Tips for Teaching Sight Words to Preschoolers

Help your child build a foundation for reading with these words and strategies

Boy sitting on mother's lap and using digital tablet

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As a child begins to read, the first thing they will need to learn is sight words. Sight words are high-frequency words that appear often in a text but can't necessarily be figured out by sounding them out phonetically. As a child moves through school, they will be expected to learn more sight words, building (or scaffolding) on the words he already knows. 

By the end of third grade, your child will be able to recognize more than 300 words.

Common Sight Words for Preschoolers

Once your child enters school, the teacher will have grade- and level-appropriate sight words for your child to learn. For preschoolers, the following sight words are most common:

  • A
  • Am
  • And
  • At
  • Big
  • Can
  • Down
  • For
  • Go
  • Have
  • He
  • I
  • In
  • Is
  • It
  • Like
  • Little
  • Look
  • My
  • Not
  • On
  • Said
  • See
  • She
  • That
  • The
  • To
  • Up
  • We
  • You

In addition to this list, you should include words that the child sees often, such as their name; the names of siblings, pets, or friends; street name; common logos or signs; and similar kinds and categories of words.

Any words that the child is exposed to on a regular basis can be included in your sight-word review.

The U.S. Department of Education posts a substantial round-up of early learning resources, early learning publications, and various early learning websites from the U.S. Department of Education, the National Research Council, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Strategies for Teaching

Sight words are learned through basic memorization and can be taught formally or informally. The trick is to make it simple for your preschooler by using a mixture of purposeful review of the words in instances both where your preschooler understands that they are learning new words and in instances where they don't, such as play.

Here are some additional things you can do with your child and some strategies for teaching sight words:

Read Aloud

While you are reading aloud to your child or simply going about your day, be sure to point out sight words any time you come across one. If you are reading a book, be sure to underline the word with your preschooler and have your preschooler do the same. Have them trace the letters. 

Write a Story

Write a book together, using sight words in repetition. For example, you might tell the story of a visit to the zoo, using the basic sentence: "We go see the (fill in an animal name)." The constant use and exposure to the words 'we,' 'go,' 'see,' and 'the' will help your little one learn them. 

Play Games

Play a memory game. Write each sight word on two index cards. (So the game doesn't get unwieldy, only work with seven or eight words at a time.) Lay the cards face down, so the words are hidden. Have your preschooler try to match the words. At first, matching will primarily be through letter identification, but as they get more fluent, they will be able to identify sight words on their own.

Use Flashcards

Make flashcards. Using index cards, write each sight word on one side. Practice going through the cards with your preschooler to quiz them and see what they remember.

Sensory Play

If you don't mind a bit of messy but smart fun, try this activity using shaving cream and a cookie sheet. Spray shaving cream (cream, not gel) on to the cookie sheet. Help your preschooler write sight words in the shaving cream using her fingers. What's great about this activity is that if they make a mistake it is easily fixed and penmanship really doesn't matter. By having your preschooler "feel" how the words are formed, it will become easier for them to recognize the letters. 

2 Sources
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  1. U.S. Department of Education. Early Learning Resources.

  2. Biba J. Scholastic. 5 Ways to Make Learning Sight Words Easier for Your Kids.

By Amanda Rock
Amanda Rock, mom of three, has spent more than a decade of her professional career writing and editing for parents and children.