1. Overview

Sight Words Fishing provides additional opportunities for practicing sight words and improving retention. The child catches a fish, then reads the word on the fish in order to keep their catch. The novelty of catching the fish makes the game a favorite with children, and they will happily play independently. This is an excellent game for providing repetition and building toward mastery of the words.

Sight Words Fishing

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2. Materials

The game requires a fishing rod and sight words fish. The fishing rod has a magnet on the end of the line for the child to catch the fish. The sight words fish are fish-shaped flash cards, printed on cardstock paper, that have a metal staple or metal paper clip to allow them to be “caught” by the magnet on the rod.

Video: Making the Sight Words Fishing Materials

2.1 Fishing Rod

  • Stick or dowel (approximately 14 inches)
  • String or Yarn (approximately 24 inches)
  • Magnet (push pin magnets work best)
  • Scissors

Tie one end of the string to the magnet. Tie the other end of the string to the stick. To stop the string sliding around, tie a knot on one side of a natural bump in the stick, wrap the string around a few times, then tie on the other side of the bump.

If you are using something smooth, like a dowel, cut a notch in the wood, then tie the knot in the notch.

Trim excess string with scissors.

2.2 Sight Words Fish

  • Fish templates (download here)
  • Cardstock (approx. 110 lb / 200 gsm)
  • Printer
  • Stapler (or paper clips)
  • Scissors

Print out the fish templates on some cardstock paper. Then cut out the fish with the scissors. On the head of each fish, place a staple or a paper clip. (In our experience staples work better, as sometimes the paper clips slip off the fish.)

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3. Activity

Set up the exercise by placing all the fish, word side down, on a table or the ground. Show the child how to catch a fish by dangling the fishing rod magnet near the fish’s head to “catch” it, taking the fish off the line, and then reading the word.

Video: How to Play the Sight Words Fishing Game
Adult: We are going to play Sight Words Fishing. Are you ready to fish?
Child: Yes!
[Adult models catching a fish, removing fish from line, and turning it over to read.]
Adult: Dog [sweeping finger from left to right under the word]. Your turn.

As the children play the game, if they get the word correct, they keep the fish, making a pile by their side.

Child: Cat.
Adult: That’s right, that says cat.
If they don’t get the word correct, we do our standard sight words correction to give the child some practice with the word. Then we return the fish to the pond for them to catch again later in the game.

The game ends when all the fish are caught. For more repetition, you can go through all the caught fish.

Adult: Let’s look at everything you caught.
            [Point to first fish.] What does this say?
Child: Dog.
Adult: [Point to next fish.] And this?
Child: Cat.

Once a child has a bit of experience with the game, they can play by themselves, coming to you only at the end of the game with any words that they had trouble sight reading. The game can also be played with small groups.

Note: The fish should be close to identical. Avoid making the fish different colors, different shapes, or having the children color them in. Decorative features can focus attention on the wrong things and encourage the children to develop shortcuts, guessing the word based on the design of the fish rather than by recognizing the actual word. It also allows children to choose words that they find easy, and avoid the words they find challenging.

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4. Variations

You can scale the difficulty level of the game by using an easier or more difficult set of words. There are also a number of common variations.

4.1 Fish in a Bowl

Fish in a Bowl is essentially the same game, but dispenses with the rod and the complication that the rod adds. You simply make the fish and place them in a ‘fish bowl’ (if you want to be fancy, you can purchase an acrylic fish bowl, but most people just use a bowl or bucket they have lying around the house). Instead of fishing, the child simply picks a fish out of the bowl and reads the word.

By dispensing with the fishing rod, this game is simpler to make. It also reduces the distraction that the rod can create. The trade-off is that without the rod, the game is not quite as fun.

4.2 Group Fishing

A small group of children (up to five) take turns fishing. One child fishes, then attempts the word. The other children in the group act as judges to check that the word is correct. The children can keep any fish they name – if they don’t know the word, the other children in the group say the word, and the fish is put back. At the end of the game, ask the children to show their fish one at a time, and the whole group reads the words together.

4.3 Fishing Contest

A child or group of children see how many fish they can catch in three minutes. Set a kitchen timer for three minutes, and let them fish, again allowing them to keep all the fish they can read, and returning fish that they struggled with.

At the end of the game, review the children’s “keep” piles. Just as importantly, review the fish left in the pond that no one was able to win, so they can identify and practice these problematic words.

4.4 Different Reading Levels

In your classroom, you may have kids who are at different reading levels. Print more difficult words on a different color of paper and direct the more advanced students to “fish” that color.

For example: print Dolch First Grade words on blue paper and Dolch Second Grade words on green paper. Tell the struggling readers to catch blue fish, and have the advanced readers catch green fish.

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5. Assessment

An observer can keep track of the words each child is getting correct and the words on which the child is struggling. The game is an unobtrusive way to take inventory of progress.

To demonstrate mastery of the exercise, the child should be able to confidently produce the correct word for 100% of the words.

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6. Printable Fish Templates

Create your own custom fish cards or use some of our pre-made templates below.

To download a template, right-click and select Save As.

These materials are provided under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Essentially, this means you can do whatever you want with the resources, provided you leave the attribution hallmark on the resources. You may use these materials in the classroom, at home, as part of a for-profit tutoring business, or for any other purpose. (Except starting forest fires. That’s bad.) You do not need to contact us for permission to use the materials. We want you to use them!

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12 Responses to “Sight Words Fishing”

  1. Estela Esquivel

    This is an excellent idea to do. Creating the material to help children all over. Thank you and hats off to this website for taking their own precious time to help others. This will save time and focus on helping students learn to read.

  2. Mrs. Alvarado

    Fun game.

  3. Lesley

    Thank you for preparing this for us! It is so well organized and fun to use.

  4. Mark

    The teacher is a real heartbreaker. I imagine she has quite an imagination.

    ADMIN – Hi Mark,

    Not quite sure what to say here???

  5. Sita

    You are awesome. Thank you for helping us beginning teachers

  6. Gee

    Thank you very much for the knowledge shared. These sight words games are of great help to me as a mother and teacher and as well as to my learners. God bless your endeavors….

  7. Shari

    Is there a way to increase the size of the font. Can’t seem to find this option if it is there.

  8. surya singh

    Fantastic post, very informative. I wonder why the other specialists of this sector do not notice this. You must continue your writing. I’m confident, you have a great readers’ base already!

  9. Janet Clements

    I love this game! (fyi: While watching the 2 videos (materials and rules), I noticed that they are both the same, both materials, no rules.) Thanks so much for such solid pedagogy.

  10. emma

    This game is awesome! [FYI: After watching both videos (materials and rules), I noticed that there are no rules in either video.] Thanks for your solid pedagogy.

  11. Jessica

    one word….amazing!!!!!!!

  12. Diana

    My grandson and I had so much fun fishing for words. I used staples in the head of the fish and a magnetic fishing rod that came from a dollar store. From a large toddler bathtub from Ikea that served as a boat, he could catch the fish scattered on the floor. When one spot was fished out, I would tow him to another one until they were all caught. When he mastered a word, we put it on a stringer (a long piece of yarn with loops tied in it), which we displayed in a prominent place so he could show off his accomplishments. To do this, I used a punch to make a small hole near the “mouth” and threaded a paper clip through it. This made it easy to attach it to the stringer. I used a different color of card stock for each Dolch level. My grandson is 12 now, and a competent reader. Learning the sight words gave him a real boost in learning to read. I’m going to make fish for my goddaughter’s son, who is in 1st grade. I hope he can have fun with this game, too.


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