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Sight Word Games to Play With First Graders

by Melissa Harr, studioD

Sight words are some of the most commonly used words in the English language. In fact, they make up over 50 percent of almost any general text. For children to read fluently, they must be able to recognize these 220 words, compiled by Edward Dolch in 1948, on sight. Because many of these words, such as "know," can’t be sounded out phonetically, they need to be taught and practiced until students have them memorized. Games are one way for students to become comfortable with these words, since students are not just learning, but having fun.


Slap lets first graders associate word sounds with their written forms in a fast-paced and competitive way. To play, you’ll need laminated flashcards, each the size of a standard sheet of paper, with a sight word printed on each. Affix the words to the board, then have the students stand in two lines, each perpendicular to the board. These are the teams. Give the first student in each line a fly swatter or have them use their hands to hit the words. Call out a word. The students who are first in each line race to hit the correct word; the winner gets a point for his or her team. These two students then move to the back of their respective lines. You might also instruct the students that their team will only receive a point if they slap the correct word, then repeat the word.


Bingo is fun for all students because it is based on chance; the students who learn more quickly won’t always win. All you need to play is a blank Bingo template, some markers (paper clips or squares of paper work well), your word list and some small prizes. Give each first grade student a blank template, then print the list of words on the board. Allow them to fill their board in, printing one word per square, in any order. You can also make boards in advance if you don’t wish to practice writing, only listening. Call out the words; the students should place a marker over each word you call. The first student to get five words in a row shouts “bingo!” and receives a prize. Students then clear their boards and the game starts again.


In a word processing program, create 2-inch square cards, each with one word printed on it. You’ll need two of each word in each set of cards. Print these on card stock or another thick paper so that the word is not visible when the cards are turned over. Cut out your cards. To play, each pair or group of students will need one set of cards. Have the students lay the cards on the table, face down, in rows. They may then take turns turning over two cards. If they find a match, they may keep the cards; if the cards don’t match, they turn the cards face down again. Make sure the students say the words as they turn the cards over. When all the cards have been turned over, the student with the most matches is the winner.

Spot the Word

To give the students experience finding and reading the sight words in a written text, you can play spot the word. You’ll need an old newspaper or magazine article; read it first to ensure it doesn’t contain any inappropriate topics or words. Give each student a copy of the article, then tell the students the target word. The student who can find and circle the most instances of the word in a specified time period is the winner. To make the game easier, you can write the word on the board.

About the Author

Melissa Harr is a writer and knitting pattern designer with a range of publication credits. Her latest work includes blogging for Smudge Yarns, judging fiction for Ink & Insights 2015 and creating patterns for I Like Knitting magazine. Harr holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a CELTA.

Photo Credits

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