1. Go into detail.
Kids with reading difficulties may need help noticing all the details in a new word — especially if the word has an unusual spelling. Take the word through, for example.
Teach your child by first showing the word and then reading it out loud. Next, ask your child to say the letters in the word. Ask what vowels your child sees. What letters are at the beginning, middle, and end of the word? This helps kids analyze the word and process it in detail.
2. Create a memory aid.
Sometimes kids can find a trick to help them remember troublesome words. These memory aids are called mnemonics. Kids might come up with a rhyme that includes the word, or something they associate with that word.
They can also try making up a phrase that spells out the word. Let’s say your child is struggling to remember they. Your child might come up with the mnemonic, “They Eat Yams.”
3. Add artistic flair.
For some kids, remembering a sight word is easier if they connect it to a picture. Here’s one way to do it:
Write a practice word on two sides of an index card. On one side, you or your child can draw a picture right into the word (like drawing eyes inside the double o in the word look). Introduce the practice words using the illustrated side of each card. When your child begins to read these words quickly and easily, switch to the “print only” side of the card.
4. Use different senses.
Research shows that kids with dyslexia learn best when they engage many senses. You can activate kids’ sense of touch by having them trace letters on lists of sight words with their finger. Or cut the letters out of sandpaper and have them trace the scratchy surface while saying the letter names and then the word.
Get kids moving by having them “write” the word in the air with their pointer and middle fingers as they say it out loud. Younger kids might like writing the words in sand or in shaving cream.
Explore more multisensory reading techniques.
5. Take a mental picture.
Tell your child to get a good look at a word on a card, and try to “take a picture of it” and keep it in mind. Then take the card away.
Ask, “What letters do you see in your mind? What letters are first, second, and last? What vowel(s) are in the word?” Practicing visualizing can help kids remember, read, and spell new words.
6. Grab a pencil.
Once kids have practiced reading and air-writing target sight words, they can try spelling them on paper. Have your child copy them from a flashcard or word list first. Then your child can try writing it out without looking.
You can also have your child write the word a few times on a chalkboard while saying the letters and then the word. Or write the word on paper a few times each day. Your child should practice the target words until spelling them consistently, without looking, happens smoothly.
7. Explore word history.
There’s usually a reason behind the spelling of words we can’t sound out. Did you know there’s a rule that English words can’t end in v? That’s why words like give and have are spelled with a silent e. Or take the word knife. It comes from the Old Norse word knifr and the k used to be pronounced.
Checking out a word’s history can teach kids why it’s spelled so strangely. It can also help them learn word meanings. And boosting word knowledge can help kids recognize sight words more quickly.
8. Make a word wall.
Create a space to display the words your child has mastered. You can use butcher paper your child decorates and then hang it up where your child can see it. Then your child can refer to it for assignments and spelling practice.
You can write the words directly on the paper or have your child tape flashcards to it. This is a great way to show kids how their word knowledge is growing — which can boost self-esteem, too.
9. Do a word search.
Have your child pick out the words the class is practicing at school in books you have at home. (Make sure the books are at your child’s reading level.)
This helps kids build awareness of how often these words are used. It also helps them be on the lookout for these words in daily reading. After your child picks out sight words, read the book together. Be sure to give positive feedback when your child reads target words correctly.
10. Tag-team with the school.
Connect with the classroom teacher to keep up with the current sight word list. When you and the school work as a team, your child will get a double dose of practice — something struggling readers need. It also helps kids stay focused on a single set of words at a time, which can build confidence and increase chances for success.
11. Make time for fun and games.
Yes, sight-word practice can actually be fun. Try changing things up by playing word-matching games like concentration. Go fish, tic-tac-toe, hangman, and bingo also work well. It’s easy to make game materials on your own, and Pinterest is a great source for new game ideas. There are also lots of learning games and apps that let kids practice sight words.
12. Space out your introduction of new words.
Introduce one word at a time every day or two until you have about 10 new words to practice at a time. Add one new word for each word your child masters. This helps keep learning goals manageable. It also makes it more likely for kids to improve and feel good about sight words. And that can give them the motivation to keep practicing.
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About the author
About the author
Kelli Johnson, MA is an educational speech-language pathologist, working with students from early childhood through 12th grade.
Robin Margent an Orton–Gillingham Dyslexia Specialist, is a private tutor and a retired reading intervention teacher.