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Teaching Sight Words to Students with Learning Disabilities

Instructor: Lori Sturdivant

Lori has a specialist's degree in Instructional Leadership/Mild Moderate and currently serves as the Lead Teacher for The University of Southern Mississippi's Autism Project.

Are you looking for new and exciting ways to teach sight words to students with learning disabilities? If so, this is the lesson for you! Here, you will find fun strategies for getting your students to recognize and retain their sight words.

Learning Disabilities and Sight Words

A learning disability is a disability that can affect the learner's ability to progress in reading, writing, math, or even certain functions such as receptive or expression communication. Learning disabilities can also cause learners to struggle with functional skills, such as planning, time management, organization, and task completion. It can also affect a student's ability to identify sight words.

Sight words are commonly used words that should be identified by sight because they don't follow rules or syllable types and are therefore difficult to decode. Students are taught to memorize sight words as a whole, by sight, so that they can recognize them immediately (within three seconds) and read them without having to use decoding skills. They are often referred to as 'high-frequency words' because they do show up often, but there is a distinction. High-frequency words the most common words found in written language, which can include but are not limited to sight words.

There are two widely known sight word lists used by educators, each sectioned by grade-level and ability. These lists were developed separately by education experts Dr. Edward B. Fry and Dr. Edward William Dolch, and they share many common words, such as 'and,' 'make,' 'where' and 'see.' You can't go wrong using words from either list or a combination of both!

Sight Word Strategies

The following strategies can be used for any learner. However, you should consider your students' learning style when selecting strategies for teaching sight words. This is vital for students with learning disabilities, because they will be stronger in certain areas than others. Visual, auditory, verbal, and physical are four of the most common learning styles, and every student will require a different mix of these styles. When you implement strategies that are geared towards their learning styles, you greatly increase their engagement and retention of the words into their long-term memory.

Strategies for Visual Learners

'See and say' is an effective learning exercise for visual learners. It involves simply using flashcards of the sight words--the student says the word they see on each flashcard and then either explain what the word means or use it in a sentence. They can practice with a peer (preferably one who has mastered the words already), at home with parents, or on their own. Another see and say strategy is to use flashcards depicting images of the sight words (this works best with verbs and nouns), and the student guesses what word is being depicted.

For our students with learning disabilities, chunk the amount of words into groups of five or ten at the most. You do not want to overwhelm the student with a lot of new words. You could also use different colored paper, or even make the ink of the words different colors, to capture the attention of a visual learner.

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