Sight Word Activities

Part 3: Activities to Support Explicit Teaching of High Frequency Words to Become Sight Words

Sight word activities by reading in context

As I explained in my previous blog posts about sight words, we need to analyze and use high frequency words to orthographically map them as sight words.  In this final Part 3 blog post, I will offer several different sight word activities for reading, comparing, illustrating, and using high frequency words in context.


Thanks to science, we know that we orthographically map irregular words the same way we map regular words.  When a student’s brain connects letters in the spellings of words to the sounds in the pronunciation, the brain also instantly connects the pronunciation to the meaning.  This process is applied when words are read AND spelled.

The tricky part with many high frequency words and/or irregular words is that their meanings are not concrete. It is more difficult for students to grasp the meaning of abstract words like have or does. (You can read about this in more detail in my previous blog post too).

So, your students will benefit from opportunities to read and spell these high frequency words in context.  Have your student work in a simple to complex manner by reading phrases, sentences, and connected text with the high frequency word you are working on.  Then, have him write a sentence with it and/or draw a picture of the sentence to illustrate his working knowledge of the word.  Reading, using, and explaining a word will help cement its meaning into your student’s long-term memory.

Sight word activities by reading words in context.


When you plan which high frequency words to teach and in what order, consider pairing certain spelling patterns together.  This will help your students see and make connections between words.  For example, could you pair the high frequency words now and how together? What about have, give, and live? See below one way to pair the high frequency words does and goes together with their spellings:

Does:  “Use this in a sentence.”  He does good work.  “Good. The word does is related to the words done, doing, and its base word do.  We add -es just like we do when adding the similar suffix in the word finish + -es = finishes.  So, duz as a spelling for does would never work because it is not using the base word do!  The same is for the word goesGo + –es = goes. The pronunciation may change, but the spelling of the base word stays the same.  So, go + –ing = going; go + –ne = gone.

Syllable Types: You can also pair high frequency words and irregular words together as syllable types.  For example, group the open syllable high frequency words together as we discussed in part two of this blog post.  Give your students a blank syllable chart to add to as they learn new high frequency words. Being able to sort the words correctly by syllable type in a chart is a higher-level skill.  This is the analysis that we want our students to do to turn high frequency words into sight words.

Sight word activities by sorting by syllable type.


Hunt for high frequency and sight words in connected text and practice them in oral reading.  Talk about grammar, synonyms, and how the words relate to the sentence. Below are some guiding questions to ask your students about these words as they hunt for them and find them in their reading:

  • What part of speech is the word?
  • What is another word the author could have used instead?
  • Can you use this word in a different sentence?
  • Does this word always occur in the same part of the sentence?
  • Is it a content word (holds meaning on its own) or a function word (does not hold much meaning on its own and functions to help other words in the sentence)?


Advanced reading skills do not necessarily correlate with advanced spelling. I recommend that you use your student’s writing to inform your instruction. You can address the student’s specific spelling errors so that he can orthographically map the words correctly. When trying to figure out which spelling errors to address first, give priority to phonemic awareness errors (omitted phoneme spellings or substitutions like wif for with), general patterns (funy for funny), and then morphology errors (vacation as vacashun or stopped as stopt).  Below are two examples of how to address student errors in writing:

wint for went:  Ask your student to tap out the sounds and then direct him to the sound you want him to fix.  Explicitly address the misspelled part by discussing his chin/tongue placement and the difference in the short e and short i vowel sounds. Then, ask your student to write the correct spelling three times as he says the word aloud.

wint for went:  Circle the word and write a similarly spelled word beside it. Write rent or sent next to wint.  Just make sure to write a word that includes the same spelling pattern that was misspelled.  Direct the student’s attention to the word both visually and auditorily.  Through guided discovery, help him find the spelling error.  Have him rewrite the word correctly three times as he says it aloud.

**Pop quiz:  How would the spelling error above (wint for went) inform your instruction?

ANSWER:  Review short e and short i !!


Below are links to additional resources to help build your students’ orthographic mapping and phonemic awareness skills.  When these sight word activities are paired with using the target word in context, your student will be well set up for success!

Step-by-Step video tutorial on how to teach a High Frequency word from the phoneme-grapheme mapping stage all the way through to using it in context!!

Word ladders

Word chains

Look-alike words

Word mapping


How to Teach (& Master!) Sight Words in 5 Minutes a Day!

If you want to learn even MORE about how to teach sight words and use them in context you will LOVE my sight words mini course. Take your instruction to a whole new level with a high frequency words scope and sequence, 190 no prep teaching templates, an easy to follow 3-step method, 22 engaging sight words review activities, and explanations of the “why” behind all the irregular words. This is a course every teacher should take! Click here to learn more! 

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