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How to Teach Sight Words to Adult Literacy Students

Updated on April 9, 2015
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Cheryl Paton was a literacy tutor for adults for twelve plus years. Some of these techniques can also be used with children.

A lot of adult students may already know a variety of sight words.

But let's assume you're starting at the beginning. The first thing to consider is which words should be taught as sight words. Which words will the person need to easily recognize to help make sense of their world.

For starters, it is helpful for them to know words that serve as glue, such as connecting words and articles, such as: is, the, with, to, and, it, an, etc.

The second thing to consider is what is the student's purpose for learning some sight words. It might be something very basic, such as which restroom is actually the men's or the women's. Keep in mind the number of restaurants that use words other than men or women on their restroom doors.

Beyond that, what are the student's goals. Are they training for a job, wanting to get their driver's license or navigate the road on a bike, read to their child, etc.?

Image credit for the intro text is the author of this page.

One method to get things started is to have the student tell a story.

A story in this case can be a description of something, something they want to do, about something they have, etc.

You just want them to tell you about something, and you will write down what they say. Then you will read it back to them.

You can point to each word as you read it them.

Below is a recap of the basics, followed by an example in a video.

Write a story.

Have the student tell you about their job, child, hobby, etc.

Print the story as they tell it, on a sheet of paper.

Read the story back to the student.

Have the student read the story to you.

Have the student select sight words from the story.

Here is an example of writing a story. - Then incoporate various learning techniques to reinforce word recognition.

There are a number of ways to reinforce sightwords. - It helps to incorporate a variety of senses.

As shown in the above video, the student can copy the sight word from a story in their own handwriting.

They can also read sight words written by another, trace the letters, imagine the letters, and spell them out.

Check out the next video to learn more about these techniques.

This tutor also has her student think about the tall and short letters, which ones come before another letter, and so forth.

If you are going to make your own flashcards from colored cards, - I recommend that you use the different colored cards according to a theme.

For instance, make all transportation words on green cards, and all job terms on yellow cards, etc.

It will help you to easily find the cards related to the theme that you want to focus on in that session.

School Smart Heavyweight Plain Index Cards - 3 x 5 inches - Pack of 100 - Canary
School Smart Heavyweight Plain Index Cards - 3 x 5 inches - Pack of 100 - Canary

If your student is able, have them write the words on the flashcards.


If you want to have preprinted words already on hand,

you can have them made from words of your own choosing.

You can type in your text on the template form that is provided, and then replace the photo placeholder on the back with an image that you have stored on your computer.

If you don't need an image on the back, it can be customized and the image holder deleted.

You can use pre made flash cards.

There are a variety of flash card options to choose from.

For more adult looking flash cards, you can check out CustomFlashCards at

An example is the apple flash card to the right. On the back it has three choices to read from, including apple, red apple, and whole apple.

Adults usually have a much larger vocabulary than a young child, so they will probably want to be able to describe things in greater detail and/or more descriptive terms.

Apple flashcard
Apple flashcard | Source

You'll find this design and more at the store CustomFlashcards at

You can also make word and picture requests in the comment section below, if you want some cards made for special sight words.

These cards have a variety of connecting words, along with some common nouns. - They are geared for ages 4 - 8, but will also work for a adult learners.

Games can also be used with adult learners.

Ideas include hang man, word search puzzles, word jumbles, and more.

Play a game of memory with two sets of sight word flashcards.

For this game, you will need two each of the sight words that you want to reinforce.

I recommend that you do one theme at a time.

Place the cards for a particular theme, face down, and take turns turning over two cards, trying to make a match. If you make a match, that player can take another turn. Each person reads the card that they turn over out loud. If a match isn't made, those cards are laid face down again, in the same spots that they were in.

Adult students can be on various reading levels.

One of my clients already knew and recognized a lot of words.

What she needed help with was learning how to sound out new words.

Knowing words by recognition is a good starting point. It helps the reader to gain some confidence in being able to read, and to recognize common words in their life.

Ultimately, they will also want to learn common letter patterns and phonics, so that they can begin to sound out new words on their own.

When your students have a good number of sight words as part of their knowledge, - it's time to introduce phonics.

Knowing some phonics will help your students learn to decode new words on their own, which will also help them to be more independent readers.

The Phonics Guide

This book gives an alphabetical listing of common letter patterns. It's a great reference book for tutors and also the emergent reader.

Teaching Phonics & Word Study in the Intermediate Grades

A reviewer has used this book to tutor an adult student, and said that it is a complete course in itself, and has proved very helpful.

Reading for Kids and Adults: A beginning phonics reading program

This book gives teaching strategies along with worksheets that can be copied.

If you have a sight word request to be put on flashcards, submit it here. - Your tips and questions are also welcome.

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    • CherylsArt profile image

      Cheryl Paton 3 years ago from West Virginia

      Thank you Brite-Ideas. May it be of help to many, students and tutors alike.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      a page that will be helpful to many I'm sure, nicely done

    • CherylsArt profile image

      Cheryl Paton 3 years ago from West Virginia

      @Craftymarie: That's great. They come in so many different themes.

    • Craftymarie profile image

      Marie 3 years ago

      Flashcards are a great idea for learning. I used them when studying for exams.

    • CherylsArt profile image

      Cheryl Paton 3 years ago from West Virginia

      @Adventuretravels: Sight cards can be used for a variety of students. Thank you for sharing. : )

    • Adventuretravels profile image

      Giovanna Sanguinetti 3 years ago from Perth UK

      I use sight cards when I work with my dyslexic students. These are good tips.