• Tara O'Brien

"Gamify" Teaching Sight Words with this Free Resource: The Rainbow Sight Word Program

As a preschool and Kindergarten teacher I understand that students with quick recall of sight words have better reading fluency and comprehension. I also know that students who understand this relationship are more motivated to practice memorizing sight words. Here's the problem though...it's boring. Memorizing sight words is boring at worse and tedious at best. As a teacher I try so hard to make the process more interesting by using flash cards, card games, word hunts, and memory games. The list of activities to promote sight word practice could go on and on. But, no matter how hard I try to play up these activities... eventually every student gets a bit bored.

Then I had a think and did a bit of research into the impact of "gamification" on academic achievement. Gamification in education is one of the new "hot topics" in educational research, but unfortunately most case studies involve digital, rather than physical, gamification. The research clearly shows that when "gamification" provokes emotional engagement, students learn more (Jabbar & Iliya, 2015, 756). Furthermore, when students play and have "fun" they are more motivated to practice and make greater strides academically (Jabbar & Iliya, 2015, 757). However, the research also shows that game play must be differentiated for students. "Game design must be accompanied with multiple learning tools and interesting tasks and materials that facilitate and help students to explore and complete gaming and learning activities in accordance with their needs and abilities" (Jabbar & Iliya, 2015, 768). And lastly, the authors warn, "Challenges and conflicts must match students' abilities and knowledge (Bottino et al., 2007); they must provide equal opportunities for self efficacy (Cheng et al., 2009; Tzeng & Chen, 2012), avoid causing frustration (Ke & Abras, 2013), and keep pupils focused (Rosas et al., 200)" (Jabbar & Iliya, 2015, 768). After looking around at what makes an effective game-based learning program, I gave it a try for myself.

I put together a program called "Rainbow Sight Words" several years ago to gamify the process of learning sight words and tried it out with my Kindergarten class. The program was highly motivating for students and they learned more sight words, faster, over the course of the year. Perhaps equally importantly, they enjoyed the process and took ownership of it!

Here's how the Rainbow Sight Word program works. At the beginning of the year the class makes a giant rainbow to display on the wall. All of the kindergarten sight words are displayed, in order of frequency, on the rainbow. The highest frequency words are on the bottom of the rainbow. The children are assessed and each assigned a color to practice. As children learn the sight words on each color they move up the rainbow to the next color. The goal is to move all the way up the rainbow. Flash cards and games with the corresponding colors are available in the classroom for children to practice. Sight words are also displayed on the word wall in their corresponding colors. Students receive a certificate to take home every time they master a color of the rainbow. The game is simple to implement and understandable to students.

While the program is motivating and effective, the greatest challenge was making sure that students don't compete with each other. To prevent this, I did not share or display which color each child was working towards learning. I encouraged students to set goals for themselves, rather than measure their progress against the progress of others. I also encouraged students to work with and help each other to practice. Over the course of the year, students became very excited about helping each other and celebrated each other's progress. Overall the program was highly effective! Click the links below to download all of the resources you will need to try out the Rainbow Sight Word program. I am happy to share and would love to hear your feedback!

Rainbw Words 1-100
Download DOCX • 303KB
Rainbow Words.docx
Download PDF • 31KB
Download PDF • 5.03MB


Jabbar, Abdul., Iliya, Azita. (2015). Game-play engagement and learning in game-based learning: A systematic review. Review of Educational Research, 85(4). 740-779. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24753028

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