How to Help Active Children Learn Sight Words Child1st Publications
Feb 03, 2016

How to Help Active Children Learn Sight Words

Don’t ever, ever expect a very active child to just listen to you. Can they listen? Probably; maybe. But that is one doomed approach! Try instead putting something in their hands that relates to the thing you want them to learn.

I've sometimes felt like I was attempting to capture fireflies when I’ve tried to teach very active children to read. Of course if I had the child to work with, it is because he or she was not doing well in the regular classroom. I’ve personally gone to great lengths to stay in pace with a very active child… following him to the floor clutching my sight word cards, determined to lock in his attention. Imploring her to pay attention certainly does about as much good as saying, “Please stay in your seat.” I’ve learned a few little tricks in the process of trying to make learning happen for those little fireflies!

Engage their hands

Don’t ever, ever expect a very active child to just listen to you. Can they listen? Probably; maybe. But that is one doomed approach! Try instead putting something in their hands that relates to the thing you want them to learn. For instance, give them cards to match up (such as plain sight word with stylized sight word), or give them a set of cards that make a short phrase that they need to put in order. Maybe give them a whiteboard and a colorful dry erase marker and ask them to give themselves a check mark when they can accurately and instantly read a card you hold up for them. Engage their hands if you want to engage their attention and focus. 

Use images and color

One reason our sight word pictures are so successful with many kinds of learners is because of the colorful image embedded in the word. This color, the picture, attracts and holds the attention of an active child long enough to let that image carry the word into visual memory. It only takes a quick glance. The same thing does not happen with plain-font words. It just doesn’t. There is no visual hook that will capture their attention and there is no visual component that will take the word and store it in visual memory. A word embedded in an image will get transferred to the brain and will be stored like a picture and when the child sees that word later, the image will still hover around the word in his memory. Images are powerful vehicles for learning!  

Help active children learn sight words

Offer choice

For children who are super active and who have also experienced failure in school, offering them the choice of what they want to tackle will remove their attention from the fact that they have to tackle anything at all! Instead of saying, “We are going to work on your sight words now,” consider asking, (as you spread out the colorful images on the table) “Which of these words do you want to play with first?” Also offer the choice of how many words he or she will want to work with. Let the child decide! 

SnapWords images

Amplify their voice

Something we have found to be very helpful is to use a tool to amplify the child’s own voice. I like Toobaloos® because they will do some good things at one time for the children who have access to them. A Toob® will automatically focus the child’s attention on learning because his/her hand is actually pressing the Toob® to the ear, he/she is hearing his/her own voice focused, amplified, and blocking out other ambient noise, and the novelty of using a Toob® will make learning fun for the child. 


Let's put all the elements together in an activity.

Here is what you need:

A set of SnapWords® sight word picture cards Activities for Teaching SnapWords, the free book of games and activities that will lead you through teaching sight words to young children in short time frames (also good for these very active children!) A voice amplification tool such as a brightly-colored Toobaloo®

Here is what to do:

  1. Choose the word pack you want to work with (Download Sightword lists).
  2. Ask your firefly to choose any words he or she wants to learn and set the others aside.
  3. Explain the game you want to play from the book How to Teach Sight Words or use our suggested activity below.
  4. Give him or her a Toobaloo® to hold up to their ear that will amplify their voice (and importantly, will also keep one hand busy)
  5. Explain quickly that the Toob® will really help them because it will help them hear themselves better, and the SnapWords® will help them because their brains will snap a mental picture of the word, making it very easy for them to learn!

A great activity:

  1. Spread the cards your firefly has chosen to learn on a low table or the floor.
  2. Point to each word in turn and just say what the word is.
  3. Ask the child to hold the Toob® to his/her ear.
  4. Ask the child to choose a word, pick it up with the not-busy hand, and tell you what it says.
  5. If he/she gets it right, the card goes face-down on the table.
  6. Continue until all the words have been turned over.
  7. Next, instruct the child to choose any word he/she knows for sure how to recognize, and while holding the Toob® at their ear, read the word to you. Any words the child can read instantly and correctly become friends and go out of the “to learn” stack!

Please share with our readers how you have successfully engaged very active learners in the process of learning sight words. We’d love to hear from you!

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