Mapping Sight Words

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Want your child to learn sight words in a quick and easy way? The fastest way to master them is by mapping sight words. It’s fun, too!

This idea is so prevalent in education for both teachers and parents:

Children have to memorize sight words.

I used to tell parents that sight words had to be memorize because they couldn’t be sounded out.

But it’s not true. And there is a better way than memorizing.

Traditional sight word strategies include this approach:

  • show a child the word,
  • tell them the word, and
  • review the word until they’ve memorized it.

Oftentimes this works. Until it doesn’t.

This is because it doesn’t align with what we now know from reading science. Memorizing this way goes against how the brain reads.

Instead, word mapping, or sound-spelling mapping, helps children learn sight words much faster and easier.

Find everything you need to know about mapping sight words in this post.

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Mapping Sight Words

Simply mapping sight words means we go from speech sounds to written letters. This means we make the connection between phonemes (sounds) to graphemes (letters) explicit for children.

This works with what we know about the brain and reading.  fMRI shows that the brain connects spoken sounds to written symbols.

Then our brains access our lexicon. That’s the mental dictionary. It associates the word with meaning.

A lot of sight words are function words. But during reading we still think, “Oh, I know this word.”

This cognitive process is called orthographic mapping.

If you’re looking for the specific steps for word mapping sight words, just scroll on down!

Steps for Mapping Sight Words

These are the basic steps for mapping sight words:

  1. Say the word out loud to your child (or student).
  2. Have your child repeat the word.
  3. Use a manipulative like counting chips to count each sound.
  4. Write one line for each sound on a whiteboard, in a notebook, or on a template.
  5. Ask your child, “How do you spell the first sound?” Repeat the sound for them if necessary.
  6. Provide the correct sound-spelling if necessary.
  7. Write and read the word.

Say the word

One of the reasons word mapping sight words is so powerful is children hear the word.  Make sure your child repeats the word, too.

This gives them an additional opportunity to connect sounds to how they are made with their mouth.

You can use this script:

  • Parent: We will map the word “what.” Repeat “what.”
  • Child: What
  • Parent: Good – thanks.

Tap the sounds

You can use your fingers to tap the sounds or fun manipulatives.  We use things at home like:

  • Legos
  • toy dinosaurs
  • matchbox cars
  • pom poms

In the classroom, I’m currently using connecting cubes or foam counters.

You just want to make the number of distinct sounds tangible and concrete for your child.

You can use this script for tapping the sounds:

  • Parent: Count the sounds in the word ‘what.’
  • Child: /wh/ /u/ /t/. Three sounds.
  • Parent: That’s right. Let’s tap a Lego for each sound.

If your child makes a mistake, offer immediate correction in a neutral way: “the sounds are /wh/ /u/ /t/. That’s three sounds.”

Mapping the sounds

To map the sounds, your child needs access to it in a written form. You can use a whiteboard where you draw lines.  You can also use a printable Elkonin boxes template.

You need the correct number of lines or spaces for each SOUND, not the letters. The word “the” has two sounds but three letters. You just need two lines or boxes to map the sight word “the.”

Then your child will identify the correct spelling for each sound. They will write the letters in the boxes or on the lines.

Here’s a script you can use for mapping the sounds:

  • Parent: How do you spell the first sound?
  • Child: w.
  • Parent: W usually spells /wh/ but in this word, it’s spelled wh.
  • Child: (maps wh in the first box)
  • Parent: How do you spell the last sound?
  • Child: t
  • Parent: Yes, please map in the third box.
  • Child: (maps the letter t).
  • Parent: Now we need to spell the middle sound /u/. How do we usually spell /u/?
  • Child: U.
  • Parent: Yes, and is this word the /u/ sound is spelled with a letter a. Let’s map it in red.
  • Child: (maps the letter a).

This step is the trickiest part for children. You will teach during this step.

If your child uses an incorrect spelling, you will immediately correct it. You can do this neutrally by saying something like:

  • “In need, the /E/ sound is spelled with ee.”

Write and read the sight word

It’s important to always have your child write the sight word as a word. While mapping is great, the letters are separated.

Your child to write it as a whole, complete word.

This helps their brain see the word connected from separate sounds to an actual word that carries meaning. Then ask your child to read it.

Here is a sample script you can use:

  • Parent: Now please write the word on the lines.
  • Child: (writes it).
  • Parent: Please read the word.
  • Child: What.
  • Parent: Yes. ‘What’ is a question work like “What is your favorite color.” You worked hard. Thanks.

Mapping Sight Words Examples

Need more examples of mapping sight words? Check out how to map the sight words:

  • they
  • was
  • said

Mapping Sight Word They

Sight word “they” has two sounds:

  • /th/ – this is unvoiced th sound
  • /A/ – this is the long a sound

It is mapped:

  • th – this is a regular sound
  • ey – this is an unexpected sound

Your child can put a heart over the letters “ey.” They can also color code it red to help them remember the unexpected part.

Mapping Sight Word Was

Here’s how you can teach your child to map the sight word “was.”

Was has three sounds:

  • /w/
  • /u/
  • /z/

It is mapped:

  • w for /w/ – this is typical.
  • a for /u/ – this is unexpected.
  • s for /z/ – this is typical

Did you know the letter s spells the /z/ sound 64% of the time? That’s more than the letter z spells the /z/ sound.

Your child can draw a heart over the a or color code it red.

Mapping Sight Word Said

The sight word said has three sounds spelled with four letters:

  • /s/ is spelled with s. It is expected.
  • /e/ is spelled with ai. This is unexpected.
  • /d/ is spelled with d. It is expected.

Your child can write the letters “ai” in read or draw a heart to remember that one part.

Is orthographic mapping only for sight words?

Orthographic mapping isn’t just for sight words.  It is the same process to learn all words.

When teaching your child to read the sight word the or to read CVC words, the brain still follows the same process:

  • Sees letters
  • Connects to spoken speech sounds
  • Accesses meaning in the lexicon (mental dictionary)
  • Word is mapped into long-term memory

I use word mapping to facilitate orthographic mapping for all phonics skills.

Mapping Sight Words Worksheets

If you want a done-for-you way to map sight words, check out the Mapping Sight Words Worksheets.

I took the 220 Dolch sight words and sorted them by phonics skills.  Grab the list in the post Sight Words Sorted by Sound.

There are worksheets available for:

Each worksheet walks you through mapping the sight words. Plus there are answer keys to show you exactly how to map each word!

Word Mapping Workshop

If you want more information about how and why to word map, you’re going to want to check out the Word Mapping Workshop.

This 45-minute training is broken into four bite-sized sections. It also comes with the Word Mapping Activity pictured above.

You can the Word Mapping Training grab it in the Printable Parents’ Shop.

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