There’s been a lot (and I mean A LOT!!) of discussion lately in several of the preschool/pre-k teachers Facebook groups I’m a member of about teaching sight words in pre-k. It seems that many teachers teach sight words to their kiddos because they choose to, others because they are required to, and others don’t teach them at all. Not surprising, considering how diverse our teacher community is, right?
But, most of the discussions have a lot of common elements. These are the things I read over and over again in those threads:
- sight words aren’t developmentally appropriate for pre-k
- all kids are different and some might be ready for sight words
- send a list home and let the parents teach sight words to their kids
- they have to know so many sight words in kindergarten, we really need to get them started in pre-k
I have to say, I both agree and disagree with parts of each of these statements.
- I don’t believe sight words on their own are developmentally inappropriate for pre-k kiddos IF they are taught in a developmentally appropriate way.
- Some kiddos might be ready for sight words, but they still must be presented to pre-k kiddos in the right way.
- IF the kids are ready for it, and IF you’re teaching them in developmentally appropriate ways at school, there are ways to let your kiddos practice them at home with their parents.
- They do have to know a lot of sight words in kindergarten (That’s the part of that statement I agree with.), but that doesn’t mean that I have to feel obligated to teach them in pre-k. They are part of the kinder curriculum, not the pre-k curriculum.
So… where does that leave us? Well, the leading authority on all things preschool is the NAEYC. You can read their position statement on learning to read and write here. If you read this document, you’ll notice that sight words (or high frequency words) aren’t even mentioned until kinder. But, development is a tricky thing. Each kid is different. So, my approach is to expose my kiddos to a wide variety of things, watch for what they grab on to, and follow their lead. (And I do that with pretty much everything from an academic standpoint, not just sight words!)
The biggest teaching tool for me when it comes to this is shared reading. According to Fountas and Pinnell (My early literacy heroes!!) in the book Literacy Beginnings: A Prekindergarten Handbook, shared reading is when you read a big book or an enlarged print version of a poem in unison with your kiddos. They go on to say that it is by nature inclusive, and it encourages all children to participate as “readers” even if they are not yet readers in reality. We do shared reading in my room every single day!
Here’s an example of one of the poems that is currently in one of our pocket charts:
The first few times we read a new poem, we echo read. (I read a line as I point to the words then I point to the words again and my kiddos read it.) Once they have the basic gist of it, we just read it together. By the end of the week, my kiddos can come point to the words while we all read it. They also LOVE to get one of the pointers and read these during centers!
After we’re done with a particular poem in our whole group setting, a smaller version of it moves to our reading center.
They always have multiple poems to choose from, in addition to all of the books that are in the reading center. But, they love to continue to read the poems with pointers, even long after we’ve moved on to new ones!
My main goals with shared reading are centered around the prekindergarten guidelines. Concepts of print are huge in pre-k, so we work on that a LOT! I also use the words from the poems (once they are familiar with them) to work on phonological awareness.
Every once in awhile, you have that kiddo who says, “Mrs. A! This and this and this are the same!” as they point to the word “am” in every line. Or, they notice that “i-n” is in the poem, and it’s in the morning message. Once they start noticing these types of things, they are ready to start recognizing some basic sight words.
However, even with these kiddos, I still do NOT do formal sight word instruction. No flash cards. No worksheets. No writing practice. I simply become VERY intentional about asking them the right questions to push them a little farther. I point out the words they’ve become familiar with in other settings to see if they can make that transfer. I give them opportunities to read things that we encounter that contain the words they’re familiar with. I continue to push them and their learning, but I continue to do it through authentic and play-based experiences.
Simply stated, I watch for what they grab on to, and I follow their lead.
It’s really no different than when you notice a kiddo is struggling to write her name, so you put some extra supports in place to help her be successful.
If you want to check out my shared reading sets, you can find them in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store! There are several to choose from, and I’m adding to them almost weekly, so keep checking back!
It’s not rocket science, and it’s nothing super extraordinary, but that’s how I approach sight words in my classroom!
How do you approach sight words with your pre-k kiddos?