How to Teach Sight Words In Just 10 Minutes A Day

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When I was in college, studying to be a teacher, I became aware of a big debate in the education world.  This debate has been called the “reading wars“.  

Do kids learn to read best through phonics or whole language (sight words)? Is it really necessary to teach sight words? How can we help our kids with sight word mastery as well as learn to read unfamiliar words? Many parents wonder how to teach sight words and improve reading fluency.

Phonics supporters argued that children need to break every word down to its parts in order to really read well.

Whole language supporters believed that kids can learn to memorize words without needing to decode every letter sound.

I believe that the best reading instruction blends the two methods. They work together to create fluent readers.

Teaching phonics gives children the tools necessary to decode new and unfamiliar words.

It is important to teach sight words (whole language) because it helps kids develop fluency. Sight word recognition can go a long way in building reading confidence.

Sight words are also known as high-frequency words, instant words, or common words, because they are used so often.

I came across a strategy for how to teach sight words in the book, See Johnny Read! The 5 Most Effective Ways to End Your Son’s Reading Problems by Tracey Wood, which really helped me teach sight words quickly.  

The sight word folder method helped my son burn through multiple grade levels of Dolch sight words in just a few months. It was a great way to quickly boost his reading skills and confidence.

the best method for teaching sight words written over baskets of children's books
Learn how to teach sight words with this quick folder method

How to Teach Sight Words ~ Prep

One of the great things about this method for how to teach sight words is that it is quick.  Your child can learn to memorize sight words in only 10 minutes each day with this sight word folder technique, making this an effective way to learn.

Sight word instruction does not need to be complicated.

How to set up a sight word folder

This sight word folder method is very easy and inexpensive to set up.  You will need:

*Update – I created free printable sight word flashcards so now you don’t need to create your own!

Ask your child to decorate the front of the sight word file folder.

This is his/her folder and no one else uses it.  If you have multiple children that need to practice sight words, they will each need their own set of supplies.

I like to provide my kids with a variety of stickers, markers, and colored pencils to use for decorating their folders.

Arrange the pocket envelopes inside the file folder.

Glue them down when you have an arrangement you like.  I like these pocket envelopes because they are brightly colored and self-adhesive.

Label each pocket envelope with a number 1-6.  Label the last pocket ‘Done’.

Write one sight word on each index card.

Keep the cards in order, getting progressively more difficult.

Put the first (easiest) 10 cards in the first pocket envelope.

Now you are ready to practice with the sight word folder!

Teach sight words in only 10 minutes a day written above a 7 pocket sight word folder

How to Teach Sight Words ~ Daily Practice

(Keep reading for a short video demonstration.)

On the first day show your child the index cards in pocket 1, one at a time and ask him/her to read it. 

If the word is read correctly, move it to the next pocket (in this case, pocket 2).

If the word is read incorrectly, read the word to the child and ask them to repeat it.  That card will go back into the first pocket.

Practice every day.  Consistency is a crucial element in how to teach sight words.

As words are read correctly move them to the next pocket until they reach the ‘Done’ pocket.

Each day add enough new words to the first pocket so that there are 10 cards total in that pocket.

All About Reading

Part of the reason this sight word folder method works so well is because a child correctly reads a word 6 times before it is put in the ‘Done’ pocket. There is lots of repetition. This word is now truly mastered.

I recommend creating a home environment that fosters a love of reading to help motivate kids to learn to read.

This can be accomplished in a few ways:

  • Parents need to read books they enjoy.  Let your kids see you reading for fun. This shows the kids that reading is a life-long skill.
  • Create book baskets full of seasonal books.  I keep this basket in my living room near my fireplace so there is always a cozy spot to settle down with a book.
  • Read books and then do fun related activities. My kids loved reading The Hole Story of the Doughnut because we baked doughnuts after the story. Setting up a doughnut bar on Saturday mornings has become a favorite activity in our house!
  • All About Learning is a fantastic reading program if you need a little extra help and want the guidance of a full reading curriculum. They also offer free fun games to use at home.

In my experience, as a former classroom kindergarten teacher and homeschool mom, the sight word folder method is the quickest way to teach sight words.

Sign up below to receive free printable sight word flashcards, Dolch word lists, and a completion certificate.

Tips for Teaching Sight Words

You can choose either the Dolch sight word list or the Fry list. The Fry list is longer at 1000 words, but that can be overwhelming. I used the Dolch sight words because that was what I was familiar with as a kindergarten teacher. The Fry words work just as well for this sight word folder method.

Include fun sight word activities. Try adding in a few hands-on or movement-based activities to keep your child’s attention. Playing swat the sight word is a fun way to practice new sight words. This also makes it easy to include a multi-sensory approach.

This folder method works best one on one instead of in small groups. Kids will progress through the sight word lists at different speeds, making this difficult to do in groups.

If you or your child start to get really frustrated, take a break. You can always come back to learning sight words later.

Frequently Asked Questions About How to Teach Sight Words at Home

What is the fastest way to teach sight words?

The fastest way to teach sight words is to use the sight word folder method suggested above while also playing sight word games. The games provide a fun way to review sight words.

What sight words should be taught first?

The free sight word printable described above contains a list of every sight word. They are organized in the order they should be taught. Every student should start with the Pre-k level, regardless of their grade level.

Looking for more information about teaching sight words? Check out these posts!

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Keep reading . . .

Sight word activities spelled with alphabet stamps
10 language arts centers at home written next to a cartoon image of 3 children jumping out of a book
Teach Spelling Mastery in Just 20 Minutes a day
40+ secular homeschool curriculum options written over stacks of books

61 Comments

  1. Hi Jennifer, I really want to try this with my 5 year old. What would you says is the hard sight word? The one she has problem remembering? Or longer word? could you give examples of each sight pocket? Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Eva! I would recommend going through the dolch sight word lists beginning with the pre-k words. Many of the words will be too easy so she will plow through them quickly, but that helps build confidence and reading fluency. Then just keep adding words from the next grade of sight words. I use the list on this website: http://www.sightwords.com/sight-words/dolch/#lists I start each day with 10 cards in the 1st pocket. Each day I add however many cards needed to make 10. You can absolutely add in words that are not on the list, but that she has trouble remembering. Now that we are through all of the sight word lists, I am adding words that are stumbled over during reading time and spelling ‘rule-breaker’ words.

      1. If you continued to add to the 1st pocket, then you will eventually end up with over 10 words?
        Maybe 12 or 17 for example. What happens if the student’s first ten words remain in the 1st pocket for over 6 days? I have some students that have difficulty retaining information.

        1. There should never be more than 10 cards in the first pocket. It is okay to leave the cards in pockets as long as necessary, there is no time limit. I would add in as many multiple intelligence ways to teach as possible though. So, if a child isn’t responding to the pockets, maybe add in writing sight words in shaving cream, using letter tiles to spell the words, etc.

    1. The missed words stay in their current pocket and do not move forward until the student reads the word correctly. For example, this means that a word might live in pocket 3 for a few days. Every day review the words. If the word is read correctly, move it to the next pocket. If the word is read incorrectly, put it back in it’s current pocket and try again tomorrow. Does this make sense?

  2. Thanks so much. I can’t wait to try this activity everyday. I have an excellent time to review these.

  3. Would it be crazy to try this with a whole class? It sounds like a great activity to use during small group.

    1. I want to try with my class next year. Of course, I’m an intervention specialist with only 8 kids so I don’t think that’ll be too crazy.

  4. I homeschool my learning disabled granddaughter and have for five years. She has constantly had the problems of switching like and little went and want new and now went and want house and horse come and came and who and why. I have used this for a week now and she now knows them all. The reason I knew it was she read some sentences with those words in it and read them all correctly. What a pleasure to not listen to her read and say the wrong word and then the correct one. I will have to help fluency. So thank you very much for helping one young lady and one old lady.

  5. I’m excited to try this with a little girl I’m tutoring this summer. I’m also curious if it would be beneficial for some of my PreK kiddos next year that struggle with Alphabet recognition through my regular instruction.

  6. I like this idea for one or two children, but do you think it would work for a whole class?

    1. I think this would be really hard to do as a group activity. Instead, I would probably help the students make the folders and send them home for extra practice.

  7. I want to check that I’ve got this right. Each day, the child starts with the farthest pocket, moving correctly said words up and wrong ones staying put. Work back to pocket one until all cards have been touched, making sure each day starts with 10 cards in the first pocket.

  8. I love this idea. Just to clarify- once you get going and there are cards in each pocket (like day 6 or 7) you are attempting to read all the cards in EVERY pocket? And Those cards either move on to the next pocket or stay put? Am I understanding that correctly?

  9. Love,love, love the inspiration of folder and envelopes for cards with sight words. I’m working with three-year-old who loves to “read” to her plushie children. She also loves the DVDs and accompanying books in sounds and sight words series. I made cards for each word of the sentence on each page- only six words. She almost has all the words on page one mastered. She can actually read the book with only difficulty on the last page. However, since she has watched the DVD countless times, I will know that she is actually recognizing and has mastered all the words with your method and is not just remembering what is said on each page. Thank you so much!

    1. I really appreciate your talent on how to teach site words
      How do I get a DVD . For this teaching

  10. I have tried the file folder sight wird method with my kindergarten students and it was a big hit! It really works. My students could see their progress as their cards moved forward.

  11. I’m excited can’t wait to try this with my first graders! They have 7 new words a week to learn😊! Thanks for sharing!!

  12. I just started this with my kinder son, hes on the younger side of kinder and was having a tough time, this seems like a great no pressure way of learning, but im just curious so on the 2nd night do we first read the words from the #2 pocket or the first pocket first then move to the 2nd pocket?

    1. I like to start with the highest # pocket, so 2 in this example. This helps boost reading confidence a bit because they have already successfully read those words at least once.

  13. This is probably a silly question… My daughter is six and does not recognize her ABC’s yet. We’re working on it. She’s been in and out of the hospital the past year and a half. Everything is fine now. Now we’re so behind. She will be starting kindergarten come this fall. My question is does she need to know her ABC’s before I start with start words? Also do you know of a cheaper place to get the pockets or how I could make them myself? My husband is the only in working and I have a very low budget to make this work. Thank you for your help and time.

    1. Hi! I wouldn’t worry about sight words until your daughter has a good grasp on the alphabet and most letter sounds. The exception to that is if your daughter is interested in learning to read a few words, go for it. I also wouldn’t worry about being behind. It sounds like the last year and a half was busy and stressful! I’m so glad she is doing better now.

      The easiest way to make the pockets is to fold a piece of paper in half to the right size. So, if you want a pocket that is 3.5 inches wide you would fold 7 inches in half. Cut it so that it is 4 – 5 inches tall. Then either glue or staple along the seam and glue/tape the back of the pocket into the sight word folder.

      I hope that helps!

      1. Hi, I love the pocket idea, but I need some clarification. We start with ten words in pocket one, once he recognizes them we move to pocket two. On night #2 do we add ten more words or do we do the same 10 in pocket two and move on? Until those ten words have been mastered?

        1. We want to always have 10 words in the first pocket. So, let’s say the first day your son recognizes 5 of the words. Those 5 words move on to the 2nd pocket and 5 new words are added to pocket 1. The next day, start by practicing the words in pocket 2 and move them on to pocket 3 if they are read correctly. Then try all 10 cards in pocket 1. Add the cards read correctly to pocket 2. Repeat this process each day. By the end of the week it might look and feel like a lot of cards, but the only new ones are in pocket 1. The rest of the cards are reviewing something that he has already demonstrated knowing. That lets him read a lot of cards quickly

          I hope that helps πŸ™‚

  14. I use this for my sight words, and I’ve also been using it to help my daughter practice her spelling. It’s basically like having a mini spelling test every day, without the stress. She loves it!

  15. I love the idea and want to use, but I am a bit confused too.
    Are you able to maybe create a video of how this is used? I understand moving the cards to the next day when mastered but I’m confused about when to add more words, and what a day 2, day 3 might look like.

    I think a video example would really help to clarify what this would look like.
    I’d greatly appreciate it!

  16. Thank you for the sight word pocket folder idea. What a simple, fun and effective way to teach children these sight words.

  17. Thanks for this amazing strategy! I used this method with my daughter dying our lockdown here in the UK and she’ll be going back to Y2 knowing all her Y2 sight words before she even starts the year. She loved the tactile nature of the board and moving the words from pocket to pocket (I think it helped that we made it into a game show role play too πŸ˜‚) I’ll definitely be pulling this out again in future!

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