Hi everyone! I'm officially on summer break, which means more time with my kids and (hopefully) more time to blog and create. I've been thinking a lot about fluency after going to an amazing presentation by a reading/dyslexia specialist, Barbara Steinberg. Here's the other piece: the kids I work with usually don't have it. For our struggling readers, this is a constant struggle. With my interventions, I feel like I get my students strong with their phonics and phonemic awareness skills, but fluency remains a challenge. One of my earlier mistakes when I taught first grade was not putting enough time into sight word instruction and practice. Don't make my mistake! Phonics is SUCH an important part of reading instruction (and is my #1), especially with your intervention kiddos, BUT so are sight words. Why?
So even your average beginning reader needs to see that word several times in order to read it with automaticity. Our dyslexic readers need SEVERAL more exposures to those words. We need to provide them with those opportunities to practice these words. Where to begin?
Before I go on, I should update my language a bit. I'm taking a class on Structured Word Inquiry. Fascinating. I just learned something that blew my mind. Wait for it....
There is no such thing as an "irregular" word.
Wait. What?! Isn't this a post about sight words? Let me back up a minute. What this post is really about it high frequency words that students need to master in order to improve their automaticity with reading. They are the most common words seen in children's texts for early readers. I call them sight words because that's the term that's going to catch your attention.
The reason why there is no such thing as a "sight word" is because every word has its history and it's reason for being spelled a certain way. I could go on and on, but instead I will lead you to another post written by someone far smarter and more experienced. ;) Click here to learn more. For the sake of this post, we can call it a sight word because that's what we're all used to saying and we do, after all, want our kids to know these words "by sight."
This is nothing new but it's always worth saying. Students need to see it, say it, write it, feel it, and hear it. I learned a tip from a dyslexia specialist friend of mine, Tamera. It seems so simple, yet I was overlooking these basic steps. First, show the student the word on a flash card. SAY the LETTERS in the word as the student TRACES the letters on the flashcard. Repeat. Say the word again. Have the student write the letters in the air AND on the table, saying the letters as they trace, repeating the whole word when they are done. To spice it up, use sand and/or add glue to the flashcards to give it a bumpier feel. After seeing and tracing the word, guide your student to try to take a "snapshot" of this word in their brain: Look at the word, counting down from 5. Then close your eyes and try to see the word. This sounds so basic, so simple but it really helps and only takes a a few short minutes.
This is another tip I got from my dyslexia specialist friend. She always points out the tricky part of the word. Sometimes I have the students identify what they think makes the word "tricky." Other times, I point it out. A lot of times the thing that makes the word difficult, actually has a reason why it is that way. In that case, I tell the students that rule. For example, the word give and have end in e. The rest is phonetic. Did you know an English word CANNOT end in v. True story. ;) So that silent e has a purpose, just not one that they are used to. In the word, around and about, the a says /uh/ which makes it trickier. Well, that is also a phonic thing called Schwa. But back to my tip here. ;)
Show your student the word with the highlighted "odd" letter(s). Talk about why those letters are tricky. Practice spelling the word as you did earlier (in the above tip.) This time enunciate the odd letter(s) vocally. "W-h-A-t" You could enunciate it with a louder voice or with an accent or with a funny voice- anything to get that letter to stick!
You can find these cute sight words in my Tutoring Toolkit for Beginning Readers.
My son is in the process of learning his sight words. He is super motivated to read like his big brother but he also is motivated by these little animal cards. There are five different animals, each with several different colors. He started with elephant words (dolch pre-primer.) These words are split up into colors as well (about 10 words per color.) He started with red elephant cards, then moved on to purple elephant. Here is a little video I took of him after a few days of practice. It's exciting to see him getting it!
This one is obvious, I know! Remember how a dyslexic child needs to see a word 40+ times? That's a lot of exposures for that little one. My challenge is always, how do I do this without boring my kids to tears?! Show them the word over and over in different ways.
You can find these editable games in my Tutoring Toolkit.
You can find these sight word spins in my Seasonal Guided Reading packs (you can see the whole thing in these old posts here, here, and here) or my Tutoring Toolkit. They include the Dolch sight word lists. These are always a hit with my students. Both of these packs have an editable version so you can put in whatever words you are working on.
Get your students looking for those words! This can be a center, an independent activity, or a warm-up in guided reading groups. Have your kids look for a certain word in books or big poems.
I blogged about this picture already last year. Both of my boys loved to search for words like this. They would focus on one word and try to find it. This was nice in the beginning because they didn't necessarily have to know the other words on the page yet. They were just looking for that one word.
I also use this in the classroom:
I've been using these for a couple years but just haven't gotten my act together to actually complete a set to bundle and sell. (Right now I only have the Pre-Primer words.) Coming soon I promise! You probably noticed I love anything that I can use with those colored transparent counters! The top picture shoes the student searching and covering the word come. The bottom picture shows an early finisher using one counter to read as many words as she can. When she comes to one she doesn't know, she leaves it on there and gets a new counter to continue on. At the end, I remind her of the words she wasn't sure of.
UPDATE: I've posted the Pre-primer version of this. You can find them here.
Sight Word Phrases
We've talked about practicing sight words in isolation, now we're moving into reading those sight words in the context of a phrase, sentence, or reading passage. First, you can focus on sight word phrases. These are the common phrases that go together. This is a great way to transition from word to sentence. It's good for them to see these words in come context. You can actually find fluency phrases all over! Just google and there you will find tons.
I used these after my students had a little practice with the sight words individually (flashcards, writing in sand, trace and say, search the word, etc.)
I'm recently updated my Tutoring Toolkit with fluency phrases to match the animal theme. You can get them as part of the huge Tutoring Toolkit OR you can buy it separately (see below). It includes the flashcards, fluency phrases, and tracking pages for Dolch words (Pre-primer-3rd Grade.)
You can find those here.
The fluency phrases will match the colors and animals in the set. This way, once your kiddos master red elephant, they can read the red elephant fluency phrases.
I introduce sentences shortly after introducing the first few sight words to my kinders. This is one of my favorite creations for my beginning readers: Build a Sentence. I slowly introduce sight words and students build sentences using those sight words and word cards with picture clues. Even with just a few sight words, you can mix and match to make several different sentences.
I introduce the, see, I, a. You can make sentences with the picture cards so your kids can practice building simple sentences. Then I add in We and like. Soon, they can mix different words to make a variety of sentences by matching the colors up.
I recently updated with black-and-white sight words cards so you could print onto colored paper. I also added some CVC word cards to use in place of the picture cards.
The picture cards are perfect for introducing the early guided reading strategies: Get your mouth ready with the first sound and look at the picture.
Here's a little video of my son beginning to learn his sight words:
Sight Word Ladder Stories
Once students know a handful of sight words and are even reading those fluency phrases, we get a little excited about throwing them that reading passage or big ol' book to read. And yes, absolutely that is our goal and many, many kids make that transfer seamlessly and quickly. However, some need a little extra something. I made some Sentence Ladders using mainly Pre-Primer Sight words. Each card has a sentence ladder. The cards together make a short story. There are 10 stories, each with 6-10 sentence cards. I'm working on my next set with the Primer words. :) If you want to read more about these, you can click here.
If you want to try out a free sentence ladder story from the Florida Center for Reading Research, you can click here.
For more posts about sight words, click here. There, you will find ideas for the summer AND a printable pack for parents filled with ideas to practice sight words.
Here are a couple of pictures from old posts as well:
I hope this post is helpful! Enjoy your summer!!