Direct Instruction Sight Word Intervention

Instructional Practice
Oral Reading Fluency
  • sight words printed on index cards
  • 3 sandwich size plastic bags
  • 1 gallon size plastic bag
Target Student

All students who struggle with acquiring sight words can benefit from this instructional practice.


One foundational skill to support reading fluency is rapid recognition of sight words (NICHHD, 2000). This Direct Instruction tutoring intervention promotes student acquisition of common sight words. This simple practice can be used by teachers, support staff, paraprofessionals, or parents.


This is an instructional practice. An instruction practice is a teaching method that guides interactions in the classroom and supports student learning. Instructional practices involve an educator using particular method, practice, or protocol during instruction.


How To

Adapted from Intervention Central (see related websites)

  1. The tutor prepares a deck of flashcards with sight words from a master sight word list (e.g., Dolch word list, Fry's Instant Words). The sandwich size plastic bags should be labeled “mastered,” “pending,” and “in progress.” The gallon sized plastic bag should be labeled with the student’s name. All the flashcards should be stored in the “pending” bag and all sandwich sized bags should be stored inside of the large gallon sized plastic bag.
  2. Prior to the session, set a session criterion for mastery. For example, a mastery criterion may be: the student will name all sight words in the deck correctly 3 times in a row. It may be useful to write the mastery criterion and store it in the bag if multiple people will be working with the student. Pull ten cards at random and move them from the “pending” bag to the “in progress” bag.
  3. Using the cards from the “in progress” bag, show each card to the student and ask, ""What is this word?"" If the student names the card correctly within 2 seconds, put the card at the back of the deck and present the next card. If the student names the card incorrectly or hesitates for longer than 2 seconds, that card temporarily becomes a 'drill card'. If this is the case, (1) show the drill card, say the sight word aloud, and have the student repeat the sight word correctly, (2) return that drill card to the deck 2 places back from the front of the stack, (3) following each subsequent appearance of the drill card continue to re-place it 2 places from the beginning of the stack until the student responds to it correctly 3 times in succession, and (4) end the drill-card procedure by placing that flashcard at the back of the stack. 
  4. When the student has reviewed all of the flashcards in the stack at least once and has no drill cards in play, shuffle the cards before again presenting them to the student. When the student attains the mastery criterion, place the ten sight words in the “mastered” bag, and select another ten from the “pending” bag and place them in the “in progress” bag. You may then repeat the above procedure with the new words.

Ruwe, K., McLaughlin, T. F., Derby, K. M., & Johnson, J. (2011). The multiple effects of direct instruction flashcards on sight word acquisition, passage reading, and errors for three middle school students with intellectual disabilities. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 23, 241-255.

NICHHD: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4769). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Related Resources

Dolch Word List

Dolch Word Printable Flash Cards

Fry's Instant Words

Related Websites

Intervention Central Sight Word Strategies

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