Multi-sensory instruction allows children to learn using multiple senses (e.g, hearing, seeing, touching).
This is important because research shows that children learn best when information is coming in through a variety of senses.
For more on the research behind this article see:
- Methods for Sight Word Recognition in Kindergarten: Traditional Flashcard Method vs. Multisensory Approach
- The Orton-Gillingham Language Approach-A Research Review
What are sight words?
Sight words are commonly used words in literature, which young children are encouraged to remember and recognize just by looking at them, without sounding them out.
Once a child learns all the sight words on Fry’s sight word lists, they can read 75 percent of the printed words in children’s literature.
Keep in mind, that many children have the most success learning sight words when taught in a small group or practicing one-on-one with an adult or another child with established skills.
Reading and writing sight words multiple times and connecting sight words to visual images help ingrain the words into a child’s memory.
Reading, writing, or saying the same words over and over can be boring for a child. When a child is not engaged they often tune out/get distracted.
5 Fun Activities to Teach Sight Words to Children
1. Have your child recreate the sight-word word in a fun and imaginative way.
1- First, show your child the word on a flashcard like the ones shown below.
2 – Have them recreate the word, using one of the options described below.
The child needs to be able to erase the word and write it/make it over as many times as they like.
Suggest that they do each word six times per practice round (three times while looking and three times without looking).
Provide assistance as needed and let them look back at the flashcard when necessary.
For children who know how to form their letters, methods of choice include:
Writing the word on a chalkboard or dry erase board
writing it in sand (with finger or back of pen) in a sand tray (you can use a shallow baking pan for a sand tray).
writing it in shaving cream or whipped cream (as shown below)
Related Article: Strategies to Help Your Child with Handwriting and Pencil Grip
If your child cannot write yet (or for more fun alternatives for a child who can write), you can have them spell the words using magnetic letters!
or create the words using Play-Doh, providing assistance as needed.
After your child gets the hang of spelling the word, take away a letter and have them fill in the missing letter (e.g., a _ t e r).
As they improve, take away two or three letters and have them fill in the missing letters (e.g., a _ t _ r).
When using play-doh or magnetic letters you can mix the letters up and have your child put the letters in order (of course providing assistance as needed and showing the flash card again if necessary) (e.g., a t f r e).
Have your child look at and say the word each time they create it. Use the word in a sentence to help your child connect real meaning to the word (e.g., I like to watch TV after dinner).
Where can you get sight word flashcards?
You can also print out free flashcards on the internet, such as the ones at student handouts.com.
To take flashcards on the go for fun games and practice at a place like your child’s friend’s house or the park, punch a hole in them and put them on a ring as shown below.
You may want to laminate your cards to avoid them getting crumpled or ripped.
Options for laminating include:
- Going to an office supply store such as Staples (where they do laminating for a small fee)
- Purchasing your own laminator and laminating patches, such as the Scotch Thermal Laminator Combo Pack shown below.
- If you work in a school, they may already have a laminator for you to use. If you are a parent, you can also try asking your child’s school if they can help you laminate some flashcards.
2. Connect the sight words to a visual image.
Here are some examples of connecting the word to a visual image:
1. Encourage your child to make a picture to go along with the word. This will be more difficult for abstract words like “the” and “was” but easier for words like “water” and “people.”
Using the example above, if your child recreated the word people on a dry erase board, she can then draw a picture to go with it. Here is an example:
She can do the same thing in sand or shaving cream. She can also make the picture out of play-doh or draw it on paper.
2. Draw pictures or put images on one half of a sheet of paper and write sight words on the other half.
Have your child match the words to the drawings (you can also pick pictures by doing a search on Google Images and inserting the pictures into a table on Microsoft Word).
See an example below:
If you like you can print the sample worksheet above for your use.
3. Make a sight-word bulletin board.
You can do this as a project together. Here is an example: if you are working on five words this week (e.g., water, people, oil, write, and time), put the words on the board with a picture by each one (you or your child can draw the pictures, you can get them from Google Images, cut them out from magazines, etc.).
Refer to the board throughout the week.
For example, you can ask your child to find different words randomly.
Also, when you are in a conversation you can point to words or ask your child to find words when you hear yourself using them. Here is an example of a sight word bulletin board.
3. Set sight words to music.
Put the words you are practicing to a favorite tune and sing it over and over. For example, try singing a-b-o-u-t to the tune of “Are You Sleeping” or h-a-v-e to the tune of “Happy Birthday.”
Remember the Aretha Franklin song R-E-S-P-E-C-T? I know as a kid that song helped me remember how to spell respect. Try creating your own tunes with your child and sing your songs whenever you want to practice.
4. Frequently read children’s books with your child about topics they are interested in.
Depending on her level, you can read while she follows along, she can read to you while you follow along, you can take turns reading to each other, or you can ask her to point to or read certain words as you go along.
Related Article: 10 Fun Low Cost Games to Practice Reading with Your Kids
5. Play sight word games with your child or student.
There are tangible games you can create on your own, incorporating your child’s or student’s help if you like. You can also purchase games to help children learn sight words. Below are some examples:
Sight Word Bingo – This game is just like regular bingo. When you call out the word, the child puts a chip on his bingo card if he has that word on his card. You can create the cards on your own or purchase a game like Zingo Sight Words (ready-made sight word Bingo). See image below.
You can also purchasehttps://amzn.to/3v0LQoa word search books. See an example of a word search book below.
Splat! (grades k – 1 and grades 1 – 2) is another fun game that you can purchase or make your own version at home. Splat comes with 75 sight words and can be bought for readers on grade level k-1 or 1-2.
In Splat, players lay cards out in front of them. As the caller reads each sight word aloud, players look at their cards. If a player has a matching word, he or she says “SPLAT!” and flips the card over.
Spot It! – This game allows players to match pictures to words, pictures to pictures, and words to words, by spotting the match between cards. It reinforces sight word recognition, reading comprehension, and builds English vocabulary. See a picture below.
Side-Note *If you are a teacher you can try all the strategies and games above with your students. Also, older siblings or peers with strong sight word recognition can also work with children who need to practice their sight words.
Many children love the job of teaching other kids and would also have fun playing games like the ones in this article.
If you do choose another child to work with your child or student, monitor the interaction to ensure the other child is being kind and not getting frustrated with the child he/she is helping.
Change the peer helper if necessary.
Related Article: 10 Fun Activities to Teach Your Child Letter Sounds
Keep in mind that every child is different. Some respond to several strategies, others respond to a few, while others may not respond to any of the strategies you try.
If your child is significantly struggling with recognizing sight words or acquiring other academic skills, despite consistent practice and guidance, talk to your child’s school and/or doctor.
They should be able to refer you to the appropriate professionals to determine what might be interfering with your child’s progress and what additional strategies might help.
Remember to always stay calm when working with a child or student, even if you think they should be getting something that they are not getting.
If you get frustrated with them, they may start to feel anxious, angry, inferior, stupid, etc. which will lead to a less productive learning session.
Keep sessions short (5 to 10 minutes for younger children or children who get easily frustrated and 10 to 15 minutes for older children or children who can work for longer periods without frustration), unless the child is eager to keep going.
For suggestions on how to encourage students to complete tasks/assignments that they may be resistant to see How to Use Schedules to Improve Children’s Behavior and 3 Ways to Use Timers to Encourage Homework and Chore Completion.
Rachel Wise is the author and founder of Education and Behavior. Rachel created Education and Behavior in 2014 for adults to have an easy way to access research-based information to support children in the areas of learning, behavior, and social-emotional development. As a survivor of abuse, neglect, and bullying, Rachel slipped through the cracks of her school and community. Education and Behavior hopes to play a role in preventing that from happening to other children. Rachel is also the author of Building Confidence and Improving Behavior in Children: A Guide for Parents and Teachers.
“Children do best when there is consistency within and across settings (i.e., home, school, community). Education and Behavior allows us to maintain that consistency.”