Sight Words Activities for ESL Students

Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

Sight words are words that fluent readers recognize automatically. In this lesson, teachers will learn some sight word activities to use with English as a Second Language (ESL) students.

Recognizing Sight Words

Read the following sentence aloud: 'I saw the boy at the university's gymnasium.'

How many words from that sentence did you have to pause and sound out? Which words took a moment to recognize and which ones did you know just by looking at them? If you're like most people, the first few words of the sentence immediately registered when you read them. You've see words such as 'the,' 'boy,' and 'at' so many times that you can read them without thinking about it.

Teachers spend a lot of time teaching young students in elementary school to memorize sight words. Being able to read common words on sight is an important reading fluency skill that speeds up the reading process significantly. Just imagine if you had to take the time to sound out every single word.

Sight word recognition is just as important for ESL students as it is for native English speakers. Let's take a look at some sight word recognition activities that are suitable for ESL learners.

Roll, Read, Write

In this activity, the student rolls a die. Each number on the die corresponds to a sight word on a pre-made chart. The student reads that particular word aloud and records it on his or her chart. For example, rolling a two might mean the student will read and write the word 'walk.'

This activity is ideal for ESL students because it uses repetition to teach sight words. The more exposure students have to these words, the more they are building their vocabulary and improving their reading fluency.

Roll, Read, Write

Sight Words Parking Lot

Create a replica of a parking lot by drawing several parking spaces (or rectangles) on both the left and right sides of a piece of black construction paper. The center of the paper is where cars would drive to look for a place to park, and you might even draw yellow or white pavement markers down the center of the paper to make it look more realistic.

In each of the parking spaces, write a different sight word. Give the student a toy car and then ask him or her to park the car on one of the words. For example, you might ask the student to park the car on the word 'girl.' This activity is ideal for younger students who still enjoy playing with toy cars.

Often times, ESL students are under a lot of pressure to quickly acquire English. Activities like this one can help expose ESL students to common sight words without putting too much pressure on them.

Sight Word Graphs

Provide students with a worksheet that has a box of sight words at the top. Several of the words should be repeated. For example, you might have the word 'the' written four times, the word 'yes' written three times, and the word 'do' just once. Provide students with four different crayons or colored pencils and have them circle each word, using just one color for each. For example, the student might circle the word 'the' using the color red and the word 'yes' using purple.

At the bottom of the worksheet, provide a blank bar graph template. Have students graph their results by counting how many times each sight word appeared in the box at the top. Afterwards, students can discuss their results.


This activity is ideal for ESL students because it's very visual. Using colors and charts can help enhance comprehension.

Zap It

This is a fun game to help students learn their sight words and compete with classmates. To prepare, use a black marker to write different sight words on the tips of a pile of craft popsicle sticks. You should write only one word on each stick. Also, on a few of the sticks, write the words 'Zap it!' Place the sticks upright in a cup, can, or jar with the words facing down so students can't see them.

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