down. The predicable nature of this routine is great because you do not need to reteach rules or expectations. Students know exactly what to do, so they can focus on their sight word learning rather than "Am I doing this right?"

These sight word "rubbings" can be stored in a folder. My students have their own personal set of multi-sensory flashcards so they can "trace, spell and say" while I am getting set for a new activity.
First time introductory lessons, especially for these building blocks of reading are crucial.  Providing your students with differentiated instruction that activates different learning modalities will help them to be more successful! By following a predicable routine when introducing your weekly sight words, students will be able to focus on their learning rather than what they are doing.

Some FAQ about this multi-sensory strategy
Can this strategy be used in whole class and small group? Of course. Unless I have been asked by a classroom teacher, all of my instruction is done in groups of 1-5 students. I use this multi-sensory instruction daily! I have also modeled this strategy for some of my classroom teacher colleagues so they can learn to incorporate it. There is no difference in the way you use the strategy. As a classroom teacher, you may be teaching the 5-10 words that are your focus for the week, while I am re-teaching words that the students didn't master from the classroom a month or two ago. If you are a classroom teacher, you can teach your weekly words to the whole class, and you can differentiate your small group instruction by using this same strategy to re-teach words that need extra reinforcement.

OK, so how do I know this strategy works? As I mentioned before my district has a set list of sight words for each grade K-2 (50 Kinder, 150 First, 100 Second). I work with struggling readers, so my instruction matches their deficit. Most of my first graders spent the better part of Fall and Winter learning their Kindergarten sight words.  Right now, they are working on the first 50, first grade words. I assess my students weekly on the 50 words - I do not teach 50, I only assess on 50. By assessing 50 words consistently, it gives my students a benchmark goal, and allows me to see if they are only learning the words I am explicitly teaching, or if they are able to pick up some words because of their high frequency in text. I have seen my students get a word wrong week after week on a sight word assessment, and miss the word in text. Then, after I have used this method and combined it with some big body chants or songs, they never forget it! It may not come off the tongue with rapid fire the first week, or in the first book they see it in, but with a little prompting to "spell the word down your arm" it comes back to them (usually before they finish spelling it).  I promise you, I have seen the light bulbs click - this is no joke!

What if my students don't get it? I'm going to encourage you to try this strategy out with your students. Please know that I am here to help and support you in any way that I can, so if you have a question please let me know! In return, please check back in and let me know how it goes. I would love to know how you are helping your students learn their sight words.

Please check back soon for my top ways to practice sight words during small group centers, and at home. 


This series is in honor of my one year Blog Birthday! It was one year ago that I started on this journey, and I have loved every minute of it.  I have connected with many teachers and learned so much from all of you. Thank you for allowing me the chance to share ideas and resources with you. I wholeheartedly appreciate your support and I would like to offer a giveaway for you. In each post, a resource will be featured, and added to the final giveaway package at the end of series. Be sure to check back for more ideas, FREEBIES and enter the final giveaway.
RESOURCES ADDED TO FINAL GIVEAWAY: Plastic canvas and Red crayons

Mentor Text Lesson to Warm Up Your Winter

Sunday, January 1, 2017
Brrrr! Winter is in full swing here in the Northeast. I know I am doing everything I can to stay warm. If you are experiencing a little chill too, I hope me and my friends, from The Reading Crew, can bring you a little warmth and inspiration through our Winter Mentor Text link up. 
On each blog, we will be sharing a winter mentor text lesson, using a book we've chosen.  The lesson will model a vocabulary, comprehension or writing skill. The resources shared may be forever freebies, or may only be free for a limited time. Please take note of this as you visit each
blog. While you are reading each post, and pick up the fabulous resources, also note the *mystery word* for each post. You will need this mystery word to enter our GIVEAWAY! We are giving away a copy of each book featured in the posts, to one lucky teacher. So, not only can you learn about new and engaging texts, grab resources to support them, but you may not even need to track these texts down. We will send them right to your door! So grab yourself a nice warm beverage, and settle in while you learn about resources you can bring back to your classroom in the new year.
This fall my family moved "back home." With moving, came a new house, new daycare for my son and a new job for my husband. For me, after being a reading specialist for the last four years, I'm not sure if I could handle one more big life change. So, I consider myself very lucky to have kept the same position in my new district and school.  I am now a proud POLAR BEAR (my new elementary school's mascot)! Well, when asked to pick a book for this link up, I knew just the one! The Polar Bear, written and illustrated by Jenni Desmond.

The Polar Bear is an informational picture book about the polar bear's habitat, body, diet, and life. The story is told through the eyes of a young girl who is reading a book about polar bears, and her character is placed in many of the illustrations. The factual text is paired with fantasy like illustrations that won this book the New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book of 2016. Desmond does a wonderful job of presenting factually accurate information about polar bears in an easy to understand way. For example, Did you know the bumps on a polar bear's paw are similar to the bumps on a basketball? Desmond seems to be creating a "series" of nonfiction picture books, by writing about "vulnerable and threatened species." Her first book (for Enchanted Lion publishing) addressed blue whales, and her next book is set to uncover the life elephants.  

As I said before, I am now a proud Polar Bear! When I introduced this text to my students, I prefaced them with my wish to get to know our school mascot. I don't think it is enough to just know what our mascot is, we need to know why we are Polar Bears, what characteristics do we have in common, and what can we learn about the animal to make us stronger Polar Bears. Well that did it for my kiddos, they were all in.  Unless your school mascot is also the Polar Bear, you will need to think of a bigger "buy in." But, I must say that polar bears are really interesting creatures that deserve to be more understood. With the winter season upon us, there is no better time to study and explore the Arctic. You could use this book, and the resources available as a collaborative research project, that sets the stage for the students to begin their own Artic animal research projects. Before reading, you will want to provide the students with the note catcher (provided in this resource), so they can be actively listening and recording facts about polar bears. If working in small groups you may only want to tackle a few key topics at a time. Or, if you using this text with the whole class, you may wish to break the class up into groups so they only have to focus on a few topics, and later have the groups share out their responses.
 While reading this text aloud, stop to discuss vocabulary (evolved, repellent, solitary, etc.) and use the illustrations to construct more meaning for your students. Use some of this time to show your students how they can listen for key words in the text, and how those words can help them to predict when an answer might be coming. Also, use this time to show your students how you want them to use the provided notes catcher.  When using graphic organizers, I always take into account the ability of my students. My first graders are still working on writing a complete sentence, so to tell them they don't have to on a graphic organizer is very confusing, and sends mixed messages. My firsties always write in complete sentences. Although my second graders (and up), have a better grasp of being able to go back and forth based on the task. I allow them to just write key words and phrases. This also allows me to then help them answer questions in their own words and paraphrase the text. In the full resource, is a graphic organizer with suggested topics (and it is fully editable) to help guide your students while listening to the text.

An alternative to reading the whole text aloud to upper grade level students, would be to split the class up into groups and copy pages from the text. The students could read the section provided to them and pull out the relevant information needed to answer the questions. You could also provide them with supplemental texts on polar bears so their information comes from various sources.
After your students have pulled key details from the text to address all of the topics, you will need to instruct them how to paraphrase. Paraphrasing can help your students bring in prior knowledge, show their deep understanding of content and also better remember what they have read. The sooner your kiddos can begin practicing paraphrasing, the better. My younger students (grades 1-3),  always paraphrase, however for my older students (grades 4-5), I teach them cite, then paraphrase. To teach paraphrasing, I have my students re-read the section they are trying to summarize, re-read their notes, close the book, turn over their paper and answer my question using the 4 R's of Paraphrasing.  In this forever FREEBIE, is an anchor chart and quotes from the text for your students to practice paraphrasing (editable options of both are included). Teaching students to paraphrase takes a lot of modeling (with think alouds), practice and time. When my students have had the most success, it is because they have been able to discuss their ideas with a partner, before committing them to paper. 

After your students have successfully answered the key questions, they can publish their polar bear research project. Included in the full resources is a student publishing book. The pages included address the same topics from the note catcher (and there is an editable page too!) My students of course enjoyed answering my final question of 'Why are you proud to be a Polar Bear?' They used the information they learned from the text, and we developed a list of qualities of a polar bear. They thought about how they have or could embody these qualities to be the very best Polar Bear they could be. As an extra bonus, I have included this question on a page of the published book.
Even if your school isn't the "Polar Bears," your classroom could adopt this amazing animal as a classroom mascot. Or, your class can use the included animal research template to provide information about various animals that could become your class mascot. Tie in some persuasive writing, a lesson on democracy, and you have yourself a class mascot election! 
 To Summarize: Paraphrasing is an important skill for your students to practice. By using the 4 R's of paraphrasing (Remain, Replace, Rearrange and Recheck), and explicit modeling/guided practice, your students will gain ownership of new content. The Polar Bear by Jenni Desmond, is a wonderful text to practice paraphrasing and then follow up with some simple animal research. Your students will not be able to resist sharing all they learned in this adorable All About Polar Bears book.

Thank you for joining me and The Reading Crew for our Winter Mentor Text Link Up.  Don't forget to enter our GIVEAWAY for a chance to win a copy of The Polar Bear, and other books featured in each post. Did you catch my mystery word? If not, it was Arctic. Be sure to note each word as you read each post! You will need it for the giveaway.  Happy New Year my friend! And best wishes for a FABULOUS 2017! 



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Reading and Writing Strategies: A Mentor Text Lesson for Fall

Friday, October 7, 2016

Happy Fall my friends! I hope the first weeks of school have treated you well and this year is shaping up to be the best year ever. Thank you for joining me, and The Reading Crew for our Fall  Mentor Text link up. On each blog, we will be sharing a Fall mentor text lesson, using a book we've chosen. The lesson will model a vocabulary, comprehension or writing skill.  The resources shared may be forever freebies, or may only be free for a limited time. Please take note of this as you visit the blogs. These posts and resources never disappoint, and I know this time is no different. Not to mention, we are giving away a copy of each book featured in the posts, to one lucky teacher. So not only can you learn about new and engaging texts, grab resources to support them, but you may not even need to track these puppies down! We will send them right to your door. 
Little Tree by Loren Long mentor text lesson to support understanding theme
I have chosen the book Little Tree by Loren Long. Long is the illustrator of The Little Engine that Could, author of the favorite, Otis the Tractor books, and he co-authored Of Thee I Sing with President Obama. These titles are well worth the trip to your local bookstore to check out. 

Little Tree is about a tree who loves life, and cherishes its' leaves, so it holds onto the leaves throughout several seasons and as a result remains unchanged. Everything grows and changes around the tree, but it continues to hold onto the leaves. After much time, the tree comes to realize the decision it must make, and embraces change and growth. The tree drops its' leaves and grows into a large, strong tree. 
On the surface, this text would be a great addition to your library, to welcome Fall and discuss the changes of the season.  This text, paired with a non-fiction text about the changes of Fall would kick off the season perfectly. This set is currently available in the Early Childhood October flyer of Scholastic Book Clubs. However, there is a deeper meaning about personal change and growth. The tree needed to let go of something very important to it, so it could grow into something even more amazing itself.
Before reading this text, you will want to introduce your students to THEME.  When starting a new skill, I always seem to be asked, why do we need to learn this, or how will this "really" help me? So, for that reason, I have started giving my students the 'why' right up front. Not only do I instruct on what the theme is, but I also tell my students why we need to uncover the theme. This can help establish the importance of your lesson, and hopefully cut back on the "why whines" as I call them.
To start, you can discuss with your students themes of other popular texts, movies or songs. It is important to share with them some key components of a text they will need to understand in order to determine the theme successfully.  Skills such as summarizing, and identifying character traits should be introduced prior to teaching about theme. This anchor chart FREEBIE can help you set the stage to explain and justify your lesson on theme. 

To introduce the text, you can ask students what they know about trees in the fall. Hopefully you will get a lot of discussion about how they change, and eventually drop their leaves.  Then, you can ask students to predict what would happen if a tree didn't drop its' leaves.  You may choose to prepare your students even more and ask them about a time they were afraid or resisted change. You can ask them about the outcome of resistance - Did change come anyway? What positives came about because of change? Who helped them through a change?

While reading, you can draw your students' attention to the changes (or lack of) the little tree is experiencing. When discussing within the text, you can ask your students to compare and contrast the little tree to the trees around it (they can use the illustrations). Starting to discuss beyond the text, your class could share why the tree is not letting go of its' leaves - the leaves provide shade, and rustle in the breeze - the tree loves its' leaves. You can challenge your students to really think beyond the text, and make an inference that the tree is comfortable holding onto its' leaves, and is avoiding change.

Once you have read the text aloud to your class, and guided them through discussion that will help their understanding of the story and character, it is time to start uncovering the theme. 
If you are using this text to introduce theme for the first time, or as a reteaching, the remaining part of the lesson would best be done as a teacher heavy think aloud, with leading questions that will help your students construct the theme.  If your students are familiar with theme, and this text is serving additional practice, you can provide scaffolding through your questions, but release more of the discussion and uncovering to your students.
You can now use your during reading discussion to summarize the story, paying special attention to the problem and solution of the story.  I find using the Somebody, Wanted, But, So, Then structure very helpful for students to easily identify and relate the problem and solution within the story. However, in the resource that supports this text, I included a differentiated option for your students. You can use Beginning, Middle and End to summarize the story, and also highlight the problem and solution (either in writing or pictures).  This version may better support your struggling readers.

Understanding the character is very important to the development of theme, so you could draw upon your discussion of why the tree held onto its' leaves. With my students, I identified the tree as 'reluctant'. We then pulled evidence of the tree's actions, thoughts and dialogue to support this trait. By describing the tree as reluctant, nervous or uncertain, it connects the problem and starts to shed light on the fear that comes with change and the unknown. Some of my students picked up on the tree's personal growth, and argued that the tree was brave. This discussion and evidence of character change, made for the perfect transition into a discussion of theme.
I don't know about your students, but mine LOVE to talk. They are getting better at academic talk, but they just have a need to converse! With that said, I try to give them as many opportunities to do so throughout the school day.  This lesson was no exception.  By breaking my class up into small groups, I was able to facilitate more discussions than I could with a whole group.  I proposed three questions related to the tree overcoming the internal struggle. In the small groups, students discussed their answers to these questions. As a group, they developed a collaborative answer and wrote it on a post-it. The post-it was left behind on a poster (with the question), and they moved to the next question.  In about 15 minutes, all students had collaboratively answered all three questions and were ready to debrief. 

To get my students thinking about the text, I asked why they felt the author wrote this text. Yes, I got in a quick author's purpose question there. But, it is because author's purpose IS the theme. I really try to teach these skill together. In this case, the author wanted to model a lesson about growth and change through the experiences of a little tree. I also find my students have a hard time understanding that theme isn't just the lesson that the character learned.  So often I hear the lesson learned is that 'the tree needed to drop its' leaves so it could grow into a big, tall tree.' Yes, that is the lesson the tree learned, but, that is not the theme. For my students, it has been crucial to connect the lesson learned to themselves, so they can best uncover the theme. By now taking the tree out of the lesson, they can be left with how everyone must go through change, sometimes difficult and unwanted change, to learn and grow up. 

Finally, to wrap up this lesson, you could connect this to a writing prompt in which students write about a time they needed to change, and have them describe the outcome of that change. The stories are always very interesting, and can be revealing of some deep stories from the students who need our love the most - which makes this a perfect theme not only for the changing of seasons, but also still so early in the year when we are getting to know our students. 
Make sure you have grabbed all the goodies in the post, before heading off to the next.  I shared two resources with you! The anchor charts are a forever freebie, however the lesson, specific to the Little Tree, is a temporary freebie, just through this weekend. And don't forget to enter the giveaway so you have a chance to win a copy of each book featured in all of these amazing posts! Good luck!


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