Teaching Sight Words to Preschoolers

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

Boy sitting on mothers lap and using digital tablet
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As a child learns to read, they will also need to learn sight words,  which are high-frequency words that appear often in text but can't necessarily be figured out by sounding them out phonetically. As a child moves through school, he will be expected to learn more sight words, building (or scaffolding) on the words he already knows. 

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:

  • I
  • go
  • see
  • like
  • my
  • is
  • and
  • to
  • the
  • a
  • you
  • it
  • said
  • not
  • down
  • can
  • big
  • little 
  • we
  • am
  • have
  • on
  • for
  • at
  • up
  • look
  • she
  • he
  • in
  • that

In addition, when teaching your child sight words, you should include words that the child sees often, such as his name; the names of siblings, pets, or friends; street name; common logos or signs; etc. Any words that the child is exposed to on a regular basis, can be included in your sight word review.

(For a complete list of sight words that encompass all grade levels, two good resources are the Dolch List of Basic Sight Words and Fry's 300 Instant Sight Words. They can be downloaded from the Literacy and Information Communication System website.)

Strategies for Teaching Preschool Sight Words

Sight words are learned through basic memorization. The trick is to make learning fun for your preschooler by utilizing purposeful review of the words in instances where your preschooler understands that she is learning new words and instances where she doesn't (through play, for example).

  • While you are reading aloud to your child or simply going about your day, be sure to point them out 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 her trace the letters. 
  • 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 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 she gets more fluent, she will be able to identify sight words on their own.
  • Make flashcards. Using index cards, write each sight word on one side. Practice going through the cards with your preschooler to quiz her and see what she remembers.
  • If you don't mind a bit of good, clean, (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 she makes 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. 
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