Teaching Kids to Spell: Sight Words - dummies

Teaching Kids to Spell: Sight Words

By Tracey Wood

You and your child can have fun spelling sight words, which are words like they and were that your child writes all the time. Put them on slips of paper or use commercial flashcards and then use them in “Seeing and writing” spelling activities. Here are some easy ones to try out:

Seeing and writing

The simplest way for your child to learn to spell is for him to look at a word and then write it plenty of times. Have him do this by using ten of the sight words at a time and playing these “See and write” games with them:

  • Have ten sight words on ten pieces of paper. Have your child spread them out face down and then ask him to turn each word over, take a quick peek at it, and then write it on his paper.
  • Have your child put the ten words into a stack and ask him to turn each one over, quickly look at it, and then and write it down.
  • Holding the words in a fan facing you, ask your child to pick a word, peek at it, and write it down.
  • Holding the ten words in a fan facing you, ask him to select but not look at, a word and then take three guesses at which word he’s selected. If he guesses correctly, he takes a peek at it and writes it down. Keep going until he’s done all ten words.

Hiding and seeking

Most kids like hide and seek, but younger kids, in particular, like to find their words. Hide the ten words around the house and direct your child to them with hot and cold instructions. You know, when she’s getting closer to a word, tell her she’s getting hotter, and when she’s moving away from a word, say she’s getting colder. When she’s found all the words, dictate them for her to write.

Racing the clock

If your child wants a challenge, get out your watch or stopwatch. You can blow a whistle to start him off, too. Setting a time for him to beat, dictate the ten words for him to write. Or you can time him writing the words on the first dictation and then have him try to beat his own time with each successive dictation. You can play any of the “Seeing and writing” or “Hiding and seeking” games against a clock.

Keeping track

Your child wants to know that he’s doing well, wants to feel proud of himself, and needs you to show that you’re proud of him, too. The best way to track and acknowledge his progress is with a visual reminder. In other words, you need a progress chart. You can make a pie chart or line graph, if you’re handy on the keyboard, or a simple chart onto which your child sticks stickers is just as good.

A good way to start keeping a track of progress is to have a ten-week plan, which simply means that you plan to guide your child through ten new words each week for ten weeks, and then plot those weeks on poster paper. You can draw ten circles to be filled with ten stickers or stars each week or a bar graph to be made into ten bars each of ten units. Better yet, try drawing a line reaching to the moon for your child to color or stick stickers onto to see if he can spell into space. You can even make a picture with 100 segments that need to be colored in, or have a marble jar to be filled with 100 marbles or get 100 stick-it labels to be stuck onto a door.

Making the most of mediums

You can use different substances — like paint, wax crayons, and shaving foam — to write words with so that spelling is more fun. Get a large tray and reach for some sand, sugar, cream, shaving foam, pudding, mud, or rice. Have your child write his letters in whichever delicious or dirty medium you choose or have him create the letters to the words from modeling compound or pastry mix. Have a selection of colors and types and branch out into making bubble, rainbow, or shadow letters for effect. Bubble letters are the fat kind that kids love to doodle, rainbow letters are letters written in different colors, usually one color after another, and shadow letters appear three dimensional.

Games to go

These easy activities and games lend themselves perfectly to those times when you’re waiting at soccer practice or Brownies. You may remember some of them from your own childhood.

Straightforward oral spellings

Although not actually a game, you may be surprised to find how much your child likes straightforward spelling, especially if he’s already practiced the words and is pretty sure to get them all right. He actually likes you to ask him to spell them out loud. In the car, at the supermarket, or in the elevator, ask him to spell a few words for you. Younger, energetic kids will want to get right into the act, too.

Oral spellings with a theme

Think of a theme like words that end in tion or have more than three syllables, and take turns saying and spelling them. This activity works well with two or more children, and you can make the themes easier for the younger kids.


Boxes is more interactive than some games and the more your child plays, the better game he can give you. Start by drawing a square grid of dots, 4 dots by 4 dots (16 dots in all). Take turns drawing individual lines between two side-by-side dots. You can draw vertically or horizontally but not diagonally. Your goal is to complete more boxes than your opponent. Whenever you complete a box by adding the fourth side to a three-sided box, you put your mark inside your box (usually your initial) and get another turn. “So,” you’re asking, “where does the spelling fit in?” Give your child five free turns to start the game off, if he first spells five words correctly.

Words on your back

Have you a child with a vacant back? Write a word onto it with your finger. Write the first letter a few times until he figures out what it is, and then do the same with the remaining letters. When your child figures out the entire word, turn around and offer up your back for reciprocation.

Picture words

Words like jump, walk, and eat are good for doodling with. Ask your child to draw in and around the words to make them look like what they’re saying. Some letters can jump out of jump, walk can have a pair of feet added to the bottom of the k; and eat can be put on a plate. Let your child come up with good ideas for again, around, down, drink, grow, light, little, tent, and two.