How to "Beat" Sight Words into Your Child's Brain

Little Girlby Marianne Hering

I’m not a reading expert. However, one of my three children had difficulty memorizing short, common words like this, was, saw, what, or with. For his sake, I became interested in learning how to teach reading skills efficiently.

In first grade, he hated reading because even the simplest words confused him. A cognitive specialist helped me learn this sure-fire way to get those “easy” words imbedded in my son’s brain forever. The key was to “beat” it into his head using a metronome.

Now sight words are his friends. No longer are they enemies who trick him into misreading simple passages. You can help your struggling reader by using the metronome strategy.

You can help your struggling reader by using the metronome strategy.

A word of caution

There are a gazillion reasons kids struggle with learning sight words. Some issues must be fixed before a child can read or memorize well. If you have a struggling reader, go through this checklist. I learned through experience that these issues are HUGE when it comes to reading. They should be addressed before starting any new reading program or tutoring endeavor.

1. Have your struggling reader’s vision checked, including tests for tracking and focusing.

2. Have your struggling reader tested for auditory learning disabilities.

3. Make sure your child knows the alphabet sounds and basic phonic rules.

How can you know if your child knows the sounds and rules? Ask her teacher to administer an assessment. Or assess her yourself. There are many free online resources to help you. Search for terms like “reading level assessments” or “phonics assessment.”

The metronome method is not for every family.

This metronome method takes steady commitment to get lasting results. For some physiological reason that only an educational psychologist can explain, reading on a beat is good for your child’s brain. Daily training adds to the effectiveness. It’s like learning a musical instrument or a foreign language.

This training has to be done one-on-one and almost every day for a few months—it’s not something that a classroom teacher can do with a group. It’s not a two-week brush-up course. But take heart, once you get a training pattern established, a babysitter, tutor, spouse, or older sibling who already reads well can help with the training if you have done the preparation for them.

Here’s what you need:

· 10 to 15 minutes of prep time per lesson

· 10 minutes of training time every day

· a positive, can-do attitude

· 8.5 x 11-inch paper

· colored pencils or markers, 4 different colors

· a metronome that can be set “beats per minute” or BPM. If you don’t own one, you can use a computer with Internet access and search for “online metronome.”

· candy or other treats in small portions (I used cashews, raisins, beef jerky tidbits, or apple and pineapple chunks. On days when my son’s attitude was really poor, I offered M&Ms or minimarshmallows for emergency motivation.)

How to create a training sheet:

· Write a list of eight words your child needs to learn—ask your child’s teacher for a list, or find the Fry’s 300 Instant Sight Words online if you need a starting place. You can also use the list of sight words from chapter 1 of Attack at the Arena or Voyage with the Vikings. For an example, I’ve selected eight of the most common sight words from The Imagination Station series:
it and said the with was asked you

· Take a sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper or larger and fold it in half lengthwise, then fold lengthwise again. Open it up and fold it widthwise three times. When you open the paper again, you’ll have a grid of 32 squares. (You can also draw them or use a computer software program to set up a table.)

· Turn the paper so an 11-inch side is at the top. Write the sight words in random order in four random colors in the 32 boxes.


How to use the training sheet in 10 reading patterns—Day 1:

· Ask your child to read the words slowly in the following 10 patterns. After each reading, give him or her a treat and an encouragement.
1. In rows: left-to-right, top-to-bottom.
2. In columns: top-to-bottom, left-to-right.
3. By color A in rows: left-to-right, top-to-bottom.
4. By color A in columns: top-to-bottom, left-to-right.
5. By color B in rows: left-to-right, top-to-bottom.
6. By color B in columns: top-to-bottom, left-to-right.
7. By color C in rows: left-to-right, top-to-bottom.
8. By color C in columns: top-to-bottom, left-to-right.
9. By color D in rows: left-to-right, top-to-bottom.
10. By color D in columns: top-to-bottom, left-to-right.

· Set the metronome speed to 40 beats per minute (BPM). Ask your child to read the words ON THE BEAT in pattern #1. This may be too slow, but that’s fine. The point is to read ON THE BEAT in a steady manner. After the reading of pattern #1, give your child a treat.

· Evaluate if you need to speed up the reading, or if you need to slow it down. Adjust your metronome to a new speed and read pattern #2. Your goal for your child to read the words ON THE BEAT at a speed that is comfortable but challenging. Let your child practice all 10 of the reading patterns at this speed. Give your child a reward, an encouragement, and a hug. This day’s work is over.

· Here’s how to follow the reading patterns by color. The key is to read only the words in that color. For example, in reading pattern #3 the color A is yellow, and the words are as follows: with, asked, was, you, it, the, said, and.

Don’t ask your child to read bottom-to-top or right-to-left—practice only the skills he or she needs while reading.

Day 2 to whenever you’re ready to stop:

· Practice the 10 reading patterns EVERY DAY for 10 minutes. Give your child treats, encouragement, and hugs after every reading pattern. Increase the speed on the metronome until your child can read all 10 patterns at 180 BPM. That’s not a typo. I meant 180 BPM. That means your child knows these words so well he won’t forget them, and while he’s reading a book, he can decode the words in fraction of a second. He will also enjoy the training process and feel successful and smart.

· Spend a day reviewing the words with the metronome at 180 BPM and mixing up the training patterns to increase variety.

Practice every day for 10 minutes. Daily practice builds focus, speed, and lasting results.

· Now create a new training sheet of words keeping three of the original words and adding five more. The total is still eight words.

· Practice the original training sheet first. Begin each new training session with review so that your child’s brain gets working at the 180 BPM as soon as possible. Then move to the next training sheet and set goals for your child. Maybe it’s to read the new list at 80 or 100 BPM by the end of the first 10-minute session. Work at a speed she can comfortably handle, but at the same time push her so that she’s working hard every day and increasing her speed and reading efficiency.

Begin each new training session with review so that your child’s brain gets working at the 180 BPM speed as soon as possible.

· Determine an ending point for training. My son was learning 10 to 15 new words a week at the 180 BPM mark. After just a few weeks, he knew so many sight words he started to enjoy reading more. We continued for 12 weeks until he knew the first 200 words on Fry’s 300 Instant Sight Words list.

Tips for increased effectiveness

· After the training session, read with your child for 10 minutes doing the “Two, With, and By” method reading in a book your child chooses. Then do 10 minutes of doing the “Two, With, and By” method with a book in The Imagination Station series or another interesting book of your choice.

· Plan a long-term prize for success after your child learns 20 new words at 180 BPM. Setting goals and rewards teaches your child to connect hard work with good consequences.

· Practice math facts in the same way and add 5 to 10 minutes more to give your child a brain workout that is longer, increasing his mental focusing abilities—this really helps kids with attention span issues.

· Create the training sheets with your child. The more control your child has, the better his attitude will be.