When I was a literacy coach, I always enjoyed helping teachers with their word study lessons. At the time, the only technology available was SMART Notebook software. I could do a lot of great things with the software to help teach students about the print-sound system. However, it took lots of time to make the lessons, and I could never find pre-made lessons to fit what I needed. When the first set of iPads arrived, my imagination took off with the possibilities for using apps when teaching sight words. Unfortunately, my excitement didn’t last long because the makers of the apps didn’t seem to know much about developing orthographic and phonological knowledge in students. So I disengaged in the process of looking for great a apps for teaching sight words.
You might notice I do not talk a lot about apps that teach skills. My focus always shifts to how we can leverage technology to help students in the process of creating, problem-solving, and questioning. However, I am sure there are a lot of great “skill and drill” apps out there, and I decided to take a look at a few to see if they fit the bill. But first I think it is important to explain the theory behind my beliefs as it relates to word study. According to Dr. Linda Dorn in the book “Shaping Literate Minds“, there are six common beliefs about spelling.
Teaching Sight Words
1. The first belief is students should not be taught to memorize letters and words but be able to attend to the distinctive features of the letter form. Once students become automatic with letter formation their attention shifts to how these letters come together in a left-to-right sequence to represent whole words. Students will begin to see patterns in words and attend to larger units within words.
2. The next belief is to teach children problem-solving strategies for spelling words. There are several strategies students need to understand to spell words. For example, students should learn how to say the word slowly and listen to the sounds in words and be required to use this strategy often until it is second nature.
3. Do not give children a laundry list of words to memorize. Students should have a minimum of new things to learn, so as not to overload their working memory. If students are struggling it might be because they do not understand how words work and are relying too much on memorization.
4. Give students opportunities to use a variety of learning styles when teaching new words. Expose students to visual, auditory, and motor functions during lessons and when practicing words.
5. The orthographic system is the bridge between reading and writing instruction. Allow students opportunities to self-reflect and self-correct their work when writing. Self-reflection is a taught skill that doesn’t happen automatically.
6. Students should have opportunities to work with other students. The social side of learning is vital when implementing a spelling/word study program.
I keep these belief systems in mind when creating lessons and activities for my students in the classroom. Let’s take a look at a few games I made during the holidays.
While I am not going to get into detail about the four levels of analysis in this post (subscribe to my newsletter below if you would like to learn more). The biggest problem I have with a lot of apps and games that teach phonics or sight words are the order students learn the words. There is a particular sequence to introduce words.
This philosophy is why I decided to make my sight word games EDITABLE so teachers can add the words appropriate for your students. Here is an example of how it works:
A lot of the games I made allow students to practice their problem-solving strategies when reading and writing. Students build words, record words, and read words during most of the games. I always encourage students to say words slowly as they record words or look to see if the word “looks right”.
Even though I typically only give around ten words during a spelling test, I did provide 20 form fields in the documents. The reason for this is I believe it is important to practice words from other spelling lists or words that have the same spelling pattern. This way students aren’t memorizing their words but learning the patterns and features.
All games can be played with partners or groups if desired, and provide lots of opportunities for students to use different learning modalities and self-reflection during the activities. If you are interested in taking a look at the games click on the pictures below:
My winter-themed games have QR codes for students to scan to learn how to play the games. Check out one of my how-to videos.
As for apps appropriate for teaching sight words to students, I decided it would make an excellent “Be Appy” Monday topic. Sight Words Be Appy Monday. This document has a ton of great information including an overview of the four levels of analysis and an app checklist to help you analyze apps you may want to use in your spelling program. I’ve also analyzed four different sight word apps that might be of interest to you. Hope the information in the document helps you.