How I Taught My Kids to SPELL the FIRST 100 SIGHT WORDS!

Do your first grade students have to pass a spelling test that includes the first ONE HUNDRED sight words? Mine did! If you, too, are responsible for teaching your first graders to spell a hundred sight words, then this post is for you! Here are five steps to teach your class to read, spell, and write those sight words- no matter HOW many they have to learn!

First, let me explain about the testing process in my district at the time I wrote this blog. First of all, the weekly spelling tests don't count at all on the first grade report card! The only thing that counts is the gigantic, one hundred question spelling test that they take at the end of each trimester. (They must keep retaking it each trimester until they pass or until the school year ends, whichever comes first, LOL!)

I don't mind telling you that I was nervous to give this test! I was advised to spread it out over four different days because it is so long. And yes, one of my students had a difficult time following along and needed extra encouragement. The poor little sweetheart just wasn't ready for this task, although in the end, she actually DID meet the minimum district benchmark for November of 35 words!

However... the REST of class did not really get restless- probably because they were feeling so successful! In fact, they were actually enjoying themselves as I dictated the words, and wanted to keep going on to the next set each day when I finished! I was so surprised, I nearly fell over! The truth is that most of my first graders did very well with the test- and that was waaaaay back in November!  (Remember, I am teaching a first/second grade combination class, so only half of my class needed to take this test.)

I haven't yet given the test again for the second trimester, but most of my kids already passed the district benchmark for the year of 80 out of 100 words spelled correctly back in November! Only three out of the nine did not meet the benchmark on the first try! My lowest one got 48/100 correct, and the next lowest scores were 74 and 76. The rest of the scores were 84, 89, 94, 94, 95, and 95.  That's an average score of 72.7 points on the very first try, before the end of the first trimester.

And so looking back, what did I do to make that happen?

How to Teach Your First Graders to Spell One Hundred Sight Words

Sing and Spell the Sight Words - Daily and Methodically
Since I started teaching first grade, I use my HeidiSongs Sight Words videos to actually teach SPELLING! That's different than how I used them before in Kindergarten! In Kindergarten, I was really focusing on using the songs to teach the children to read the words. If they memorized the spellings as well, I figured that was just frosting on the cake for a Kindergartner!

So, every morning we sing the Sight Word Songs for the words that are on our spelling list each week. I follow the first grade pacing guide that our team leader made so that I stay on track with my fellow first grade teachers. We do all of the movements and then I ask the children to tell me the word, and to repeat it's spelling after the song is over. After we have sung the song for each word at least once or twice, then we review the words from the previous week and/or take requests for the children's favorite songs and review those.

I am so thankful that one of my WONDERFUL teammates took our entire district list of 100 sight words that the children must learn to spell and paced them all out on a first grade pacing guide for us so that we would get to all of them (and put the word families in there, too!) Now, when I'm making my spelling list, all I need to do is check the pacing guide. Hooray!  (I am making some adjustments to the first grade pacing guide over the course of the year and then I will be ready to share it with you next summer! At the moment, it's still not quite finished. Click here to find a free Kindergarten Pacing Guide. I should also be able to share a Second Grade Pacing Guide with you next summer, too!)  :)

Write the Words as the Songs Play

Sometimes it can be hard for kids to make the connection from the song to the written word, so I make sure to teach that explicitly. So on Mondays and Tuesdays, we learn to sing the songs and repeat the spellings aloud after the song has finished. On Wednesdays, after we sing, we write the words on dry erase boards after we finish singing our songs, just like the activity in the video below. The only difference is that we don't necessarily do it first thing in the morning! (Click here to read the post on this!)

We also practice writing any words that appear on the spelling list that we may not have recorded as spelling songs at this time. (Gasp!) I do try to think of something that will help the children remember the spellings of the words when there isn't a song. Those are always the ones that trip them up!  If the word fits into a phonics spelling pattern that is covered in our Sounds Fun Phonics collection, then I have them review that song as well.

Use the Words in Their Writing

I include dictation sentences as a part of their spelling tests each week, and the sentences always include the sight words from the spelling list, of course! So on Thursdays, we get out those dry erase boards again and this time, we practice writing the words within sentences. Whenever the children cannot remember how to spell a word, I remind them to think of the song, and then we spell it slowly aloud while they write it into their sentence. This step is CRUCIAL, because otherwise they may not think to transfer what they've learned into the real life situation of writing sentences.

Review the Songs and Words OFTEN!

Whenever the opportunity arises to use a spelling song when we are writing ANYTHING at all, I use it. I mention the songs as a reference tool frequently for the children to remind them that this is what they are used for- they are a tool to help them write and spell well. In fact, anytime a math or language arts concept comes up that I know we have a song for, I start singing it for the children and ask them if they remember, and try to associate the song with the task at hand. I think that this helps a lot! If you can't apply what you are learning, what good is it?

Encourage Families to Practice with the Videos at Home

I know that it is not possible for all families to purchase a CD or DVD, but there are LOTS of songs on our YouTube channel that are free to watch and use! You can also subscribe to our HeidiSongs Video Streaming Site and watch on any device with internet. And some school and local libraries are developing lending libraries for families that are truly wonderful resources! Some school districts are even starting to order DVDs for children to take home! The more that they watch, listen, and move, the better they will do and the faster they will learn. Every year, I give my students DVDs to take home and practice with, or tell parents about our HeidiSongs Video Streaming Site so they can subscribe, and I can assure you that it makes a huge difference! They can certainly learn without it- but everything goes much FASTER and easier when they are practicing at home.

If you'd like a copy of the list of all 300 first grade sight words that my district uses, here's a download of all 3 lists! Please note that my kids only have to SPELL the first 100, and READ the second and third.


- Heidi

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