I am a strong believer in several things when it comes to teaching the very young. One is that drill and memorization have no place with preschoolers. Another is that anything you can passively impart to preschoolers is going to be really potent in terms of their learning gains. Finally, I believe we underestimate what very young children can pick up on rather easily. So, while I am NOT a proponent of starting school earlier and earlier, and while I AM a proponent of plenty of free play for children, I also am a realist and know the culture we live in.
The Story of How Alex Learned Sight Words by Accident
Before I begin with the tips, I just have to tell you a story about a real child (I will call him Alex) that I came to know very well even though he was not a student of mine, per se. Alex was a preschooler who rapidly gained the status of “most famous kid in school” because of how defiant and out of control he was much of the time.
I got to know Alex because I took turns with his teacher and the principal walking him through the halls of the school in the attempt to calm him down and remove him from the classroom where he wasn’t doing so well. One morning, his teacher walked into my room with Alex to take a breather. Alex’s whole body was charged with negative energy; his face was screwed up in defiance.
But then, out of the corner of his eye he saw a pocket chart where I’d displayed some SnapWords® cards. “Stop,” he said. “Play. Sit.” It was like watching the eye in the middle of a ferocious hurricane to see the incredible change in Alex’s demeanor as his attention was caught by the SnapWords® cards that were duplicates of those displayed in his own classroom.
When his teacher and I recovered our wits, we asked Alex which other words he knew. Reluctantly, because he was not sure if by answering he would be venturing into cooperative territory, Alex began to point to other words he knew.
The reason for our surprise was that Alex did not cooperate with any formal teaching/learning experiences in his classroom. He opposed directions, choosing most often to do something naughty. But somehow in the midst of all his oppositional defiance, Alex had absorbed some words, drawn to them by their colorful, playful images.
Some Tips for Exposing Your Preschoolers to High Frequency Words in a Kid-Friendly Way
1. Make a sight word display at their eye level using a corkboard or a pocket chart.
2. Display SnapWords® cards in this area and then leave them there like you would a decoration.
4. Follow their lead. If they point to a word, tell them what it is. If they walk away and go play, great. If they ask about another word, tell them that word and comment on what is going on in the picture.
5. Rearrange the words from time to time so that they are not always in the same spot. Group them in pairs so that a phrase is formed such as “come here” or “sit down.” This will make an impression on the children that words actually convey meaning. You don’t have to teach this concept, the children will simply absorb this information on their own.
6. Make coloring materials available to the preschoolers so they can draw pictures of their favorite words if they want.
7. Laminate the Numbers & Colors cards and lay them out on a table in two rows-- one of the numbers and the other of the colors. Supply little objects for the children to use as counters and other objects in the colors they'll need to match the color cards. If they are doing the numbers, let them count out the correct number of objects to put by each number card. If they are playing with the color cards, they can group objects by color next to the color word cards.
8. Another game to play with the color cards: display the color cards in a pocket chart or on a bulletin board at eye level. Have the children take turns being IT. When they are IT, have them choose a color card and ask you to think of a food that matches that color. Ex: eggplant is purple, blueberries are blue, lettuce is green, etc.
9. When you eat a meal, ask children to identify which color words are on their plates, or, have them choose three color cards and make up a funny lunch with foods in their chosen colors. Let them color their funny lunch on a paper plate that has not been plastic- or wax-coated.
To Sum up, the Best Way to Teach Preschoolers High Frequency Words Is:
- to expose them to the colorful versions of the words
- by displaying them in the place where they play,
- by following their lead in talking about the words
- and by making everything you do with them play-based, fun, and hands-on.