Promoting & Assessing Sight Word Automaticity

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

One of the most important ways to help emergent readers gain in competence and fluency is by promoting their awareness of sight words. In this lesson, learn how to assess students' knowledge of sight words and how to promote development of automaticity.

What Are Sight Words?

Jillian is a first-grade teacher who especially loves teaching first grade because of the tremendous gains she sees in her students' reading over the course of the year. Jillian dedicates instructional time to decoding, fluency, and comprehension, but she has seen that one of the things that really makes students take off as readers is their knowledge of sight words, or words that appear frequently in written language and often do not follow traditional rules of phonics. Jillian has learned that early level books often contain so many sight words that a child who knows these words automatically has a tremendous leg up in tackling text. Therefore, she devotes time in her class to helping her students learn sight words well, so that they do not have to think hard each time they encounter one of these words.

Assessing Sight Word Automaticity

As with many aspects of teaching, Jillian starts sight word instruction by assessing, or evaluating strengths and weaknesses in, children's ability to read sight words. In particular, Jillian is interested in assessing children's automaticity, or their capacity to read sight words without stopping to think or attempting to sound these words out. It is the ability to read sight words quickly and effortlessly that will contribute to children's reading success. To assess students' sight word automaticity formally, Jillian has them read down leveled word lists while she marks off both their accuracy and their speed. She also informally assesses children's familiarity with sight words when she takes running records or otherwise listens to them read.

Keeping It Fun

Once Jillian understands her students' awareness of sight words, she can begin instruction. Each week, she presents students in small groups with 3-6 new sight words. She chooses the number of words based on students' capacities and their openness to learning. Jillian finds that the introduction of sight words works best if she makes a game out of it. She writes sight words on flashcards and teaches children to test themselves multiple times, keeping track of their gaining speed. She creates memory games, like sight word bingo, sight word concentration, and sight word word hunts, to allow children to continue having fun even as they exercise their memory. In general, Jillian understands that repeated exposure to sight words is what helps grow children's automaticity, but she knows that few students respond well to drills that aren't made lighthearted in some way.

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