The reading process is very challenging. You have to rely on your vision, hearing, memory and judgement skills to gain a true understanding of the process. Students with disabilities struggle with this and don’t really get the chance to read and write for meaning on a daily basis. Because of this, it is our job as educators to make sure our students have access to the words that are the most meaningful to them. Teaching functional words to students with disabilities should be at the top of our list. Increasing a students vocabulary, increases their communication and in return should decrease those negative and unwanted behaviors. So here are 5 easy steps to teaching functional and sight words to your students.

Before you begin teaching it is essential to get a baseline on your students. Gathering data before you start teaching will do 2 things. First it will let you know exactly what area(s) your student needs direct teaching in and second it gives you a baseline so you can compare after you have done direct teaching activities. When assessing make sure to use your judgement on the amount of words you want to assess. It is okay to start small using only 2-4 words. You know your students best!

Now that you have assessed your students you can see the area(s) in which they need further teaching. Use those words to do the following direct teaching lessons.
To begin your teaching of functional and/or sight words you will have your students match the words. For this activity you will determine the field in which you want your students working in. I typically use 4 but I have also used as little as 2 and as much as 8. Lay out your main page. This will be a grid that distinctively separates the words.

Next copy those same words onto flash cards (notecards or scrap paper). You will then say the first word and hand it to your student and say MATCH (word). It is imperative that you use limited verbal instruction so you don’t distract your students on what they are supposed to be focusing on (the word).

Your student will then match the word onto the main page you have laid in front of them. If they get it right give them a quick positive reinforcement (a high five, a “Great job”, nice etc.) If they get it wrong give them a visual redirection (point to the correct word). You will do this until you have gone through all of the words. Repeat this 3 times during each teaching.

Once your students are able to successfully match the words 3 times they have mastered it and can move onto the next direct teaching lesson.

The next step in teaching functional/sight words is teaching your students to select words from a group. For this activity you will lay out the words in an array on the table directly in front of your student. You can create entirely new cards or simply reuse the materials from the matching activity.
Again making sure to use limited vocabulary, simply tell your student to give/point to the word (of your choice). Do this until the student has successfully made it through all of the words. Repeat this process 3 times.
Just like in the first activity, once your student has successfully selected the words 3 times, they are ready to move onto the next activity. 
Now that the student has been able to master matching and selecting words you have asked them to, it’s time for them to start reading words of their choice. Hand them all of their flashcards (the words they have been practicing). Ask them to read the words 1 at a time. Giving them the entire stack allows them to choose the order in which they want to read the words. Again remember to give positive reinforcement and redirection when needed. 
Have the students successfully read the words 1-2 times before moving on. Once you feel they have mastered the words it is time to assess them again.
Use the same assessment you used at the beginning. Compare the data and see the growth!!! If the students have successfully mastered the words they are ready for the next step. For words they didn’t mastered start the process over again. If you were working on 4 words and they mastered 3. Repeat the process with the 1 they didn’t along with 3 new words!
After your students have mastered words it is important to continue to practice them. Here are a list of possible reinforcement activities you can do with your students. I use these activities all year long and continue to add words. By the end of the year they will have all of their words (unless the amount is overwhelming). 
Jenga
                        
**I pulled these pictures from Google…..I do not own them**
Write the mastered words on the Jenga pieces. As your student play Jenga they can read the words. If your students struggle with playing Jenga they can have a basket with all of the pieces, pull out a piece, read the word and build something with the peices.
Twister
**I pulled these pictures from Google…..I do not own them**
Tape word cards to the different circles. Play the game as you normally would but when the student touches a new circle they will read the words. To make it more challenging students can read all of the words their hands and feet are touching every turn.
Lily Pads
**I pulled these pictures from Google…..I do not own them**
Write the words on lily pads (or any fun design) and have your students hop from one lily pad to the next. As they hop they have to say the new word. I really like this activity because it helps my kids get their wiggles out.
Make and Break

Have students use letter tiles (these can be magnet letters, Unifix cubes or anything you write letters on) to spell the word they are shown. As the teacher you will write one of their mastered words on a white board. The student will then use their tiles to correctly spell and read the word. You can level this activity. If they are just starting out consider only having the letters that correctly spell the word. To make it more challenging have the students choose letters from a larger field.
I hope you enjoyed learned a quick, easy and structured way to teach those functional and/or sight words. 

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