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Tips for Teaching High Frequency and Sight Words

By Tiffani Mugurussa on October 30, 2012
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2

Many people believe sight words and high frequency words are synonymous. Although many high frequency words are also sight words, there is a difference. Sight words are typically words that students recognize immediately (within three seconds) and can read without having to use decoding skills while high frequency words are words that are commonly found in the English language. Amazingly, 50 percent of our written material is made up of 100 of these most frequently used words.


As a kindergarten teacher, I am usually the first person to introduce these words to my students. I begin introducing and teaching the words only a few weeks after the school year has started. Once we have become familiar with the alphabet, we jump right into learning words. Our list of words is composed of both high frequency and sight words. I refer to this list as our Super Star Word List.

There are many techniques and strategies for teaching these words. I try to use a combination of several because what works for one child may not work for all. Being able to recognize these words by sight can help to make students faster and more fluent readers.


Teaching Sight Words Through Music

If you are familiar with some of my previous posts, you know how much I enjoy using music in my classroom, and singing the sight words only seems natural. Kindergartners and little kids, in general, like to sing. Singing a catchy tune that also helps them to remember how to spell a word is just one more reason to use music in everyday teaching.

I have two resources for singing the sight words that I like to use. The first is from Dr. Jean, and the second is from a Scholastic teaching resource titled 25 Super Sight Word Songs & Mini-Books.


Teaching Sight Words Using Word Walls

Word walls are a great resource in the classroom when they are put to use. Just having a wall of words isn't enough — students need to be taught how to use the wall. Playing games that allow students to interact with the wall can help students learn where the words are located. Then, when a student needs a particular word, they will know where to find it. In my classroom I have two word walls, one with many of the high frequency words and the other showing only the words that my kindergartners must learn. As each new word is introduced, the frame is moved to highlight the new word.  


Teaching Sight Words Through Games

Playing games is a great way to learn and reinforce the words students need to learn. Here are a few of the games we play in class and that I encourage families to play at home with the flash cards I provide them:

  • Concentration — Write or print each word on two cards, shuffle, and lay face down to play.                             
  • Go Fish — Create a Go Fish game using the words you want the students to practice learning.
  • Word Searches — Create word searches using sight words or use one of the many available on the Internet.
  • Wordo — Played just like the game Bingo, but using sight words on a blank grid card.
  • Read the Room — For this game I post words around the room for students to find and record on their recording sheet. They think it is so much fun to walk around with a clipboard writing down words. We play this game all year long. Each time I add new words and change the cards the words are on. In the picture below, the words were written on leaves.


Teaching Sight Words Through Writing

The Daily Message

Each day I write a short message to my class. I do my best to use the Super Star Words we have already learned. After I write the message, I have students come up to read and circle the words with a yellow marker. We then reread all the words and count how many we have circled. 

Whiteboard Writing

I have a class set of whiteboard sentence strips. We use these to practice writing our Super Star Words. I will say the word, and then we spell it out loud before I model how to write it. Once students have written their word, they hold up their board for everyone to see. After we've learned a few words, we start writing simple sentences.


Teaching Sight Words With Manipulatives

What manipulatives do you use when working with words? Using different manipulatives during word work time can make learning seem more like a game. My students enjoy using the large magnetic letters to build words. Here are few other activities I use that involve the use of manipulatives:

  • Build the words with letter tiles or magnetic letters. 
  • Stamp the words using alphabet rubber stamps. 
  • Use alphabet cookie cutters or play dough letter stamps to stamp the words into play dough.


Teaching Sight Words Through Reading

My students get very excited when they begin to recognize the words they have learned in the books we are reading. I have a large collection of sight word readers. These books are available for my students to look at and read when they have finished their work. They also have their own personal book boxes where they keep the books we have made in class. Our class library contains a large selection of the Scholastic Sight Word Readers. I really like using these books because they are easy for my students to read, and the text is repetitive and predictable. The class sets also come with printable book masters and worksheets that I use as follow-up activities. To start your own collection of sight word readers, I recommend Sight Word Readers Box Set: A Classroom Set of Engaging Little Books That Teach the First 50 Sight Words.






Learning to read can be challenging and a lot of work. Children who learn to read high frequency words by sight will increase their confidence and fluency in their reading. Teaching sight words through songs, games, and the use of manipulatives makes learning them easy.

Comments (8)

Approximately how many words are on your Super Star Word List? I really don't want to overwhelm these kiddos with too many!

Thank you for these great strategies. I love using manipulatives with my kids too. I tutor a first grader and we make letters out of play-doh and turn them into words. First he makes the words by looking(he looks at the word on a flash card and makes it three times), then we do it without looking. First I remove two to three letters and mix them up; he has to put them back in the right spots. Then we mix all the letters up and he has to spell the word independently. He does well and loves this task. He picks up the spelling quickly when we do this.

You can find the sight word readers show above on Ebay. This store also has many other great teacher resources!!!


Thanks, these are great ideas. Where can I find HFW and sigh words for
PreK & K?

: write a paragraph that describes for parents what you will be teaching and why, and how students will be assessed.

As many times as I have tried, I can't come up with a way to do this when teaching high frequency words.


Thanks for explaining the difference between sight words and high frequency words. After all these years teaching, I was still a bit fuzzy on the distinction. You made it so clear!

Thank you for responding to my post. At this time I do not have PDF's available of the games I referred to. Most of these games can be played with basic sight word flash cards. As for word, students can fold a piece of paper into sections to create boxes t write their words in. I appreciate your comments.


Great ideas Tiffani...I like the way your bring your ideas to life with the photos as well. Do you have the PDFs for the games that you are sharing? I like to read your ideas and share them with my primary teachers on my staff.

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