How I Got 18 out of 23 Kids to Master 100% of Their Sight Words

Each year, as I am getting ready to assess my students for the last time, I do a quick assessment of the children’s sight word knowledge and CVC knowledge, and some key skills in phonemic awareness, etc.  I also test their number identification from 0-30.  Then, I try really hard to get parents and volunteers on board to help get as many children to master as many skills and words as they possibly can before the school year ends.

How I Got 18 out of 23 Kids to learn their Sight Words

Basically, I am trying to “squeeze” every last “point” out of them that I can possibly get!  Usually, I try to send home either RAN boards with all of the sight words, or lists of sight words that most of the children still need to learn.  And that usually does it!  Every year, for 20 years in a row in Kindergarten, I have had the majority of the parents try really hard to help their child master every single word and every single vowel sound, etc.  Sure, there have been a couple of exceptions involving everything from apathy, to poverty, to homelessness, and in addition,  every now and then you encounter a family in crisis.

ESGI Report
I Photoshopped out the children’s last names, as you can see.

But this year, it seemed to me that most of the parents that were going to help their children already seemed to have done so, and those children had pretty much mastered all of the words anyway.  And as for the rest?  Well…I really wasn’t sure that any pleas for help would change the apparent behavior patterns of the rest.  

Even if you can’t afford the yearly fee, I recommend that you sign up for the free 60 day trial at the beginning of the year and send home those personalized flashcards to help get your students started learning the basics.  Print off another set of flash cards again before the 60th day.

WELL… I decided to try again to get parents to help anyway, but to change my tactics this year as opposed to other years.  I just can’t give up!  No matter what is happening in my own life, no matter how distracted I may feel with things like a daughter’s wedding, no matter how many different places I am feel like I am being pulled at a time, the fact is that I just plain care.  I care how my kids do.  I care about their achievement.  And I also care that I myself learn and progress as a teacher.  It is important to me to get them to learn just as much as I possibly can get them to learn, no matter even if it seems futile with some of them in the group, and even though I haven’t laid eyes on some of their parents for months.

ESGI Sight Words
I put each child’s ESGI sight word flash cards in a bag with their name on it.

Considering this really is the lowest achieving class I have had in a long time, I knew I was going to have to try a little bit harder, and teach more efficiently.  I knew that the parents cared.  What was missing?  Was it time, skills, language, comprehension of the task????

I decided that it was really TIME that most of them lacked.  Many of them worked very long hours and had very little time to help their children.  Maybe if I made practice more efficient for them, their help would produce better results?

ESGI Sidewalk Chalk
Sidewalk Chalk + HeidiSongs + ESGI Software = Success!

As luck would have it, a few months earlier this year in March I was offered the chance to give the ESGI Software a try.  The nice people from ESGI seem to show up at all of the major conferences, and I have had a chance to chat with them many times.  I had seen their presentation many times as well.  I knew that teachers RAVED about how this made testing more efficient, quicker, simpler, and made their lives easier, and they all thought that it was worth it.  I also knew that it was $150 per year subscription charge!!!

Chalk - HeidiSongs
I sent the kids out to write their OWN personal sight words that they needed to work on.

Putting all of these things together, the part that wasn’t making sense to me was the “it was worth it for $150 per year!  Yes, I like to be efficient, but I don’t know how much more efficient I can be to make it worth $150 per year!  And I didn’t picture it as useful to me because then I would still have to put those same scores into my own district’s computer data system, so why bother?  (Okay, the part I really didn’t understand was how much it would impact my test scores.)  However, Greg Gorman at ESGI offered to let me try it out for a year free of charge at the Southern California Kindergarten Conference.  (Actually, anyone can try it for 60 days free of charge.)

Sight Word Chalk - HeidiSongs
The kids ONLY worked on the words they didn’t already know, since they each had their own bag of flashcards.

The kicker for me to try it out and actually integrate it into my classroom was my knowledge that ESGI Software allows you to print personalized flashcards for every single child in the class in whatever subject you like.  Immediately upon testing, you can print off a copy for a parent or a volunteer that includes ONLY THE ITEMS THE CHILD NEEDS TO WORK ON.  I would like to say that again:  Just as soon as you finish testing, you can press the “print flashcards” button, and then a set of flashcards will be printed that includes only the items that the child needs to work on.  They are printed with the child’s name and the skill that he is working on at the top of each card, so even if you don’t get right to the printer, you can’t mix up the flashcards.  You can get a set of flashcards that says, “Sounds” at the top, and another that says “letters.”  So if the child needs to learn the names of the letters J, G, Y, and Q, then that’s all the child would take home!  And then if the child needed to know the sounds of the J, H, V, Y, and F, then that’s all he would take home! And you can send both sets of cards home, and with a quick explanation, they should still “get it!”  Yes, some children will be taking home a few half sheets of flash cards.  But that is the worst thing that could happen!!!!  The software can also print customized parent letters to tell parents what to do with those flash cards.

Sight Word Chalk - HeidiSongs
Giving each child their own personalized bag of flashcards was quick and easy with the ESGI software.

That alone was what prompted me to go ahead and “figure out” how to use the software, and take the time to put in the specific words for my district’s 50 sight words.   It didn’t take very long to complete this task -maybe an hour- and that included my time putting my children’s names into the system and trying to figure out how it worked. The only problem was that I neglected to change the font size on the words when I first put them in, so I had to go back in and change every single word later (another thirty minutes.)  So if you chose to try this, check the font size on your very first word and preview it after the very first word!  I used a 150 point Comic Sans Manuscript font in white and centered it.

I tested a few of the children myself, just to see how the software would work, and then I turned the rest of the testing over to my aide and a few trusted volunteers.  You can also see the video here that I took of a friend’s little preschool age child, (with her permission,) so you can see how easy it is to use it.  Some of our testing was done on the iPad, and some was done on the laptop.  The interesting thing was that the children overwhelmingly did better with the very large type on the screen than they did on my testing paper with regular sized 18 point font print.  It is also possible that some of my volunteers were simply more generous with their scoring than I would be, but then I tested a few of them myself both ways, and the children that were struggling did MUCH BETTER on the computer with the very large font!  I suppose it makes sense: when we practice with large type on flash cards that it’s no wonder that we do better when shown a large type word to read.  I am wishing that I had retested a few of them with the large print flashcards, just to see if the recognized those words, but there is only so much time in the day.  However, I wasn’t sure if using this software actually followed the district guidelines for testing, so I didn’t use the computer for my final sight word testing to submit for report cards.

ESGI Sight Word Flashcards
This is what the flash cards come out looking like when they are printed.

By now, I bet you are wondering what sidewalk chalk has to do with this blog post, LOL!  One of the ways that I encouraged the kids to practice their sight words was to give them a bag of their OWN sight words, have them read them to a volunteer, and then try to write them with side walk chalk outside during their motor development time.  I think that it was very effective!  But the great thing was that in prepping for what I considered to be a fun/educational activity, I wound up with a class set of personalized sight words flashcards in zip lock bags- right before we went into our last six or seven weeks of school!

ESGI Sight Word Flashcards
You can play all kinds of drill and practice games, calling out specific words for specific children using ESGI flash cards.

We used those flashcards again and again for games, activities, and also just plain old tutoring with some of my FANTASTIC volunteers this year!  They really zeroed in on my neediest students and pulled them out and just helped them work on their sight words!!!!  One of them is my retired teacher friend, Janice Lawson.  Another was a university student that was studying to be a teacher, and who needed to complete hours in a classroom for a class at the university.  The children came to affectionately refer to her as Miss Sarah, and the pair of them were worth their weight in gold!

Chalk Sight Words
How do you like my shadow?????

Each Tuesday, they would take those sight words and drill the children on them whenever they finished  their work.  They both came just once a week on the very same day, but it was just enough to really help.  The other volunteers also helped, most of them coming weekly- about three more of them came once a week, and one of these moms was also a part time teacher that was just wonderful to have in my classroom.  Lucky me! I think that the most important change I made was that I maximized the time that I had with my volunteers.  And having the personalized sets of flash cards made it so that every activity made a real difference!  I retested the children on their flashcards about every other week, and for the first time in a few months, I saw a drastic improvement!  When I first tested them with the ESGI software about six or seven weeks before the end of school, about eight or nine of my 23 kids knew all 50 of the district’s sight words. The rest of them knew anywhere from 31 to 49 words with the average amount probably being 46 words.  I had sung the sight words songs as often as I possibly could.  We did all of the things that normally did, but I still felt that they could do better; especially those two children that still knew only 31 and 39 words.  I can tell you that I actually felt ashamed of their progress!  What in the world was going on?  I was certain that the difference was that there wasn’t much time to help these kids at home.  Here’s what I did: 1.  I made their learning time more efficient for those parents by giving parents sets of personalized flash cards with the ESGI software. 2.  I made sets of personalized flash cards for games and activities at school.  That way, I made the most of every precious minute, because I knew I couldn’t count on parents to do this for me.  The buck stops here. 3.  I used those sets of personalized flash cards for volunteers to tutor the kids at school one-on-one whenever possible. 4.  I retested the kids on those sight words about every other week, or even more often for the neediest ones.  If I was SURE that they knew a word in their baggie, I removed it.   Then I sent NEW flash card sets home with the kids. I sent new sets of flash cards home about every other week, too.  I attached short notes that said things like, “If your child can learn these words, then he will know ALL 50 of the kindergarten sight words!!!!!”  I figured that this would be an encouraging, short note that would help parents realize that the help I was asking for might be something that they had time for, and could make a real difference!  If I could catch parents at the door at dismissal, I would hand them the flash cards personally and ask them to help.

How I Got 18 out of 23 Kids to Master 100% of Their Sight Words - HeidiSongs
 I attached short, simple notes like this to the flash cards I sent home.

The ESGI Software can generate reports that tell you which sight words your class knows the best and which ones they know the least, statistically speaking.  So I printed a list and modified my sight word power point so that the words that the most kids lacked came up many more times than the ones that they mostly knew.  (My power point presentation includes a photo of each child holding a sight word printed on a large piece of construction paper.  I have enough pictures of the children holding words to cover our whole list of sight words.)  We also used these printed pictures for other activities.

HeidiSongs - Sight Words

Having looked at the children’s test results, all sorted and printed over and over again, I felt like I had a better and better idea of what each and every child knew in the class, especially as far as those sight words were concerned.  When I put on the sight word songs, I knew which ones to make sure that I played every single day.  And when we played games as a whole group, I knew exactly what to ask each child as well.

At the end of the year, I had very decent scores!  Eighteen children learned all 50 of the district sight words-100%!!!  The other scores were:  41, 48, 48, 49, and 49.  Not bad at all, if I do say so myself!!!!  I think that they did a great job, particularly since I know that they started out as a much lower group than I usually have!  I am totally sold on the combination of HeidiSongs and ESGI Software together to easily and efficiently customize learning centers, games, activities, and parent communication to teach smarter, and not work harder or longer hours.  


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  1. Congratulations Heidi! Thanks for all these great ideas!
    Mrs. Goff's Pre-K Tales

  2. This sounds great! Thank you for telling us about ESGI. I am checking it out right now.


    Kindergarten is the Best

  3. Yeah! I am using ESGI and love it. So easy to use and it provides instant feedback. I did many of the same things. The only difference is that we need to master 100 words.

  4. Heidi,
    My district just started using ESGI this past year. I LOVE it, but didn't think to send the flashcards home. (I think I was in overwhelm mode!) Next year I will incorporate your ideas. Thank you!
    An Open Door

  5. I agree with you! I have used ESGI for two years and it makes a huge difference for my students. I love assessing them on the computer -- so fast and easy -- and love being able to see which sounds (at a glance) most of my students still need so when we sing our Dr. Jean songs, I can be sure to include those sounds. I put little post it flags on our alphabet line to remind me and the volunteers when sounds to focus on! Worked great!

  6. My district has been using ESGI for the last two years.I love it for assessing my students. The K's also love using the computer for testing and seeing their pie graphs turn green. The flash card feature is wonderful for all areas. We have been using your sight word DVD's for the last two years, which our students also love to sing and dance to. Both have made a great improvement is our scores, too.

  7. We started using ESGI this year and love it. It makes assessment so much easier and the kids love doing it. Having many ELL students I loved being able to print out the reports in Spanish! I sent home the flashcards every quarter, but didn't think of actually cutting them up, putting them in a Ziploc bag and sending them home with a note. Good idea!!

  8. ESGI is a wonderful program. We used it for several years, unfortunately, it is just too expensive for our school to purchase. It is my hope that we will be able to purchase it again someday. My kiddos loved it when it was their turn to "show out"".

  9. My district has used ESGI for a couple of years now. The nice part is that the assessment results go right on the kdg. report card. I don't know how that works, but it is fabulous! As a K/1 this past year I found it a great assessment tool and resource for many of the reasons you named. I was hoping to use it again this coming year, but as a 1st grade teacher the cost wouldn't be covered by the district. I'm still trying to decide if I want to pay for it on my own.

  10. That's great Heidi! I can't believe your kindergarteners need to learn 50 sight words! In my school system it's 20. On a different note, I did your play the Tale of the Wide Mouth Frog the parents LOVED it!!The kids loved it. I got so many compliments about the songs. I did it with another kindergarten class and I would love to send it to you. We had to change some things our frogs were not the greatest! We added butterflies due to so many kids and two students did an amazing job narrating it! I can't wait to do it again next year! We loved it!

  11. Congrats on your students' success! I know that you must be so proud. We enjoy your DVDs and hope to purchase more.

  12. Is your behavior management cd on Itunes? You can email me at

    I think this would be great with my 2nd graders...they are still babies. Have you had other 2nd grade teachers use it with success?

  13. Thanks Heidi! I love the power point idea with them holding the words!

  14. I have never used ESGI but a couple of years ago I started graphing my students sight word tests. I copied a graph my daughter's teacher used to graph spelling and math unit test so it went to 100. Then each time I tested them, I would date and color in the graph in front of the child. After a few months most could color in their own graph if I drew the lines of the box to stay in. I also made a simple award on a 1/4 size sheet of paper that said "I beat my record!" The children love seeing their progress and we can celebrate each individual success. This year I started letting them pick a prize from the treasure box if they beat their score. This really motivated some children and they started bugging their parents to help them study so they could go to the treasure box.This year 21 out of 25students mastered our 100 word list.

  15. I think that's an AWESOME idea!!! Love it!! Thanks for sharing.

  16. To Marilyn,
    No, we don't have the Classroom Management Cd on iTunes. And it is so new that I can't say that I have had any second grade teachers tell me that they are using it quite yet. I will email you when we get back from our cruise!

  17. To Mrs. Clancy,
    That's great!! I would LOVE to see your production of the Wide Mouthed Frog! Can you send it to us? It's PO Box 603. La Verne, CA 91750. Or you can send it digitally via We would love to share it on YouTube too if we can!!

  18. I got 16 out of 21 to recognize 100 percent of sight words using Heidi songs. 2 out of those transferred n school about march or April. I'm a believer.

  19. I teach in DC. While these tips may be helpful for rich districts who can afford software, there is little here for students who's parents do not speak English, do not have computers at home, and are unable to help their children at home. Short of relying on parents, volunteers and software, what did YOU do to help the kids?

  20. To Anonymous:
    While I appreciate the problem with not having any money to spend in the district budget, my district didn't buy this for me. Most teachers that use this software wind up buying it themselves. I know, I know. It's one more thing to buy. But when it comes to the point that your job depends on raising your test scores, sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.
    And what did I do? Look for all of the "I statements" in the blog post. I worked my tushy off all year long, and pulling all of that together was a lot of work, even with the help of the software that made it super efficient. The easiest thing to do would have been to just throw my hands in the air and give up. Instead, I kept trying. I did not decide that the kids were just too poor or too far behind to get it. I just kept trying, and I tried every single thing I could get my hands on!

  21. If the school didn't pay for esgi, I would have brought it myself. This week i used it on my new I-pad and assessed in the hall during bathroom break time! I haven't printed the flash cards yet, but plan to do it. I didn't know you could load your own word list on there. I need to read the directions for that!
    The DC teacher should just do the 2months free thing this year -- it wOuld be a big help, I bet.

  22. To Ann Spencer:

    Good point!
    I have even heard that once your two months free trial expires, you can sign up for another. It's not an honest thing to do, but it can be done.
    And you are right- that makes it so that you can very easily assess things like sight words absolutely anywhere!

  23. Thanks, Heidi! I never fail to learn new things from your posts. I read this one back on June, but forgot. I am going to give EGSI a try. I have been pondering it for awhile. Thanks for sharing such great tips for learning letters/sounds. I need to do a powerpoint w/ HFW. Love your creativity!

  24. Wow! Where have I been. This site is a WONDERFUL resource.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching both my girls to read and both were doing so by age 4! You have a great job and a great skill to go with it...and I cant leave out great passion for what you do.

  25. Can you add your districts list of 50 words for Kindergarten in a post? Our district only has 10 words and I just can't believe they feel this is enough. The kids that only know 10 have such a hard time in first grade.

  26. To Steph,
    Gosh, THANKS! What a nice thing to say! I hope we get to meet in person some day, and that goes for all of you nice people that keep leaving such beautiful comments on my blog! I really appreciate it and it keeps me going!

  27. To Dru,
    Good heavens, only ten? That sounds like what we used to do about twenty years ago! On the other hand, I used to just teach more words to the kids that were ready to move on anyway; there was just no pressure to do so. Ah, the good old days! The only real bummer about it was that the teachers in other classes sometimes felt that there was no need to challenge the children in their classes that were ready, and didn't do that. This left the first grade teachers with an extremely WIDE variety of students and skill levels the following year, which didn't work out very well for them. We also had parents that were truly puzzled at why one teacher was teaching one thing in her class, and another teacher was teaching something else. When word spread, I started getting requests from the parents that wanted their children challenged, if you know what I mean.
    In any case, here is the list of words from my district, Dru, just in case I don't think to write it again in another blog post.



  28. awesome and inspiring, so hard to get it all in- esp when you don't have any volunteers... I am hopeful to try some of your strategies!!!

  29. I love the idea of creating a powerpoint with your students holding up large flash cards! ESGI saved me lots of time this year and the parents loved the personalized letters. I bought the software with my own money, but I think my principal is convinced enough to buy it for our team next year.

  30. Hi Heidi!
    I'm "re-vamping" our K sight word list over the summer. Since we purchased your "Sing & Spell" cd's and DVD's last year, I was going to use those as a guide. Question...Were the word lists on your cd's based on Open Court Imagine It Reading Program?
    Appreciate your feedback...

  31. Hi Heidi!
    I'm in the process of re-vamping our K word list. Since we purchased your Sing and Spell #1 and #2 CD's (DVD's)last year, I was going to use them as a pacing guideline. (For example: Teach words on #1...#2...etc.) However, I noticed that some of the words on our original list are not on these cd's (dvd's) and/or some of the words on your cd's/dvd's are not on your kindergarten pacing guide. After some research, it appears that your cd's (dvd's)are based on Open Court Imagine It Reading Program. Is this correct? My district uses the Dolch Word list. Any suggestions for how I should pace it? Your feedback is much appreciated!

  32. To Debbie Jordan,
    All of the words on my Pacing Guide are on at least one of my Sing and Spell CD/DVD's. But remember, I have five volumes of them, not just two! As my district changed their required sight word list, I increased my collection of spelling songs to match it.
    As far as your guess as to which reading program my CD's and DVD's are based on- well, if they match Open Court Imagine It, that is pure luck, LOL! I have never even seen that one!
    Here is how the lists for each sight word CD/DVD came to be:
    Sing and Spell Vol. 1:
    These are the words that were on the very old Houghton-Mifflin Kindergarten list (around 2005), plus a few that my district required at the time.

    Vol. 2:
    These words came from the Open Court reading program as it was published in CA in 2005. This is because I was presenting mainly in CA at that time, and teachers in CA were asking me for the words from this list. Also, there was a demand for the color words as well.

    Vol. 3: These were the words that I still needed to teach in my classroom because they appeared in a lot of basic "easy readers." There were about 12 words that I really wanted to record songs for at the time. To round out the list, I went to the first grade teachers at my school, who asked me for songs for those hard words like there, their, and they're, etc.

    Vol. 4: People started asking for Dolch words, so I went through the Dolch list and picked out all of the missing words from numbers 25-50, except the word "but," which I figured would ONLY get me into trouble!

    Vol. 5:
    My district got a new intervention reading program called "SIPPS," and it had an entirely new list of words on it that I had to teach. I wrote songs for those words, plus I added the missing words from the Dolch list from numbers 50-75 (or so,) excluding the word "went." I somehow managed to miss that word- so sorry!

    We are now working on a new Sing and Spell Volume 6, that will have more Dolch Words on it, plus some other words that are on other popular reading programs. We are also working on putting together DVD's that have just the Dolch words in order, and the popular reading publisher's word lists in order. It's just that first I have had to write the songs (done!) and record the songs (done!). Now I still have to make up the movements and try them out with some kids. This will be harder, given that it is summer and school is not in session! Then I will have to video tape the movements and then my husband and the office staff will need to get them into DVD form. It's a lengthy process! I don't know when it will all be done, but maybe by October? I hate to take a guess. We always hope to hit August for back to school time, but so much depends on the work of other people that it is terribly hard to predict.
    The pacing guide that you can download is on our website ( on the Free Downloads page, on the second section down.
    If you have any more questions, please let me know! I think that I will turn this into a blog post, too, since this is a good question!


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