Learning How to Teach Sight Words Is Key to Effective Reading Instruction

Learning how to teach sight words is key to effective reading instruction. The protocol is the same for teaching first grade sight words, kindergarten sight words, or those for any grade level.

The best way to get words to kids is to put them on Word Walls. There is detailed information here on how to build them and also many Word Wall Activities and Free Sight Word Games because the words must be practiced and used daily in order for children to learn the recommended 1000 words per year.

But how in the world do you manage all those words?

When They Know Them, Take Them Down

It is important for the words to keep changing so that children do not memorize the words in the order they are on the wall. They are better at that than you can imagine so be sure to swap places with some of the words every few days. This is a good memory activity, too, so ask the children if they know which words have been moved. They like trying to figure it out, and someone always remembers.

If you start with first grade sight words, for example, put them up together on a separate wall and work with those for several days, playing Sight Word Games both on and off the wall.

When they seem to be reading the words automatically - about every two weeks - assess each child's individual knowledge of the words and take down the words everybody knows.

The shrinking of the wall is a great visual for kids, evidence that they are learning, which is a great motivator. When the wall gets small enough, I move those words to another wall, one reserved for intensive work, usually on the classroom door where we can practice reading them as we go in and out.

In place of first grade sight words, then, I would put up second grade Dolch words and repeat the procedure with them.

Make Class Word Books

Place the words everyone knows in a photo album or three ring binder. I was surprised to discover how much my children loved to read and practice from these word books. They would often read them on their own!

First Grade Sight Words

Use Words They Know to Make New Words

Creating new words with those children already know means you are teaching in their context. Since the brain attaches new information to that which is already known, these words are learned quickly and easily.

New words can be formed by:

  • Putting two words together to make compound words.
  • Adding prefixes.
  • Adding suffixes.

From these you can generate many new words which children already know, putting you well on your way to those 1000 words per year!

Return to Dolch Sight Words From How to Teach Sight Words

Go to Free Sight Word Games from How to Teach Sight Words

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.

Teacher Support Force


Save on Delicious

Tips and Techniques

Once children begin learning words, they have the context for learning phonics skills. This is an improvement over phonics taught in isolation because the brain cannot learn that which it does not already know, meaning that it attaches new knowledge to old.

Consonant Blends

These may be identified on word cards in a variety of ways. Underlining them separately is a good way to bring them to the attention of the children and provide visual support to the fact that each retains its individual sound.

Dolch word wall card with consonant blend identified


Word wall words children already know are ideal for teaching digraphs such as /sh/, /th/, and /ch/ because now they have meaning for them. Underlining them together provides a visual cue that the two letters make one sound.

Word wall card indicating consonant digraph

The Power of a

Thanks to brain specialist Fritz Mengert, I learned how to use a red dot in my reading instruction. Dr. Mengert told me that placing a red dot in the center of a word helps kids focus on the middle rather than just the beginning.

Many of my students just looked at the beginnings of words and guessed at what they were, and the red dot was the answer I had been looking for.

It worked! My students were much more able to distinguish between similar-looking words.

A red dot may also be used for improving reading fluency