readilearn: Learning sight words by reading and writing in context

  • Published on February 9, 2018

learning sight words in context

Learning lists of sight words is an activity familiar to beginning readers, their parents and teachers. There’s no denying the importance of being able to recognise words by sight, and the aid it is to reading fluency and comprehension. Yes, comprehension. Due to the constraints of short-term memory, it is difficult to think about meaning, when working memory is employed in attempts to figure out individual words.

Many lists of basic sight words are available, but there is a consistency to the words included and their number, generally varying between one and two hundred. Many of the words do not have a regular letter-sound correspondence and cannot be “sounded out” using knowledge of phonics. They are also words that often have meaning only in context and cannot be “pictured”. The words make up a high percentage of those appearing in texts for beginning readers and so are often referred to as high frequency words.

Children are often given lists of words to take home and learn with the assistance of parents. Not all parents know how to encourage children to learn the words and it can be a battle if children struggle to remember them. If you are sending children home with words to learn, it is important to provide parents with strategies as well as what they need; for example:

  • Provide the words on strips or in small booklets with the word written on one side and a short sentence with a picture on the other for checking.

learning sight words

  • Provide one set of words. Spread the words face up on the table. Ask the child to find the word; for example, put. This is easier at first as other letter/sound cues can be used. Later, as the child is recognising the words, they can be turned face down. The child “keeps” the words that are instantly recognised when turned over.
  • Provide two sets of words with instructions for playing matching games such as memory.
  • Provide a larger set of words with instructions for use as stepping stones or attaching to a brick wall as targets to hit with a ball.
  • Provide some baseboards and the words for playing bingo with other family members.

In the classroom, I prefer to teach high frequency sight words in context. A number of resources that support this, including caption books and follow up activities, interactive estories, procedures and suggestions for reading groups can be found in Literacy Resources Sight Words.

going out to play

This week I have uploaded a new suite of resources to the Sight Words collection. The story Going out to play introduces the sight words: I, put, on, my, go, going, out, to, play in the context of a girl and a boy getting ready to go out to play. Each page repeats the phrase “I put on my…” as the children get dressed, ready to go on their bikes.

Let's play interactive sight words

Let’s play interactive is a digital resource for use on the interactive whiteboard. It is suitable for use with the whole class or small groups. In addition to the story Going out to play, there are five follow up activities providing additional practice in reading the sight words.

Two printable PDF versions of the story Going out to play are available for off-computer use: an A4 version for use with small groups and a smaller A5 booklet for use by individual children.

beginning reader sight words

The smaller version includes a sight word checklist which children can colour to show the words they know.

sight words game beginner reader

A Going out to play–Spinner game, great for use in literacy groups, also provides practice in recognising and reading the same words.

Additional resources include the Let’s play vocabulary caption books which are also available in two sizes, suitable for printing as an A4 or smaller A5 booklet. These booklets present just the clothing topic words as captions for the illustrations. They can be used as beginning caption book readers or as a reference for clothing words.

All of the above activities involve children in reading. But writing is an additional aid to memory. While the Look–Say–Cover–Write–Check method that is often used for learning spellings can also assist recognition of sight words, writing in context provides meaning and purpose.

The repetitive text in Going out to play provides a structure that children can use in their own writing. For example:

  • Discuss with children what they wear when they go out to play. List items of clothing not included in the book. Children draw a picture of themselves dressed for play and write what they put on.
  • Discuss events for which children may have “special” clothes to wear; for example, coming to school, going to a party, playing football, going to the beach, going to a fancy-dress party or dancing. List the events and clothes. Children may like to illustrate individual items of clothing to add to a word wall. Children draw a picture of themselves dressed for the special occasion and write what they put on.

story book characters

  • Display illustrations of story characters; for example, Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Batman, Puss in Boots. Discuss and list items of clothing. Children choose a character to draw and write about what they put on.

I’m sure you can think of many other opportunities for providing children with practise of these sight words.

Note: While each of the printable resources are available as stand-alone resources, they are also accessible from within the Let’s play interactive resource. These sight word resources are exclusive to subscribers.

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    Just this morning I had coffee with a girlfriend, fellow volunteer for poor readers and we were discussing about learning – recognisability, repetition and comprehension of the words is so important. Marge was saying about the importance of phonetics as well .. thanks Norah. Have a great weekend!

    Thank you for reading and for sharing your discussion topic, Susan. Reading is complex behaviour requiring the interplay of different skills. We competent readers sometimes forget just how difficult becoming literate can be for some.

    Thanks for your kind words, Charli. There’s many different ways of helping children learn.

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