Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Multi-sensory Techniques for Sight Words in Guided Reading

The sweet, bright-eyed students that come to me often have difficulties automatically recognizing sight words, which significantly affects their ability to comprehend texts.  However, with the use of some explicit instruction and a few interactive, multi-sensory techniques, the kiddos can improve their sight word vocabulary. 

Multi-sensory activities allow students to simultaneously integrate their audio, visual and tactile senses to support their reading and spelling of sight words.  
Picture Resource
The Next Step in Guided Reading by Jan Richardson (my *go-to* Guided Reading resource) has an effective 4-step sight word routine for students to follow.   
Jan Richardson explains the order of the steps as going from easiest to most difficult to reflect the gradual release model of learning.  All four steps must be incorporated when learning each new sight word.  Each of these steps strengthens visual memory and gradually releases the responsibility onto the student.  

Step 1: What's Missing?  
You have two options as a teacher: write the word on a small, dry erase board held on your lap for students to see or have the students make the word with magnetic letters in front of them.  I've used both options.  When I have a small group, I prefer the dry erase board method.  However, when I have a student 1:1, I prefer having him/her use magnetic letters.  Students I work with 1:1 are struggling the most.  Using the magnetic letters allows them to use their tactile and visual senses simultaneously.  

Next, have the students spell the word aloud, while they point to each letter.  According to Richardson, students should spell the word aloud to make sure they are looking at the letters in sequence.  Then, erase or take away one letter from the word without the students seeing which letter.  Finally, ask the students, "What's missing?" and have them supply the missing letter.  This procedure continues until all of the letters have been removed.  The student(s) must spell the word again looking at each letter in a left to right progression.

Step 2: Mix & Fix
Tell students to make the same sight word used in Step 1, while having them attend to the sequence of the letters.  They are then asked to "mix" up the word.  Students scramble the sequence of the letters until they are told to "fix" the word.  Students must then rearrange the letters into the correct order and spell the word aloud.  While spelling the word aloud, students should pull down each letter as it is said.  The "mixing & fixing" of the letters allows students to use their tactile sense.  

Step 3: Table Writing
Students are asked to write the sight word from Steps 1 & 2 on the table with their finger.  According to Richardson, the pressure applied to the fingertip while tracing is what makes the activity powerful, as well as stimulates visual memory for learning the sight word.  With my most struggling students, I often add sandpaper into the mix.

Step 4: Whiteboard Writing
Students are asked to write the sight word from Steps 1-3 on whiteboards and say (not spell) it aloud as they check it with their finger.  According to Richardson, the child should focus on the entire word, not the individual letters of the sight word.

If you follow this 4-step sequence for a particular sight word two days in a row, usually students will be able to identify the word.  Make sure not to introduce a new sight word until the student(s) can be successful with the previously taught sight words. Richardson also mentions students may need additional practice if they have extremely poor visual memory. 

Last, but not least, I've added a picture collage of additional interactive, multi-sensory techniques I've used with my students.  The manipulatives below support their learning of sight words as well, and seem to spark some much needed motivation in the hard-to-reach students.

Thanks for stopping by Literacy Loving Gals to read about a few techniques I use with my students to learn sight words during my guided reading groups.  A special thank you to 3AM Teacher, Educlips and Collaboration Cuties for the clip art and to Jen Jones for the font.

Enjoy your day! 


  1. I really like Jan Richardson's book too! My kids love to do the What's Missing activity. I tell them I am going to try to trick them and they tell me they are too smart for that to happen! :)
    Conversations in Literacy

    1. It's one of my favorites. I refer to it often! When I try to "trick" my students, they usually say, "This is easy!" I reply, "No, it's not. You're just smart." I can always get them to smile. Of course, they still make errors, but then quickly correct them. (Thank goodness.) ;) Thanks for commenting, Lori, and have a great day.

  2. Colleen,
    You are an amazing teacher and blogger! Your posts are so comprehensive and share so many great ideas! Thanks for another one that we can use for our word study PD next week!
    hugs friend!
    PS - Can't wait to hear back from IRC! #fingerscrossed :-)

    1. Oh my goodness, you are too kind, Michelle! :) Well, it's my pleasure if the post helps you out for your PD! Yes, I'm on pins and needles waiting to hear back- #fingersandtoescrossed =D


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