What Are Sight Words?
What’s the most common word in the English language? It’s the. Imagine pausing every time you ran across this word in a book, on a poster, or in a magazine. Even the simplest text would become grueling to read.
Common words in the English language (like the) are often grouped together as sight words in the early stages of reading. Sight words aren’t easy to sound out or decode, especially for young readers who are just learning the rules, so we memorize them (in other words, recognize them by sight).
These words occur so frequently that readers, including very young readers, need to know them instantly. And once your child learns basic sight words they won’t need to spend a lot of time trying to decipher these high-frequency words. Sight words are dually helpful in this way: they help your child instantly recognize familiar words and help them bypass trying to sound them out because, phonetically, they often don’t make much sense!
The Short Cut
- Learning to read sight words is a key Core Skill, one of the 5 C’s at the heart of the Begin Approach
- Sight words are words that occur very frequently in English and can be hard to sound out, such as: said, and, the
- Discover sight words through tactile games to get your child’s senses engaged
Why Are Sight Words Irregular?
Why doesn’t the word was rhyme with has? Why doesn’t have rhyme with gave? The first of each is phonetically irregular, despite the fact that they’re some of the most common words in the English language. As adults who learned to read many years ago, we don’t think twice about why we pronounce sight words the way we do. We also don’t consider why was and has or have and gave don’t rhyme.
Our reading of these words happens automatically, and that’s what helps us read fluently. But early readers who are learning the rules of the English language need a little help.
That’s where sight word games come in! We’ve compiled a list of fun activities that you can do with your young reader to help them learn sight words. And these activities are great for both you and your child. For you, a majority of the activities require minimal supplies and prep time, which is great for a busy parent. For your child, the games are lots of fun, so they can learn without even realizing it. But before we get to these fun activities, let’s be clear on the specific sight words your child will need to be familiar with.
What Words Should You Use For Sight Word Games?
Decades ago, an educator named Edward Dolch developed a list, used widely by teachers, of the words most frequently used in children’s books. He identified 220 “service words” and 95 nouns. The words are broken down by levels: pre-primer, primer, first grade, second grade, and third grade.
Some of the 315 words that comprise the two lists are very easy for kids to learn: a, I, it. Others offer more of a challenge. For instance, the pre-primer list includes you, said, and where.
Here is a list of the 45 sight words we include in our HOMER reading pathway:
And, a, the, on, is, to, I, was, you, your, yes, no, do, they, with, that, are, said, girl, boy, were, this, look, like, want, has, of, what, see, go, play, here, very, good, his, her, there, where, have, walk, talk, know, blue, green, little.
Are Sight Words Just High-Frequency Words?
The short answer: not quite. But it’s a little more nuanced. While the terms sight words and high-frequency words are often used interchangeably, there are some key differences.
High-frequency words, as the name suggests, are the most commonly found words in our written language. For example, like, the, it, etc., are all high-frequency words. And some of them follow standard phonetic patterns while others don’t.
On the other hand, while sight words may frequently occur in text, what sets them apart is that they do not fit standard phonetic patterns or the applicable phonetic rules are more advanced. Therefore, they often need to be memorized.
In essence, many high-frequency words can become sight words once a learner reads them instantly without trying to decode them.
One of the best ways to help kids get to this stage of word recognition is to continue exposing them to sight words. This is where games come into play!
12 Fun Sight Word Games to Help Your Child Learn
We know how invested you are in your child’s future. We want to help you set them up with the best tools for success in the easiest, most enjoyable way possible. So here are some sight word games that will get their brain working and their belly laughing!
1. Sight Word Twister
This is a version of the popular game Twister. If you want to try this game, choose between six or twelve words to work with at a time. That number will depend on your child’s comfort level with sight words, their attention span, and the amount of time on your hands! Feel free to start small and work your way up with additional rounds.
Write each sight word you chose on a blank index card. Then, clear a space on the floor and tape each word so that they are all just a little bit apart from each other (make sure your little one can still reach!).
Now the fun begins! Tell your child to find one of the words — have, for instance — and place an elbow on the word. Then they must put their knee on a second word and their nose on a third. You can go on to a fourth, fifth, or sixth word, or you can stop at three.
Your child isn’t the only one who has to twist and turn. In our experience, kids want you to play along with them and be just as silly about the shapes you make with your body! Plus, giving your child the chance to choose the word you have to touch helps them practice reading their sight words. Being the “game boss” will give them another opportunity to learn!
2. Pick the Word
If you want to try this game with your child, write your six sight words on index cards — one word per card. On a separate sheet of paper, list the six words twice — one list for you, one for your child.
Next, place the index cards with the words facing down. You can take the first turn. After picking a word from your list, flip four of the cards so the words are showing. If you uncover the word you’re seeking, you can cross that word off your list.
At the end of your turn, flip the cards back over, mix them up, and give your child a turn at flipping four of the cards.
If on your first turn you did not find the word you wanted, you have to hunt for the same word on your next turn. If you found the word you wanted, pick a second word from the list.
The first player to cross off four words wins. To make the game more challenging, you can turn over three cards per turn instead of four, or you can aim to find all six words instead of just four of the words.
3. Word Match Up
On a sheet of paper, write your six sight words three times. Your child’s job is to draw a line that connects each word to the two identical words on the sheet.
After drawing a line that connects the first three words, it’s time to connect the next three matching words.
This game may sound pretty easy, but here’s the hitch: your child cannot cross any line already on the page. The page gets pretty crowded with lines, so this is not an easy accomplishment. They may end up with some kooky, loopy lines — and that’s the goal!
Try it yourself. The more you stumble and struggle, the more you and your child will get a kick out of the game!
4. Word Toss
If you’d like to give this game a go, write each sight word on its own Post-it® or sticky note and then stick the words on the floor. You can also stick them to a wall or a door.
Get a soft toy, like a small stuffed animal, and stand a few feet away from the words. Choose a word and say it aloud. Your child must toss the toy so that it hits the right word.
Your turn next! Your child picks a word for you to hit. The game is more fun if you miss, so don’t worry about having poor aim. You can play to see who reaches a set number of points or who has the most points after five or six rounds.
5. Sight Word Bingo
Selecting from the Dolch lists, you can make custom Bingo cards that use sight words. It makes the perfect, classic sight word game for your child!
We’re sure you know how Bingo works, but just in case, we’ll give you a refresher. Set up one regular bingo board (25 squares with 5 rows and 5 columns) each for you and your child. If more people are playing, you might have teams or make sure you have one card for each player.
Tell your child to pick 25 words (if they can’t think of any on their own, they can even pick pre-written words out of a hat!). The same words will go on both boards, but in different places on each. Then write the words on index cards. Turn the cards over and mix them up.
Players will take turns picking cards — reading the words and finding each word on their card. When they find a word, they will cover it with a token or a penny. The first person to get five words in a row wins. Bingo!
6. Sight Word Go Fish
Introducing your child to this game will be easier if they have prior experience with Go Fish. If they don’t, that’s OK! It’s easy to learn and a blast to play.
If you’d like to give this game a go, use index cards or cut pieces of paper for playing cards. You can write matching pairs of whichever sight words you want your child to focus on. It’s important that there are at least two cards for each word — the point of Go Fish is to match them!
We recommend starting with 20 cards (ten sets of words) and giving each player five cards in their hand. You can decrease the number for younger children and increase the number (or difficulty) of words as your child gets more comfortable playing.
Tip: For younger kids, you might let your child lay the words on the floor and hide them from you by using a book as a shield rather than them holding the cards in their hand, as that can be challenging.
Your child will read out the word they want to match. If the word is an, for example, and you have the other an card in your hand, then you have to hand it over. If you don’t have the matching card, then you tell them to “Go fish!” from the pile of extra cards.
If your child is a little older and experienced with some sight words already, feel free to sprinkle in words they already know.
The familiarity will help their confidence as they work with their new words. We all like the feeling of knowing how to do something correctly — reinforcing their knowledge positively (like through a game!) will help keep them inspired to learn more.
7. Sight Word Scavenger Hunt
This option is super versatile — it can be played indoors or outdoors!
We all love a good, old-fashioned scavenger hunt. Instead of hunting pastel eggs filled with candy, though, this game has your child hunting their sight words.
Write the sight words you want to use on a stack of index cards and number them 1-10. It may also be beneficial to write the words on a separate sheet of paper for your child to reference so they know the selection.
Then make a list of clues for those same words on a separate piece of paper. For example, one clue might be, “I __ a cookie” (have) or, “What word rhymes with buzz?” (was).
Next, simply hide the cards in places familiar to your child. You can use the backyard, a favorite park, or your whole house if it’s an extra rainy or cold day. They’ll use the clues to figure out which words to search for.
Tip: Make sure you remember where you put the cards! You’ll need to keep the different locations in mind while you write out your sheet of clues. The numbers on the cards should coincide with the clues. Have fun with some wacky rhymes and hints that will get your child laughing!
The clue list can also be made optional. If you’re working in a small space, your child can always just try to find however many words you hide. If they know to look for 10 cards, then they can just run wild through the room (hopefully not upturning furniture!) searching for them.
8. Sight Word Tower
This is an easy, fun sight word game for your child to try that we guarantee they’ll love — because it involves things crashing and making a mess (one that’s easy to clean up, we promise!).
While trying this game, you’ll need a stack of paper or plastic cups that you don’t mind writing on with a marker. Near the rim of each cup, write a single sight word you want your child to focus on (that way all the cups are the same).
Then your child simply picks up the cup, reads off the sight word, and tries to create a “tower” or “castle” out of all their sight word cups! Here’s the rub — you can only have four cups on the floor! All others must build on top of those three and cannot be inside each other.
The trick is to make sure the cups don’t fall over — if they do, you have to start again! They win once they stack all the cups (and read all the sight words!).
This sight word game is easy and simple as well. All you need is an inflatable beach ball that you can write on with a washable marker.
For each “sliver” of the beach ball, you’ll simply write down a sight word. Then you and your child will toss the ball back and forth. If you want to simulate a proper volleyball game, then you can do this over a net propped up in a yard.
When you catch the volleyball with your hands, you have to read aloud the two words your thumbs touch. For example, your left thumb may touch the word “blue” while your right thumb touches the word “our.” Once you read the words, toss the ball back to the other player.
You don’t have to write in between the lines on the ball, either. To make it wilder (and challenging!), you can write words all over the ball. That way the words your child “catches” are even more unpredictable.
10. Sight Word Path
All you need for this fun game is masking tape (or painter’s tape), index cards, and a marker.
First, write one sight word on each index card. Then, arrange your cards face up on the floor to make a “path.” This path doesn’t have to be straight. It can have as many twists and turns as you’d like (i.e., over the chairs, under the table, etc.).
When placing the cards, make sure they are close enough to each other that your child can step from one card to the next. Important tip: Don’t forget to tape them down with your masking tape to prevent slips or falls. Safety first!
Your child will need to stand at the beginning of the “path” you’ve created and read the word on the first card out loud to start the game. Then, when they’ve read it correctly, they step onto that card.
The goal is to read the next word, and the next, and so forth until they reach the end of the path. If you’re playing with multiple children, each child can start once the player before them has gotten to the end of the course.
Once your child is comfortable with this game, encourage them to read and walk more quickly. If they are just starting to learn sight words, you can first introduce them to easy terms and increase the difficulty as they go along.
This activity helps kids read sight words quickly and gain confidence through repetition–step by step! They’ll also be burning a lot of energy in the process!
11. Sight Word Discovery
Most kids love discovering interesting items in their homes or backyards. Sight Word Discovery takes this natural love for exploring and mixes it with learning.
You’ll need a few items to get started: index cards, a marker, a large plastic tub, a lot of sand, and craft sticks and rocks (these are optional).
First, write a sight word on each index card. Then, fill the large plastic tub with sand. While filling it up, randomly put the index cards into the tub. You can add some sticks and rocks to the mix as well.
For this game, your child will need to act as a paleontologist who’s on the hunt for sight words (no fossil-finding today!). Every time your child finds a new card, have them read it aloud. Wow! Look what I found! It’s “the!”
Sometimes parents find it difficult to encourage their children to participate in learning activities or games. But, since children often love playing with sand or dirt, you likely don’t have to worry about that here!
12. Sight Words on Playdough
Hands-on learning activities are a great way to help children grasp many concepts. That’s because they’re very interactive, allow for creativity, and help to make abstract concepts real.
All you need to get started with this game is playdough, magnetic letters (or letter cutouts from cardboard paper), index cards, and a marker.
The goal is to encourage your child to construct sight words using the magnetic letters. They will then place these letters upright on the playdough.
To play, place a stack of index cards in front of them, face down. Each index card will have a sight word. When your child draws a card, they’ll need to read it aloud and then construct the word on the playdough. For example, if your child draws the word like, they’ll need to read it, find the word’s letters, and place them upright on the playdough.
To make things a little more interesting, give your child a timer and ask, “How many words can you construct in five minutes?”
This is a great hands-on learning activity to help kids build their own sight words. And playing with other kids can add some friendly competition, too.
What About Reading?
Here at Begin, we’re big advocates of early childhood reading. Not only do books expose your child to sight words (and high-frequency words), but they also help improve their vocabulary, strengthen their concentration, and expose children to the world around them. In addition to playing the above sight word games, you can also continue to read regularly to your child to familiarize them with sight words.
Here are a few activity books you can also check out:
- Learn to Read: Sight Words Storybook (For 3- to 5-year-olds)
- 100 Sight Words Kindergarten Workbook (For 4- to 6-year-olds)
- Sight Words Word Search Book for Kids (For 5- to 7-year-olds)
- Sight Words and Spelling Workbook (For 6- to 8-year-olds)
Sight Word Games Are Fun And Functional
Games like these are easy to play, require very little equipment, and are highly effective. The more you play these or similar games, the faster your child will learn lots of sight words, which will make them stronger, more confident readers over time.
We hope you found some interesting options in this list that you’ll try with your child. Remember, sight word games are all about having fun and learning at the same time! Your child will work up their stamina the more they play these sight word games.
And as always, we’re here to offer a helping hand any time you need it. If you find yourself struggling to fit in practice time for your child’s sight words, you can leave them in our hands with the HOMER app. HOMER is proven to increase early reading scores by 74%!