A new first grade friend came out of his room to work with me, practicing his reading. He looked anything but excited. He looked downright sad (with maybe a little anger thrown in).
"We are going to practice reading," I said. "Do you like to read?"
He slowly shook his head no.
"Is it sometimes hard?" I asked. He nodded. "Well, we're going to practice together so it will be easier," I said.
His teacher told us to review reading sight words. We both looked at the stack of cards with words. All 120 sight words were stacked there. He looked back at me.
I took some off the top. I turned the stack over, face down. I told him to flip over one card at a time and read it. Those he read, he put in a stack to the side. Those he didn't, I read and put by me.
As we went through a few cards, I watched the smile bloom over his face. He read almost all of the cards. when we finished the small stack, he really smiled.
"Look how many words you read," I said. "Would you like to read more?" He nodded enthusiastically.
I pulled off more cards, flipped them over facedown, and we started. He read all of those words.
He wanted to read the entire stack. We had other reading practice, so I told him we would need to read those later. But we counted through the stack he read.
Again I said, "Look at all the words you read."
He went on to read a story and a nonfiction article (among other things).
Even now, as I think about it, I can remember the way the smile slowly grew on his face as we read those words. Part of it, I think, was that reading the words became a game than a chore. A little challenge made the practice a little different from just reading a group of words.
Yes, we need to practice an work to develop skills. But everyone enjoys a little fun. It can feel like a game even when it is work. And reading sight words can cause a smile to bloom.