For many struggling readers, sight words can seem like an impossible hurdle. Sight words are high-frequency words that are commonly seen when reading and used when writing. Students are encouraged to memorize these words by sight because most do not follow standard decoding rules and can not be "sounded out."
What if a Student Struggles with Visual Memory?
Over the years, I have tried a multitude of strategies to help my struggling students master sight words. Repetitive, multisensory lessons were a bore, games were a great improvement, but the best technique, to begin with, is creating a multisensory memory book. Instead of expecting students to use rote, visual memory, I like to teach my students hooking strategies and have them record their ideas with colorful markers in booklets or notebooks. It is a word diary of sorts that students can title with their own fun, creative name (e.g., magical memory strategies...).
Each difficult sight word is placed on its own page, and students have fun coming up with memory strategies that help them remember the correct pronunciation and spelling. For example, if Peter has difficulty with the word “together,” he may discover that the word is made up of three simple words – to, get and her. As another example, if Sue struggles with the word “what,” she may notice "what" has the word "hat" in it. She could draw a hat on the word "what" in her notebook and then write down the question, “What hat?” A final example is, if Terry cannot remember the word “hear.” Perhaps she discovers that it has the word "ear" in it. She could draw an ear on the word and then write the phrase, "we hear with our ear."
How Can I Make Strategies Memorable?
Self-generated strategies are most memorable, so I try to encourage my students to come up with their own. However, in the beginning, students may need some assistance. I explain that the word might look like something, sound like something, or have other familiar words in it. Some students see an interesting pattern within the letters and other students like to say the words the way they are written (e.g., Wed-nes-day.). Still, others might like to create a little rhyme, ditty or rap. The trick is to have the strategy hidden inside the word. It can even tell a story. For example, many have a hard time with the word "friend." They just can't remember that it includes the letter "i." If this is the case, they might want to say, "I have a friend to the end." Finally, the letters may be used to create a drawing. For instance, take the word, "who." Frank may draw an owl out of the letters - because he knows that an owl makes the same sound as the word "who."
How Do I Get Started?
Make sure that you have all the needed materials:
- Notebooks or booklets.
- Magic markers, colored pencils or crayons.
- Great imagination and playful attitude.
Remember, if you are excited about the lessons, your students will be too. Wrap this strategy in mystery, magic, and color and you will surely grab your students' attention and imaginations.
Sight Word Games and Other Primary Reading Games:
If you would like some fun and affordable games that can be used to practice new memory strategies and also master other early literacy skills, come check out Reading Games Primary. This publication offers 74 pages with 8 games that review syllables, beginning sounds, middle sounds, ending sounds, blends, and sight words. These games also strengthen core cognitive skills such as tracking, spatial skills, processing speed, verbal reasoning and more. All the games were student tested to make sure that they are all fabulously fun. You might be interested in all my reading games. If so, CLICK HERE.
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator, and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning. She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Learning Specialist Courses.
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