How to Teach Sight Words to Kids With Dyslexia

by | Dec 27, 2018 | Teaching Tips | 66 comments

 

Hello and welcome back to day 4 of our 5-day series on How to Teach Kids With Dyslexia to Read.  Click here to read the series from the beginning.

Today we’re looking at an extremely effective way to teach sight words to kids with dyslexia.

This extremely effective way to teach sight words to kids with dyslexia helped my dyslexic son learn his sight words easily. Bonus? He enjoyed learning them as well!

 

What Are Sight Words?

Sight words are words that don’t follow the usual rules and therefore need to be memorized by ‘sight’.  Other uses for this method are for teaching words that may actually  follow a particular spelling pattern or rule but that you haven’t covered yet and still the child needs to know the word for school or for some other reason.

As we’ve talked before, people with dyslexia can be taught to read with the right methods.  Rote memorization is definitely not one of those methods!  When I peruse the Internet for sight word teaching ideas, I am shocked at how few sight word study methods are really effective for the dyslexic learning style. No amount of viewing flash cards or filling in work sheets is going to help!

The method that I am about to show you is a great example of multi sensory teaching.

How to Teach Sight Words to Kids With Dyslexia

First I will explain the method in detail and then I have included a short video with my 7-year old son, Ben, demonstrating how we study sight words at home.  I should note that until we discovered this method (with many thanks to my teachers at the Dyslexia Training Institute) Ben was unable to learn any sight words even after many weeks of effort.  Once we started this method, he not only learned his sight words easily, he enjoyed learning them as well!

1.  Write the sight word on a flash card.  Have the child read the word.  Of course, if they don’t know the word yet, tell them what the card says.

2.  Trace each letter on the card with the back of a pencil or pen, saying the name of each letter as you do.  Then say the whole word while underlining it.  Do this 2 times.

3.  Trace the word on the table using two fingers.  Like step 2, say each letter as you write it and then say the whole word while underlining it.  You can have your child turn the card over as they get closer to mastery so they are tracing from memory and not from looking at the card.  Do this 2 times.

4.  Using the hand you write with, tap each letter down your opposite arm – going down the left arm or up the right arm.  Say each letter and then the whole word while sweeping your hand down the left arm or up the right arm (depending on handedness).

5.  If your child is writing, have them write the word in a notebook.

6.  Practice these sight words until they can read them by sight 5 or 6 times.  Then put them in a pile for occasional review.

Download a copy of these instructions below:

 

The following 2 minute video shows how the sight word study method looks in real life.

How to Teach Sight Words from Marianne Sunderland on Vimeo.

A couple of notes on the video:  Ideally, your child will trace the letters of the sight words with correct motions.  In this video, Ben sometimes starts his letters at the bottom or writes them backwards.  We are working on this but I don’t correct handwriting during sight word instruction.

When to Introduce Sight Words

Most reading curricula will have their own progression of how they will introduce sight words.  It is ideal, if possible, not to have your kids read books with words they have not learned yet to avoid forming a habit of guessing.  We are using both All About Reading and The Wilson Program and implement our study of sight words according to those progressions.  In this way, reading material will contain only the sight words that our kids are currently working on.

Resources for Sight Words

All About Reading

The Wilson Program

A List of the top 1000 Sight Words

 

 

Have your kids struggled with learning sight words?

Join us here tomorrow for the final day of this 5-day series when we will talk about strategies for building reading fluency.

If you are looking to get educated about dyslexia and how to educate, encourage and empower your kids with dyslexia, you have come to the right place.

For more information on getting started homeschooling your child with dyslexia, download my free ebook that covers things like understanding learning styles and teaching methods, how to create a positive learning environment and schedule, or how to set goals and get it all done.

Get Educated

If you are looking to get educated about dyslexia and how to educate, encourage and empower your kids with dyslexia, you have come to the right place.

For more information on getting started homeschooling your child with dyslexia, consider downloading my free ebook that covers things like understanding learning styles and teaching methods, how to create a positive learning environment and schedule, or how to set goals and get it all done.

For more information on specific strategies to teach your dyslexic child the way he or she learns, consider taking one of our Parent Dyslexia Classes.  Classes now available are:

Understanding Dyslexia

Teaching Them How They Learn

Teaching Reading:  Methods That Work

Teaching Spelling

Building Fluency and Comprehension
Or buy all 5 classes in our Foundation Bundle and receive a free download of my book, Dyslexia 101:  Truths, Myths and What Really Works.

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66 Comments

  1. Melinda

    Enjoying your posts. Thank you for the helpful information. About how many sights words should be done at a time?

    Reply
    • marianne

      Hi Melinda. I would do 3-4 if your child can handle it. I started with one and once we got the system down I added more. Now, I actually just add the words he needs for his reading curriculum so he can read the accompanying readers. If your child is in school and on a traditional schedule, I would download a list of the first 100 sight words and start there with as many as he or she can handle at a time.

      Reply
      • Mari carmen

        Great post and question!
        Very helpful.

        Reply
  2. natalia

    Excellente video!! I learn something new today to teach my son!!!

    Reply
  3. Amanda

    Thank you for the post. I will try it with my son. I wanted to ask what was the name or where you got the letters that were on the board that that is on your table. I have been looking for some for my son and I like how yours are colored differently and have the letter blends together. Thanks!

    Reply
    • marianne

      Hi Amanda. I love those tiles! They are from All About Reading

      Reply
  4. Susan

    Thank you for sharing this. What a cute and cooperative subject you had for your video! I am a kindergarten teacher and I am going to try this method with some of children who are struggling with sight words and beginning reading skills in general.

    Reply
    • marianne

      Hi Susan,
      I am so glad to hear you say that. I truly believe that if struggling learners were taught in more multi sensory ways (such as this sight word method) we would have fewer problems learning.

      Reply
  5. Stephanie

    Ben is such a cheerful helper Marianne! I am loving All About Reading for Ivy, thank you for having the resources for us!

    Reply
    • marianne

      Thanks Stephanie!

      Reply
  6. Julie

    With regard to sight words…they can be divided into phonetic and non phonetic. The non phonetic are sight words that do not follow the rules and therefore can be practiced in the format suggested above. Another helpful tool is to have the student “air write ” the word forward and backwards. Saying each letter name out loud. Asking the student to spell it backwards forces the brain to create a mental image of the word. Practice this method until mastered and always review mastered words until you are confident they know them and can use them in sentences. The other type of sight words are phonetic and can be sounded out if the student has been taught the 44 sounds that govern the English language. They can then tap out most phonetic sight words to read and spell with ease.

    Reply
  7. Shay

    I have had great success teaching reading/spelling of sight words to my Dyslexic students with the method you described but also with songs-5 letter words can be spelled to Bingo, 6 letter words to Happy Birthday, and 7 letter words to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Yes at first my middle school students balk at the idea of singing them…and then when they are writing and have to spell one of these words I hear them start humming and then they are muttering “Oh my god…it actually works!”

    Reply
  8. Roma

    Hi there,
    Great article. Just to add on the visual piece, since memorization is hard for children with dyslexia, and they are usually right-brained learners, having picture cues in the tricky letter of the sight word really helps. I’ve tutored children with dyslexia for the past 8 years and discovered this helps it go much faster, and the kids have a lot more fun this way!
    You can find samples of some picture cards I created at my website:
    http://www.iseeispellilearn.com

    Thank you for your blog and helping others navigate the dyslexia waters! 🙂
    Roma

    Reply
    • marianne

      Thanks for sharing these Roma. I think it depends on what a child’s particular learning style is. It seems like my kids tend to prefer (or learn faster) with anything involving kinesthetic activities.

      Reply
  9. Christine

    Thank you for this wonderful video! Your son is so cute, Marianne. I smiled all the way through it. What a wonderful helper he is!

    Reply
  10. Jennifer

    This method has been very helpful, and might I add that your son is adorable!

    Reply
  11. kim krauss

    love the info and video

    Reply
  12. Katie

    Hi,
    My question refers to issues with sight words in context. My daughter is in 3rd grade and we diagnosed her with a specific learning disability in reading at the end of first grade. Her greatest struggles in her reading are beginning blends, chunking a word to break it down and read its parts, and common sight words like “a” and “the”. In the context of a story she is often getting these words wrong, but if she were to see it in isolation on a flash card for example she does fine. Do you have any suggestions or strategies for this type of in-context difficulty with sight words?
    Thanks so much! Oh, she is in a traditional classroom, but I am a teacher and spend lots of time working with her 🙂

    Reply
    • marianne

      I would make flashcards and have her review them frequently. If she doesn’t know them, go through the sight word study method in this post. My 3rd grade son often doesn’t recognize a sight word at the beginning of a sentence because of the capital letter so I make him flashcards with the first letter in caps.

      Reply
  13. Nicky

    Hi Marianne,
    Thank you for sharing this, it was exactly the inspiration I was looking for! I’m Dyslexic myself and after a parent teacher conference it became apparent that as well as my worries about it, the school also are suspicious that my 5yr old daughter is also dyslexic. I wanted to try and help her achieve, at this critical point in her learning, as I could see she was already beginning to feel she couldn’t do what the other kids could and this was having an emotional impact on her. My instinct is that she needs to learn in a much more tactile, physical way and your video is just the starting point we were looking for and oddly with the word that causes the most upset as she just can’t get it (and wants to). I’m going to give it a try with her and I’ll get back to you with how it goes. Thanks again! Nicky

    Reply
    • marianne

      So great that you are finding this out early Nicky. Yes! Please let me know how it goes. 🙂

      Reply
      • Nicky

        Hi Marianne, just wanted to let you know that my daughter and I started using your method of learning sight words. We started with ‘the’ as that tends to cause a lot of frustration for her as she just can’t seem to get it. We used your method and she could do it – straight away – it’s made it easier for her when she’s doing her reading as the sentences flow better and I think she feels like she’s actually reading rather than just sounding out strings of letters. We tried ‘and’ next and so far she’s doing well with it. She seems to enjoy that she has success with learning in this way. So thank you once again for sharing this method!

        Reply
  14. Christy Reeder

    Interesting! Thank you for sharing this. I wonder if a similar approach might work to help my dyslexic 5th grader master her multiplication facts. May experiment with that.

    Reply
  15. Kathryn

    Is there a system for teaching them numbers. We are finally getting his sight words(omg thank you for the video doubled his known words in 10 days) but he cannot manipulate numbers counting 10, 9 ,8. Or 5, 6, 7. He knows how to count he just cant start from anywhere but 1.

    Reply
    • Nicky

      Hi, My little girl is having the same trouble (I do too) – if she’s starting other places or hasn’t got a good run up to show the order she tends to go backwards and you can see the frustration in her face.

      We were recommended a coaching book called ‘Plus 1″ by David Sharp. I wasn’t sure about it at first as it looks REALLY dull and I thought she wouldn’t be interested but actually she likes it and I think it is helping.

      It gives the kids a set of things such as pictures of dice and says ‘say how many dots’ and if they get it right they get a tick and if not a dot. They do it each night until they get three consecutive ticks. I thought wow, that’s really repetitive but actually I think the repetitiveness began to give her more confidence and helped with her recognising the numbers. It also showed me she had no trouble with the maths ‘concepts’ which was great, she just had trouble ‘managing’ the info.

      We’d also be interested in any other ways of helping if anyone has them as there’s not as much info about numbers.

      Reply
  16. Heather A

    Hi! Do you happen to have any resources or tips on best ways to teach dyslexic child their alphabet? Thank you in Advance!

    Reply
  17. Jo Plant

    Do you have any advice for teaching a year 6 child (age 10/11), as they spell phonetically. This is proving difficult even with basic sight words. Thank you

    Reply
  18. Renee Smith

    I am not a parent of a child with dyslexia, but I am a tutor for children age 5 through grade 6. We seem to attract children with dyslexia so I have had to learn how to teach these children. I use All About Spelling and I also use Child 1st’s flash cards which have the sight words visually displayed in picture form that reflects the meaning of the word on one side and the word in black writing on the back. I have had a lot of success using these word cards.

    I use a lot of the same resources that parents homeschooling do.

    Reply
  19. Teresa

    As a side note, what a cute little boy! 🙂

    Reply
    • Marianne

      Thanks Teresa!

      Reply
  20. Elizabeth

    I know this comment is late. I just discovered your site! We are using All About Reading too. Do you do this method with all their word cards or just the “frog words”? Also, with frog words, do you find it helpful to mark the letters that make an unexpected sound? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Marianne

      I’m not sure what you mean by ‘frog’ words?

      Reply
      • Elizabeth

        I meant the cards that have a frog pictured on them because there is something about the word that they can’t sound out from the rules they have already learned. Do you only do this method for those cards or all the cards?

        Reply
      • Elizabeth Childers

        The curriculum actually calls them “leap words.”

        Reply
  21. Hope

    Marianne, have you ever heard of Logic of English? If so what are your thoughts on it for teaching someone who is dyslexic. I have heard good reviews about Barton but I seen a lot of parents that said it moved to slow with their kids and they got bored. That would definitely be my son he gets bored easy and has trouble sitting still. I believe he is probably more of a kinesthetic learner. He can do visual and can do sound but has a hard time following more than one thing at a time. So I assume sound probably isn’t too great for him but he can do it. My son hasn’t been tested for dyslexia yet. We are trying to come you with the money but I wanted to go ahead and get a program to start helping him. He has all the signs of dyslexia and a few professionals that said I should have him tested. I just want to find a good program for him because he isn’t far enough behind on school to qualify for help but he is behind his classmates. At his school they can’t move on from their spelling words until they have mastered them which is great because you know they know them but the 2 spelling word list before the ones he has now took him 2 weeks to master and this list he is on now is going on the 4th week and he still hasn’t got all of them mastered. He is in forst grade by the way. Thank you for your help.

    Reply
    • Hope

      I am sorry my auto correct messed up some of my things. It should have said trying to come up instead of you. Behind in school not on and in first grade.

      Reply
  22. Natalie Argyle

    How many days a week do you think this needs to be done to be effective?

    Reply
    • Marianne

      I practice sight words every day we do reading instruction – at least 3 days per week!

      Reply
  23. Marlene

    I am currently performing research with a method I have created on teaching reading fluency with a focus on the proficiency of sight words. I am calling sight words “abstract words” because they do not follow spelling rules and they have no concrete connection to allow for better understanding. I believe that is why “sight”/”abstract” words are difficult to learn because of the abstractness of the word. Spelling sight/abstract words happens naturally after seeing the words in print. I have taken students from a level A to a level F in a 6 week period using this method I have developed. The words are not learned in isolation with repetition but within context of text. I hope to go public in the spring with my method.

    Reply
    • Marianne

      Be sure to let us know when you launch. We’ll be curious to see what you’re working on!

      Reply
  24. Jennifer

    Have you ever looked at and tried Writing Road to Reading? It uses the Orton-Gillingham approach and is Very similar to All About Reading. You can learn more about it at the website ‘The Works People’. Jay Patterson and his wife Jean

    Reply
    • Marianne

      Hi Jennifer. I have owned it but found it cumbersome to figure out. I do know others with more patience who have used it and loved it though! 😉

      Reply
  25. Jessica

    hello I have dyslexia and I went to a school for dyslexic children in Florida called DePaul School. What we did to learn sight words was with a “memory board” which is almost like fine sand paper. You spell the word out on this board with your pointer finger and then slide with all four fingers. We did this three times. I will also say that we were taught cursive handwriting. The reason is because it is a constant flow which is good for memory.

    Just wanted to share what worked for me.

    Reply
    • Marianne

      Thank you Jessica! How wonderful that you had that opportunity to be taught in a place that really understood how you learned. 🙂

      Reply
  26. Margo

    Thank you for this wealth of information. I just liked your Facebook page. I use the Wilson Reading System with my dyslexic students. So glad to hear the voice of reason when it comes to teach dyslexic children.

    Reply
  27. Heather

    Love this. Can’t wait to start using it with my kiddos. What an adorable and enthusiastic student you have!

    Reply
    • Marianne

      Thank you Heather!

      Reply
  28. Bugsmom

    Just came across this explanation and video. My son is really struggling and i just tried this with him using the word “for” – he actually seemed to have fun doing it AND at the end, he looked at the word and said it. THANK YOU!

    Reply
  29. Stephanie

    Thank you so much! I have been going over the same words for weeks now with my son and they are just not “sticking”. Definitely trying this today!

    Reply
  30. Christy Olsson

    Hello. I just wanted to share my method of teaching sight words to kids with dyslexia. I am a Certified Academic Language Therapist- a learning and Dyslexia specialist. I too struggled with teaching sight words, until I “struck gold.” I made Quizlet flashcard slides with the words on one side, and whenever possible sign language on the other. If there was no sign -for words like ‘the,’ ‘is,” “are,’ i inserted clip art pictures. Some of my students helped me come up with some pictures. “The” is a boy pointing. When we are learning the sight words, I have them learn to name the signs and pics first, then we see the words and the signs together (click on the both option). I have them read the word and do the sign. I cannot tell you how wildly successful this has been!

    Reply
  31. mandy

    I just recently discovered your site trying to find ways to help my 6 year old boy. Thank you so much for the video! He is in kindergarden and we are halfway thru the year and he still does not know his ABC,s other than the letters in his name and he can not remember sight words. He is not as bad with numbers just needs reminders. On his second report card he was actually going backwards! He was already in an IEP program and getting speech therapy. I started suspecting dyslexia ( I don’t know why I didnt notice before because me and my mom have mild dyslexia) . We tried your technique in the video after a bit of getting him to focus. I reviewed over it with him twice that day and he was able to read ABC in order and out of order without hesitation and his two sight words we worked on! At the bus stop the next morning I decided to ask him to spell the two words. He used his fingers and wrote and said letters in the air and then said the word. I was impressed ! it was a BIG leap from before! Now I feel better knowing there is a way for him to finally make progress! And most importantly it is making him feel better! Thank you soooo much!

    Reply
    • Marianne

      Wonderful! Thanks for sharing!!

      Reply
    • Anon

      The multisensory aspect of your suggestions on how to teach sight words is consistent with decades-long methods that have thus far been pretty helpful, especially for kids with dyslexia. The last 20-30 years, however, have brought us more information about the brain and how it stores language. Some great resources are this 2-part video (https://youtu.be/DL_vCCP-YtU) and the book on which that video is based (Dr. Kilpatrick’s “Equipped for Reading Success.”)

      We now know that sight words (even irregular words) should be taught with special attention towards the phonemes, not their visual characteristics. Tracing and repeatedly reviewing the words isn’t as effective as phoneme awareness, including the phoneme that makes an unexpected sound.

      The words “was”and “the,” for example, are actually decodable and should be taught based on the (regular, though less common) phonetic sounds in them. Some good resources on this topic are here (https://vimeo.com/334044608 and https://vimeo.com/324231025) and the book “Sounding Out Sight Words” by Denise Eide.

      Please consider updating your post about sight words to reflect what we’ve learned from the science of reading.

      Reply
  32. Leslie

    I can’t thank you enough for your help! I’ve been using this method for two weeks now, thanks to you. I have a question; My 7 year old daughter was taught the letters phonetically, not so much by their name. When saying the letters when learning site words, should I have her name the letter itself or say it phonetically? She’s been doing both…is it better to stick with one or the other?

    Reply
    • Marianne

      I was taught to have them say the letter names. I would do that and prompt her if necessary. It will help with spelling.

      Reply
  33. Gaila Morrison

    Please check out Great Leaps as a very effective system for gaining fluency in reading. It works.

    Reply
  34. Kim Swords

    My daughter now reads sight words relatively well by using methods much like these. Learning to spell them however has been pretty horrible. Any advice on teaching dyslexic kiddos to spell sight words?

    Reply
    • Marianne

      This method should also work for spelling. If they begin to say the sight word – the spelling should come to them. Another resource that we LOVE is See to Spell.

      Reply
  35. Anna

    Ben is such a cutie! Thank you for the video. My son needs a lot of help with sight words and this was very helpful!

    Reply
  36. Carley

    I am so grateful for your website. What a blessing it has been. My 9 year old dyslexic son is doing AAR 1 and i can tell he is feeling discouraged bc his younger sister has surpassed him by quite a bit. I have considered adding sight word practice to his reading. AAR does not have much (so far.) I want to build up his confidence and for him to look through a book and recognize more words than just the phonetically spelled words. Do you think this would be okay to add alongside AAR? I was thinking of doing a word a day 3-4 times a week. IF there is anything else you would suggest to help build confidence I am open! Thank you!!!

    Reply
    • Marianne

      I think teaching sight words is an excellent idea! Use a list of 100 or 1000 most frequently used words. This will help boost reading ability and confidence.

      Reply
  37. flashcards for kids

    Thank you for this wealth of information. love this !! Thank you for your blog
    Thank you so much!!

    Reply

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