In this lesson you will be introduced to teaching ideas and strategies you can use to help teach students how to read. The lesson focuses on sight word and phonics strategies that can be applied to new and struggling readers.

How to Teach Reading

Teaching reading can be challenging, but when you have the right tools in your belt it can actually be a lot of fun. The most rewarding part of being a teacher, from my perspective, is watching a student grow from not being able to read (or being a self-proclaimed non-reader) to loving to read and being motivated to improve their skills. This lesson will provide you with strategies based on sight words and phonics rules that you can use with your students. Know that not one strategy with fit all students and you will need to adjust your instruction to best meet your students’ needs.

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Sight Words

Sight Words are those words that don’t always follow ‘sound it out’ rules and students just have to memorize. There are 220 sight words on the Dolch Sight Word list. The words are broken into lists based on age and grade level at which most students are able to successfully read. Pre-Primer is the first list, and includes words such as ‘play’ and ‘with’. The lists go all the way to 3rd grade level to include words like ‘about’ and ‘better’. If a student is struggling to learn how to read, teaching sight words can be a useful to help them gain confidence.

Sight Word Activities

Repetition Repetition. Learning sight words requires a lot of memorization. In order to memorize anything it needs to be repeated several times over. Base your instruction on your students’ pace. Don’t push them faster than they can handle (but also challenge them to keep going and to put their best foot forward). Repetition does not have to be the same activity or strategy over and over again. Mix it up to make it interesting and try to use a combination of the strategies listed below.

Word Search. Challenging your students to learn sight words can be as simple as using a word search activity where they have to locate words in a variety of colors, fonts, and sizes. Word searches create a game-like opportunity for your students to interact with new vocabulary words in a fun way.

Write the Rainbow. Adding color to any activity can help stimulate your students’ brains and help them to remember their words. Have your students write their words in each color of the rainbow a few times each. This is especially helpful with visual and kinesthetic learners. The colors and repetition help students retain their new knowledge.

Build a Word. This activity can be done in many different ways. You can take a cookie sheet, dry erase marker, and magnetic letters to create a differentiated and hands on activity for your students to write and build the words on their word lists. You can create a worksheet for the student to cut out the appropriate letters and paste them in the correct order on their list. You can use play dough and have them literally build each letter in the word.

Make a Sentence. Having students create sentences with sight words can be done using picture cards as well as sight word cards. Students should be encouraged to build and create sentences that mean something to them. An example would be creating a book with picture cues and sight words and then practicing reading it out loud.


For any student who has a good grasp of sight words and is reading at a first or second grade-level they should begin learning phonic strategies. Phonics refers to how letters and letter combinations sound as they are put together to make complete words.

Correct Sounds. Wherever you students are in their reading ability, it is a useful refresher for students to start learning phonic skills by going over each letter sound. You would be surprised how many students mispronounce letter sounds, and that greatly impacts their ability to read words. Each letter has a clean sound. They don’t have vowel sounds at the end of them. The letter B, for example, is not pronounced /buh/. It is a clean /b/ sound with no voices, just air. You would not read the word ‘bee’ as ‘buhee’. It is imperative for students to be taught to use the right sounds if they are going to read words correctly.

Teach the Rules. When you combine any sort of letters there is often a rule to go with it. My favorite rule is ‘when two vowels go a-walkin, the first one does the talkin.’ That basically means, when two vowels are right next to each other in a word, more often than not the first vowel will say its name while the other one is silent. Teaching students the rules is a helpful way to encourage them when they run across a word they have difficulty with. Never just give a word to the student. Let them make mistakes and when they look to you for help, give them the rule they learned. Let them process it and apply it to the word they are working on. Then once they get it, it’s because they worked hard. Kind of like that rule for ‘if you teach a man to fish…’ Students will remember it better because they had to work for it.

Break it Down. Once students know the phonics sounds and rules, they can apply them to unknown words as they read. When they come across a word that is difficult, encourage them to apply their strategies and break the word down into sounds. Once they have done that, they can speed it back up and put all of the sounds together. You will have to model for them how to do this and may even have to practice with them a few times.

Lesson Summary

In this lesson you have learned several teaching ideas and strategies that you can use when teaching reading. Using repetition and mix of strategies is helpful when teaching sight words. Giving students their own strategies when learning phonics gives them ownership of their reading abilities.