Thursday, March 28, 2013

Using Sight Word Phrases to Build Fluency

Teaching students sight words is an integral part of literacy instruction in kindergarten and first grade.  Most of our teaching involves instruction of individual words. We use word walls, flashcards, sight word worksheets, games, and working with words activities. However, using sight word phrases is useful for many reasons. Whether you use the Fry list or those from the Dolch list, the benefits of exposing students to phrases include:
  • sight word recognition
  • increased fluency
  • uses words in context
  • increased comprehension

Once students have learned or have been exposed to the Pre-Primer and Primer lists, sight word phrases can be introduced.  I have even used the phrases with kindergartners who have been working with the Pre-Primer list early in the year.

 We know that explicit, direct instruction is important, especially with word work. A sight word or words is taken out of context for instruction,but it is important that the word is immediately placed back in a text for optimal learning. Using phrases helps to scaffold the learning, bridge the learning, if you will, from reading words in isolation to reading groups of words.  So, if I am introducing the sight word "soon", I focus students' attention on the individual word by color coding (soon), building the word with magnetic letters, using a playdough or tracing mat, etc.   But then, I will go to the sentence level:  
We we will go to recess soon. 
 I will write the sentence on a white board or on the Smart Board and have students read it with me and then find the target word. Using a Reading Recovery idea, I will have students copy the sentence, cut the words apart, and then place the words in correct order, and then put their finger on the target word. Last, we will read a page of text from a book I have selected that uses the word.

 To foster fluency, our emergent readers need to know that reading involves reading a set of words, or phrases, and not isolated words. In turn, we know that if a child is reading fluently and has automaticity of sight words their comprehension will usually increase.  I always tell my students that they need to know their "lightning" words, lightening fast so they can save their smart brain power for the tricky words. Using the sight word phrases reinforces the idea that good readers read groups of words, phrases, and not word-by-word.

Lastly, and very importantly is to integrate writing with sight word/phrases instruction. I will select a phrase or have a student randomly select one.  For example, by the tree.  I will write the phrase on the board and ask, "What is by the tree?  Close your eyes and tell me what you see!".  When I did this last night with my first grader, he replied, "I see a cheetah by the tree."  (He is obsessed with cheetahs right now!).  I will write it on the board:  

 I see a cheetah by the tree. 

 Students will copy the sentence on their small white boards with an Expo marker and underline the phrase or write it in a different color like I did.  Next, students will write their own sentence.  I see a _______ by the tree. Then eventually, after gradually releasing the learning, they will write their own sentence independently.  As a side note, my students enjoy using the Crayola Dry Erase Crayons!

There are many other ideas, but as with all instruction, the process should be I do, we do, you do, using a gradual release model.  I have a few students that are still struggling with their grade level sight words.  I made an activity to use with them for Easter, but it can be used at any time. Sometimes, students that cannot read a word in isolation, can read it when it is context.  

Take the phrase "by the house"I showed this phrase to my kindergarten son.  I wanted to see if, one, he could read the phrase and if he knew the word by and two, could he read the word house if it was in a phrase?  He was able to read the entire phrase and used the initial letter as a clue (visual cue) and the syntax cue to read it successfully.

The above phrases are part of my "Peeps in a Basket", an activity I created for my little ones who are struggling.  I have used it in 1-1 tutoring and in a small group.

This flexible working with words packet can be used in a variety of ways: small group, 1-1, literacy center.  The pics below show what some of the pages look like as I was getting ready to use it with a student. The pages are available in color, but I ran out of yellow ink and printed them on colored paper using gray scale.  They turned out just fine!

I store my activities in a large zip-lock bag

Teacher Mom of 3

Teacher Mom of 3

Teacher Mom of 3

Teacher Mom of 3

Teacher Mom of 3

The winner's prize?  Peeps, of course!

That's it for today.  I just wanted to give you a little peep peek at my newest activity that I am using for fluency and sight word practice.  

How do you assess fluency?  Do you use a fluency rubric?  Leave a comment below!


  1. I need to start using fluency phrases, instead of individual words. You may have just given me the push that I need. :)

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Ronnie! Let me know how it goes with the phrases! :-) Lauren

  2. Hi, I love the way you presented sight word phrases in a way that will engage kids and hold their interest! Thanks for sharing, Anne

    Common Core Connection

    1. Thanks, Anne! This game is a lot of fun- even for me! :-) Lauren


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