Planning a Successful Sight Word Intervention


3 Mistakes Made When Teaching Reading

Let’s talk about 3 mistakes made when teaching reading.


I make them.

You make them.

Our students make them.

We are human after all and it’s part of the learning process.

Let’s identify if you are making these mistakes and also talk about what you can do to prevent making them.

Mistake #1: Introducing skills too quickly.

Oftentimes, teachers feel that there is so much to teach… because there is! You have so much to cover in a year.

There are only so many days to get all of the material covered and what ends up happening is you start cramming the material that needs to get taught. Let’s face it, you have the standards to teach as well as what your district wants you to teach.  

Unfortunately, what ends up happening when materials gets crammed is skills are introduced so quickly.

When I was an instructional coach the teachers and I decided we wanted to make a huge difference with the kids reading scores.

We were doing some great things but we wanted to take it a step further. I started looking at our sight word instruction because I realized how important sight word instruction is.

Well, as I started going through the program that we were using, which was a top program, I was having a real concern with how the sight words being introduced and taught. The program went as follows:

  • Days 1 – 4:  One new word is introduced every day.
  • Day 5: Review the four words you introduced to students that week
  • Days 6 – 8: One new word is introduced every day.
  • Day 9: Review four sight words.
  • Day 10: Introduce 2 new sight words every day.

The problem with this method is that you have introduced seven sight words in total, but only four are being reviewed.

Then on day 10, you start introducing two new sight words each day. Therefore, over the course of these ten days of lessons (two weeks), you have introduced nine new words with only two days of review.

Now, we are going to jump to days 11 through 15, when you are now teaching two new sight words every single day. On day 15, you are reviewing eight sight words. But, if you take a second and look back at all of the sight words, you have introduced a ton of sight words yet have only had three days where of review.

If you look at day 15, you are only reviewing the sight words you just introduced. But the question is, are you building enough time to practice the sight words you introduced a couple of weeks ago?

Looking at days 16 through 20, you are now introducing six new sight words every single lesson and have two days of review.

Then, on day 19 you are reviewing six words but on day 20 you are reviewing 24 words. Over the course of this chunk of 10 days, you have introduced 26 new sight words with just two days of review!

Now you can see how this is a problem.

You have a lot to teach, I get that. You may want to teach as many sight words as you can so that you can start getting your kids to read, but you also need to make sure they know the words well.

This is like building a house and if you get the foundation in place in kindergarten and first grade, which are those foundational skills of phonemic awareness, sight words, letter names, and letter sounds, you are going to see kids be more successful as they go through the grades.

It is imperative you are making sure you are not just teaching as many things as you can, but also making sure kids are learning what you are teaching.

How do you fix this mistake of introducing skills too quickly?

I recommend you sit down and look at what you are going to be teaching and ask yourself:

What is the goal for your class by the end of the year ?

Whether it be sight words, letter names and sounds, or phonic skills, you need to figure out:

  1. What are going to be teaching?
  2. What kids need to be expected?
  3. How are you  going to map out  these skills over the course of the year?
  4. How are you going to build in a buffer to make sure kids have the time to practice so they can get to mastery?

If you don’t address these, then that leads to the second mistake…

Mistake #2: Not giving kids enough practice to ensure mastery.

I just shared with you a snapshot of what the first 20 days looks like when teaching a sight words program. You can see that yes, there are review days built in.

However, when you are introducing this number of words, that is not going to be enough to ensure that kids are getting the practice they need before you start to move on to the next skill.

Now, one thing I want to be very cautious about and I want to caution you about is, you also don’t want to go too slowly because if you are figuring, “Well, it’s going to take a few weeks for them just to get this one word” –  you can’t do that either.

You have to make sure that you are being realistic and giving kids enough time to practice and master what it is that you are teaching.

How do you make certain that you are practicing enough and ensuring mastery?

To fix this mistake and once you have laid out your calendar, you want to make sure you have pockets of time to give to kids to practice and apply what they have learned.

You have to be having them practice it and apply it because many time times teachers say, “My gosh, I spent so long teaching them these different skills but they didn’t do well on the assessment.”

The reason is the kids probably didn’t have enough time to practice it and really get that repetition in.

​So the way to fix that is once you lay out your calendar you need to go in to make sure that you have enough time for practice. Time for practice is so important!

Mistake # 3 : Lack of clarity around learning objectives.

The one thing I often see is a lack of clarity around what specifically it is that kids are expected to learn and know by the time they are done with you.

​Let me give you an example. One of the standards for kindergarten is to demonstrate basic knowledge of one-on-one letter sound correspondence by producing a primary sound. If you are just going to teach it as this standard and you don’t break it down more and come up with a plan, then you are not going to get kids where they need to be.

As suggested in Mistake #1, you have to make sure you are mapping out the skills you are teaching so that:

  • Skills are not being crammed in.
  • You ensure you have built in enough practice.
  • You make certain you are creating objectives for what you want your kids to accomplish and by when.

For example, kindergartners need to know their letter names and letter sounds. Well, you need to go in and figure out the learning objectives that will make sure they know these letters and sounds. You also need to determine how you are going to assess it to make sure the kids have had enough practice and mastered these skills.

​How can you fix lack of clarity?

After you have done the previous two steps, it’s time to go in and really break it down:

What letter names and sounds do you want them to know this month?

What sight words do you want to make sure they have mastered?

In what time frame are you going to assess for that?

You can see how all of this ties together to ensure that you have a nice amount of time to go through and see to it that your kids are going to have mastery by the end of the year.

Looking at these three mistakes and really thinking about how you can improve your instruction will be an important step in having a productive and successful school year.

Happy teaching everyone!

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