Friday, January 24, 2020

Sight Words – Part Three: Daily Practice with Timed Drills

More on sight words by Beth Guadagni ...

OK, I know what you’re thinking: This doesn’t sound fun. Students hate being timed. The pressure makes them panic. Bear with me! I use this drill all the time with my severely dyslexic students. If anyone is going to have anxiety about reading, it’s them. And my kids like it! There are a few tricks I use to make sure this is a rewarding experience for them:

1) Choose the material to be drilled thoughtfully. If the student can’t read the list/phrases/text you’re drilling with at least 90% accuracy, it’s too hard. I try to pick texts they can read even more easily than that. Remember, we’re practicing fluency here, not decoding skills, and they can’t get faster with a list that’s simply too hard.

2) Make their progress visible to them. This is really the part that matters. I keep a piece of large-grid graph paper for each list/text the child is practicing. After each reading, we write the date at the bottom of a column and then the child colors in the number of squares that shows how many words he read correctly. In the end, we have a bar graph that shows day-to-day progress, so it’s easy for the child to see how much he’s improving (and since you’re using the same list over and over again, he will improve if you do this drill almost every day). Don’t be afraid to do two or even three repetitions in one sitting either—that’s where you’ll really see the numbers jump. Bonus: This is a great introduction to graphs!

I recommend doing this as a warm-up to each instructional session. If your student isn’t practicing sight words every day, this drill should be a daily exercise anyway because consistency is critical when it comes to fluency. It can take as little as one minute!

Start with a Dolch list (see our previous post, if you missed it). Be sure to pick one the child can read with very good accuracy. I like to have a student read the list at a leisurely pace before introducing the timer to be sure the level is right. If even the lowest Dolch list is too hard, pick all the words he read correctly and just a few that he missed and make your own list by mixing these up. It’s okay to repeat the words several times on one list if you need to make the list longer without making it harder.

  • If the Dolch list is too long, break it into two lists. 
  • If you’re giving the child 30 seconds to read, you want somewhere around 20-30 words per list. 
  • If you’re giving the child 60 seconds to read, you want somewhere between 40 and 60 words per list.
  • Arm yourself with two copies of the list, plus a pencil, a piece of large-grid graph paper, and a stopwatch or timer.
Give one of the lists to the child and ask him to read it as quickly as he can for a set interval of time. I suggest 30 seconds for kindergartners and 45 seconds to one minute for older kids. Set the timer and let him loose! As he reads, use the other list to keep track of his errors. Any words he self-corrects should NOT be counted as errors, though note them for your own benefit because these are words that he needs to practice more. (Future posts will give you lots of suggestions about practicing.) When the timer goes off, congratulate him on a job well done! Now go over the list with him and show him the words he missed. I like to mark on the child’s list to help him the next time he reads. For example, my niece read “there” as “the” during one of our drills, so I underlined the last two letters to remind her to look at the whole word.

Next, do a little math. To calculate the number of words he got right, use this formula:

Total Words Read – Errors = Correct Words Read

Ask the child to help you count and do the subtraction if you want to make this a multidisciplinary exercise! Now, give him a marker and help him color in the graph to show how many words he read correctly. I like to do at least two trials per session because there’s always a huge bump after the first one that makes kids feel good, and I’ve even had students beg for a third try!

Leveling Up
Once your student is reading somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 sight words per minute correctly, it’s time to increase the challenge. Before you go to the next Dolch list, though, I suggest you introduce the lists of phrases, made from the grade-level Dolch words, which were included at the end of my previous post and use them for drills. Here’s why: the jump from lists of individual words to pages covered with sentences can be daunting for some kids, so reading with these short phrases is a good intermediary step. They provide practice with phrasing, too. I wrote these, but feel free to invent your own! Make sure, if you do, that you stick to words you know the child can decode easily.

As the phrases begin to become easier, you can introduce the next Dolch list; having two separate drills going at once is just fine.

I hope your young reader enjoys this as much as my students do!

Tune in next time for some fun ways to practice sight words.

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