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Sight Words in ACTION

Let's kick this whole blog thing off with a bang and get right into it!

Sight words are extra important when learning a second language because there are many words that are used all the time that can't be easily sounded out by beginner readers. Since our students often don't have a huge French vocabulary early in Grade 1, being introduced to these high frequency words will make a big difference in their emergent reading skills. It's important to acknowledge that sight words are only one piece of the reading puzzle and need to be taught in concert with decoding and comprehension strategies.

Sight Words vs. High Frequency Words

Sight words are, by definition, words that students know automatically and can be read without decoding. High frequency words are just that - words that appear most often in written texts. There is often a lot of overlap between the two, but these subtle differences can be important. For example, most students' first sight word is their own name, but this is not a high frequency word. So at the very beginning of the reading process, you may be focusing more on pure sight words (e.g., names of students, materials) than high frequency words. High frequency words can sometimes be difficult to decode (e.g., c'est) for a student just learning to read, so the goals is to take high frequency words and transform them into sight words!

Why are sight words important?

Developing a solid bank of sight words has been shown to directly affect students fluency and confidence as they read. They can help provide context clues within the sentence and help lay the groundwork for more complex words (e.g., viens = deviens, reviens, souviens). Also, by not having to spend the time decoding sight words, students can focus on decoding fewer words per page which helps build confidence and allows greater comprehension.

So now that we know they WHY, let's get into the HOW of teaching sight words. I find the greatest methods for students to consolidate sight words into long term memory is HANDS ON practice. While I do have them practice memorizing the words, whole body learning has been shown to increase student focus and being able to recall information. Here are a few things I use in my classroom to get students moving and working on sight words:


Our Grade 1 team uses Maternelle avec Mme Andrea's mots fréquents lists as our sight word base. They're awesome because I do send them home, but I love throwing them out at centres because students can choose whichever list they're working on at home. A little built in differentiation!

One of the best things I discovered recently was these rock candy sticks. I find a lot of students have trouble with beading on pipe cleaners or string. These sticks let students hold onto something a little more stable and still develop fine motor skills! This activity is hands on, but I find it is great for mindfulness as well!

Code Secret

This is a great way for students to practice AND move their bodies during learning centres! Students will use the secret code to figure out the hidden word. Once they have found all the letters in the word, they must do the actions to spell out the word.

Students can also work in pairs where one student solves the secret code and the other spells out the word by doing the actions. A colleague of mine also came up with the awesome idea of projecting the secret code on the whiteboard and then having a student come up and spell out a word with the actions. The rest of the class then guesses the word! So fun!

Target Practice

This is one of my students' absolute favourite centres! I just write a variety of sight words on silicone muffin cups and students throw the ping pong ball into the tin. If it lands on a word, they have to say the word out loud. I sometimes have students play in partners, but this year I think I'll be giving each student their own :)

You can upgrade the difficulty by having the student put the word in a sentence when they say it out loud.

Duplo Building

My Grade 1s LOVE building, so this centre is a big hit with the bonus of lots of secret learning happening at the same time! Early on in the year, I start with building small consonant + vowel (CV) words and then build up to bigger sight words. I have the students say the word out loud as they add it to their structure.

Later in the year, I challenge the students to make a sentence with the words they have available!

To sum it up...

Sight words should not be the only reading strategy that students are learning in class, as it's essentially just memorization, but having a solid base of sight words helps students gain confidence and free up energy to focus on the more unfamiliar words on the page. Whole body, active learning can help students recall these words when they need them in the future and help write the words to long term memory.

Stay tuned...

Next week, I'll be sharing outdoor sight word ideas! We could be spending A LOT of time outside this year, so I'll share a bunch of ways to practice sight words actively while outside!

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