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Planning a Successful Phonics Intervention

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How to Teach Sight Words

I love sight words.

Anybody else love sight words too?

I see the power in teaching them and the results that I can get.

We’re going to jump into the importance of sight words and some easy steps for you to take to be able to jump in and start teaching them right away.

Let’s go ahead and get started!

Sight Words Sight Words… EVERYWHERE!
Years ago when I was an instructional coach in a school, we were working on improving our reading — and had been doing a fantastic job! We were starting to see huge results and were filling the gaps in our younger grades and really starting to build comprehension and vocabulary.
Even though we were really doing a great job, I wanted to see how we could take it even further and do even better.
And that’s when I started to really dive into sight words and
how we could use sight words to help our instruction.

I had read somewhere that 100 words make up approximately 50% of text. I wanted to see if this was accurate, so what I did was I evaluated the AIMSweb fluency passages we were using.
What did I find?
It’s TRUE!
Fifty percent of the text was made up of sight words.
So, I started thinking, “My gosh, we’re doing all of these great things as far as explicitly teaching phonics to our kids. We’re making sure we’re filling the gaps for those third through fifth graders that didn’t get the phonics instruction they needed. If we could teach our kids and make sure they all have those phonics patterns that are so important and if we added in explicit systematic sight word instruction, then we would be ending the year with kids on grade level.”
And that’s when I started digging into this to see what could be done.

Sight Word Instruction: More Than Just Memorization
First off, one thing that I really want to stress is that we need to remember that teaching sight words is much more than memorizing. We don’t want to just be giving kids the words and then having them memorize and drill and kill and drill and kill.
We want to explicitly teach sight words in a systematic way and
provide students with opportunities to be seeing them in text and
be practicing them over and over — it’s not a one and done.

Students should not just get one shot of the sight word and then be expected to go on and learn it. It’s really important as teachers that we go through and make sure that our instruction is not just having kids memorize.
I love sight words.

Anybody else love sight words too?

I see the power in teaching them and the results that I can get.

We’re going to jump into the importance of sight words and some easy steps for you to take to be able to jump in and start teaching them right away.

Let’s go ahead and get started!

Sight Words Sight Words… EVERYWHERE!
Years ago when I was an instructional coach in a school, we were working on improving our reading — and had been doing a fantastic job! We were starting to see huge results and were filling the gaps in our younger grades and really starting to build comprehension and vocabulary.
Even though we were really doing a great job, I wanted to see how we could take it even further and do even better.
And that’s when I started to really dive into sight words and
how we could use sight words to help our instruction.

I had read somewhere that 100 words make up approximately 50% of text. I wanted to see if this was accurate, so what I did was I evaluated the AIMSweb fluency passages we were using.
What did I find?
It’s TRUE!
Fifty percent of the text was made up of sight words.
So, I started thinking, “My gosh, we’re doing all of these great things as far as explicitly teaching phonics to our kids. We’re making sure we’re filling the gaps for those third through fifth graders that didn’t get the phonics instruction they needed. If we could teach our kids and make sure they all have those phonics patterns that are so important and if we added in explicit systematic sight word instruction, then we would be ending the year with kids on grade level.”
And that’s when I started digging into this to see what could be done.

Sight Word Instruction: More Than Just Memorization
First off, one thing that I really want to stress is that we need to remember that teaching sight words is much more than memorizing. We don’t want to just be giving kids the words and then having them memorize and drill and kill and drill and kill.
We want to explicitly teach sight words in a systematic way and
provide students with opportunities to be seeing them in text and
be practicing them over and over — it’s not a one and done.

Students should not just get one shot of the sight word and then be expected to go on and learn it. It’s really important as teachers that we go through and make sure that our instruction is not just having kids memorize.
As you’re teaching letter knowledge and you’re starting to teach kids to blend letter sounds into words, you can also start to incorporate the sight words. The research says to begin introducing sight words when your students can read a CVC word within two to three seconds. I recommend starting it a few months into kindergarten.
Types of Sight Words
There are two types of sight words:
Regular
Sight words that are regular are words that kids can decode.
If a sight word has a long vowel or if it has a digraph and it’s decodable, it’s considered a regular sight word.
Once students learn the pattern, they can sound them out. That’s a key piece.

Irregular
Words where no matter what, they don’t follow a phonics pattern.
Therefore, kids need to be able to memorize the word. They have to know that word by sight.
Teachers have to explicitly teach the word and then provide students with opportunities to practice it in text.
Put simply, regular sight words are decodable and irregular sight words are words that are not decodable.

Using Sight Words Lists
The number one question I often get from teachers is, “What lists should I be using?” And that is a great question.
There are two lists: the Fry list and the Dolch list. I recommend making sure your kindergarten through second grade teams decide on using the same list, so you don’t have your kindergarten teachers using Fry and then your first grade teachers using Dolch. Whichever list you decide to choose, stick with that one and make sure that you’re using it across grade levels.
I prefer the Fry sight word list because the words are listed in the order they are frequently used. The Dolch list is not.
What I find fascinating about the Fry’s first 100 sight words if you remove any sight words that are regular, meaning that once kids learn the pattern they’ll be able to read, we end up with a list of about 31 irregular sight words. These are the words that you want to be explicitly and systematically teaching.
Let’s say you’re working with a group on short vowels. I would recommend pulling any sight words that have the short vowel pattern and incorporate those into your instruction because you’re going to be having kids blend those words and see them in text. You incorporate them that way and then determine where you’re going to be teaching the irregular sight words.
The key is that you’re teaching kids explicitly those phonics patterns that they need to have in place, so they’re also learning the other sight words.
A Systematic Way
When I really broke this down and started chunking up how sight words were going to be best taught and how kids were going to learn them the easiest and most efficient way, this was a huge aha for me.
It’s much different looking at this list of sight words and saying, “Okay, I need my kids to learn these 100 sight words. Let me figure out a way that I’m not going to just start throwing them on everybody, but instead come up with a systematic way of introducing these sight words and teaching them explicitly.”
One of the questions I get asked is, “What is the research behind teaching sight words?” And the reality is, there is no solid research that says you need to teach this number of words at a time or you need to teach them in this specific order. What I’m going to do is share with you what I have done, what I have seen firsthand work, and what I suggest you look into doing:
What I Have Done:

I don’t introduce more than three to four sight words a week.
This was a huge eyeopener to me because we were using a fantastic reading program, but our kindergarten and first grade teachers were coming to me saying, “My kids aren’t getting the sight words, and we are introducing 30 new sight words a week.” That is crazy!
Your kids can’t learn 30 new sight words a week. Yes, we may be able to introduce it to them and throw it on them, but they’re not going to truly learn them.

What I have Seen Work:

We need to be realistic and be purposeful in identifying the three to four sight words that we want to introduce each week.
We want to be working on the sight words every single day with activities that kids could be doing with them.
Providing students with text every day that have those words in it.

What I Suggest You Doing:

Introduce three to four sight words a week using the Fry sight word list.
Provide practice with text and make sure the text has the sight words that you’ve been working on.
Any of you that are in my Teaching Reading Made Simple members club have access to the mastery guides. I ensured that the passages that my kids are reading every single day not only have the phonics pattern that we’ve been teaching, but that they also incorporate the sight words for that week as well as the sight words that were taught the previous week.
Because just like spelling words, we don’t want to throw words onto kids and tell them, “Here are the words, but then forget about them next week because we’re onto the next.”
We have to be cycling through and making sure that we’re clear about what our objectives are.

When you’re creating a plan for how to teach sight words, follow these steps and you’re going to have success…

Step One: Determine your goal and be very specific and realistic.

I was in a school district working with teachers a couple of years ago and the kindergarten teachers were really frustrated because their district was asking that the kindergartners leave kindergarten knowing 90 sight words. The teachers were able to expose them to 90 sight words, but did the kids truly know those 90 sight words?

Of course not!

Sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.

When you are working on what you’re going to do as far as teaching your sight words, I want you to determine your goal and be very specific.

Set a goal. For example: By the end of kindergarten, students will know the first 25 words on Fry’s first list of 100 words.

Once you’ve determined your goal, you want to break it down even more and get specific. Break the year into four quarters and lay out your goals and decided the words students will master.

Over the course of the first quarter, kids will work with those words, practice writing those words, playing activities and games with those words, and doing flashcards. The key piece, even in kindergarten, is that you start to have kids look at text and read text with those words in it.

By November 30th, students will know the words

Then in quarter two, set the next goal.

By January 31st, students will know the words: is, you, that, it, he, was. We didn’t forget the previous words. We’re still cycling those words throughout our text, our activities, and our instruction. But, we’re also adding these next six words in.

By March 31st, students will know the words: for, on, are, as, with, his. Continue to cycle through the previous quarters words that have been taught. Then in the fourth quarter, we laid out the words we were going to learn and repeat the process.

By the end of the year, we systematically laid out what we were going to teach. We explicitly taught it, and then we assessed. So, all along the way we need to be assessing to make sure our kids are getting it.

Assessment

Let’s go into the second part of the plan and that is assessment. When you’re going to assess, this is how I set it up to determine if my kids need sight word instruction. In second grade and above, you want to administer a one-minute fluency assessment. Now, I would also do this maybe in November of first grade.

Give your students a one-minute timed fluency assessment and any students who are not fluent, administer some kind of phonics assessment to determine where their exact gaps are. Any students who don’t pass the phonics assessment will need intervention to fill those gaps. While you’re intervening, you’re going to be plugging sight words in.

If you have my phonics master guide, that’s all been done for you, so you don’t have to worry about it. But if you don’t, you want to be really systematic and looking to see where you should be plugging in those words that you’re going to be teaching.

Next, you need to make sure that you’re assessing kids every week to two weeks to make sure they’re getting the pattern that you’ve been working on.

Planning Instruction

This is the part where you’re going to be actually diving in and making sure your instruction is explicit and systematic. That means you are explicitly telling students, “Boys and girls, this is the word, said. What’s the word? Said. Let’s spell said. S-A-I-D. Spell said. S-A-I-D.”

I’m not saying, “Who can tell me what this word means?” That’s not explicit.

We want to ensure that when we’re teaching kids the sight words or phonics, we are super explicit because if I’m saying, “Who can tell me?” We may have a student say the wrong word, and then the student next to them is thinking, “Oh, that’s the word.” And then they’ve got the wrong word.

We want to review previously taught words every day. That’s where that systematic piece comes in. We’re not only laying out when we’re going to be teaching a certain sight words, but we’re also going to lay out when we’re going to be going and peppering in the words that we’ve already introduced and kids still need practice with.

The big mistake I see is that kids aren’t given enough practice! That’s huge.

You want to wrap up every lesson by having students apply it to a decodable text. They need to be able to look at the text and read a text that has whatever phonics pattern that you’ve been working on. If you’re working on short vowels, words with short vowels, they’re going to be reading a decodable text that has short vowels along with the specific sight words that you have taught.

FREE Quick Start Guide For Teaching Sight Words

I have a freebie for you that I would love for you to grab!

It is a quick start guide for teaching sight words that I’ve put together. It’s 15 pages and I have laid out everything for you! I’ve laid out what you need to do as far as assessments. I’ve laid out your plan for instruction.

Get yours now by ____________-
Types of Sight Words
There are two types of sight words:
Regular
Sight words that are regular are words that kids can decode.
If a sight word has a long vowel or if it has a digraph and it’s decodable, it’s considered a regular sight word.
Once students learn the pattern, they can sound them out. That’s a key piece.

Irregular
Words where no matter what, they don’t follow a phonics pattern.
Therefore, kids need to be able to memorize the word. They have to know that word by sight.
Teachers have to explicitly teach the word and then provide students with opportunities to practice it in text.
Put simply, regular sight words are decodable and irregular sight words are words that are not decodable.

Using Sight Words Lists
The number one question I often get from teachers is, “What lists should I be using?” And that is a great question.
There are two lists: the Fry list and the Dolch list. I recommend making sure your kindergarten through second grade teams decide on using the same list, so you don’t have your kindergarten teachers using Fry and then your first grade teachers using Dolch. Whichever list you decide to choose, stick with that one and make sure that you’re using it across grade levels.
I prefer the Fry sight word list because the words are listed in the order they are frequently used. The Dolch list is not.
What I find fascinating about the Fry’s first 100 sight words if you remove any sight words that are regular, meaning that once kids learn the pattern they’ll be able to read, we end up with a list of about 31 irregular sight words. These are the words that you want to be explicitly and systematically teaching.
Let’s say you’re working with a group on short vowels. I would recommend pulling any sight words that have the short vowel pattern and incorporate those into your instruction because you’re going to be having kids blend those words and see them in text. You incorporate them that way and then determine where you’re going to be teaching the irregular sight words.
The key is that you’re teaching kids explicitly those phonics patterns that they need to have in place, so they’re also learning the other sight words.
A Systematic Way
When I really broke this down and started chunking up how sight words were going to be best taught and how kids were going to learn them the easiest and most efficient way, this was a huge aha for me.
It’s much different looking at this list of sight words and saying, “Okay, I need my kids to learn these 100 sight words. Let me figure out a way that I’m not going to just start throwing them on everybody, but instead come up with a systematic way of introducing these sight words and teaching them explicitly.”
One of the questions I get asked is, “What is the research behind teaching sight words?” And the reality is, there is no solid research that says you need to teach this number of words at a time or you need to teach them in this specific order. What I’m going to do is share with you what I have done, what I have seen firsthand work, and what I suggest you look into doing:
What I Have Done:

I don’t introduce more than three to four sight words a week.
This was a huge eyeopener to me because we were using a fantastic reading program, but our kindergarten and first grade teachers were coming to me saying, “My kids aren’t getting the sight words, and we are introducing 30 new sight words a week.” That is crazy!
Your kids can’t learn 30 new sight words a week. Yes, we may be able to introduce it to them and throw it on them, but they’re not going to truly learn them.

What I have Seen Work:

We need to be realistic and be purposeful in identifying the three to four sight words that we want to introduce each week.
We want to be working on the sight words every single day with activities that kids could be doing with them.
Providing students with text every day that have those words in it.

What I Suggest You Doing:

Introduce three to four sight words a week using the Fry sight word list.
Provide practice with text and make sure the text has the sight words that you’ve been working on.
Any of you that are in my Teaching Reading Made Simple members club have access to the mastery guides. I ensured that the passages that my kids are reading every single day not only have the phonics pattern that we’ve been teaching, but that they also incorporate the sight words for that week as well as the sight words that were taught the previous week.
Because just like spelling words, we don’t want to throw words onto kids and tell them, “Here are the words, but then forget about them next week because we’re onto the next.”
We have to be cycling through and making sure that we’re clear about what our objectives are.

When you’re creating a plan for how to teach sight words, follow these steps and you’re going to have success…

Step One: Determine your goal and be very specific and realistic.

I was in a school district working with teachers a couple of years ago and the kindergarten teachers were really frustrated because their district was asking that the kindergartners leave kindergarten knowing 90 sight words. The teachers were able to expose them to 90 sight words, but did the kids truly know those 90 sight words?

Of course not!

Sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.

When you are working on what you’re going to do as far as teaching your sight words, I want you to determine your goal and be very specific.

Set a goal. For example: By the end of kindergarten, students will know the first 25 words on Fry’s first list of 100 words.

Once you’ve determined your goal, you want to break it down even more and get specific. Break the year into four quarters and decided the words students will master.

Over the course of the first quarter, kids will work with those words, practice writing those words, playing activities and games with those words, and doing flashcards. The key piece, even in kindergarten, is that you start to have kids read text with those words in it.

A goal for the first quarter could be: By the end of the first quarter, students will know the words:

As you’re teaching letter knowledge and you’re starting to teach kids to blend letter sounds into words, you can also start to incorporate the sight words. The research says to begin introducing sight words when your students can read a CVC word within two to three seconds. I recommend starting it a few months into kindergarten.

Then in quarter two, we said that we wanted our students to master the following words: is, you, that, it, he, and was. We didn’t forget the previous words. We’re still cycling those words throughout our text, our activities, and our instruction. But, we’re also adding these next six words in.

In quarter three, we said they were going to master the words: for, on, are, as, with, and his. We also cycled through the previous two quarters words that we learned. And then in the fourth quarter, we laid out the words we were going to learn and repeat the process.

By the end of the year, we systematically laid out what we were going to teach. We explicitly taught it, and then we assessed. So, all along the way we need to be assessing to make sure our kids are getting it.

Assessment

Let’s go into the second part of the plan and that is assessment. When you’re going to assess, this is how I set it up to determine if my kids need sight word instruction. In second grade and above, you want to administer a one-minute fluency assessment. Now, I would also do this maybe in November of first grade.

Give your students a one-minute timed fluency assessment and any students who are not fluent, administer some kind of phonics assessment to determine where their exact gaps are. Any students who don’t pass the phonics assessment will need intervention to fill those gaps. While you’re intervening, you’re going to be plugging sight words in.

If you have my phonics master guide, that’s all been done for you, so you don’t have to worry about it. But if you don’t, you want to be really systematic and looking to see where you should be plugging in those words that you’re going to be teaching.

Next, you need to make sure that you’re assessing kids every week to two weeks to make sure they’re getting the pattern that you’ve been working on.

Planning Instruction

This is the part where you’re going to be actually diving in and making sure your instruction is explicit and systematic. That means you are explicitly telling students, “Boys and girls, this is the word, said. What’s the word? Said. Let’s spell said. S-A-I-D. Spell said. S-A-I-D.”

I’m not saying, “Who can tell me what this word means?” That’s not explicit.

We want to ensure that when we’re teaching kids the sight words or phonics, we are super explicit because if I’m saying, “Who can tell me?” We may have a student say the wrong word, and then the student next to them is thinking, “Oh, that’s the word.” And then they’ve got the wrong word.

We want to review previously taught words every day. That’s where that systematic piece comes in. We’re not only laying out when we’re going to be teaching a certain sight words, but we’re also going to lay out when we’re going to be going and peppering in the words that we’ve already introduced and kids still need practice with.

The big mistake I see is that kids aren’t given enough practice! That’s huge.

You want to wrap up every lesson by having students apply it to a decodable text. They need to be able to look at the text and read a text that has whatever phonics pattern that you’ve been working on. If you’re working on short vowels, words with short vowels, they’re going to be reading a decodable text that has short vowels along with the specific sight words that you have taught.

FREE Quick Start Guide For Teaching Sight Words

I have a freebie for you that I would love for you to grab!

It is a quick start guide for teaching sight words that I’ve put together. It’s 15 pages and I have laid out everything for you! I’ve laid out what you need to do as far as assessments. I’ve laid out your plan for instruction.

Get yours now by ____________-

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