By Kate Patton, Early Childhood
What is a Popcorn Word? Any current or former Grace Kindergartener will know. Teaching reading readiness as we do in Kindergarten is all at once complex, exciting, and fun. Learning sight words is an important part of this process. We use the term Popcorn Word to mean frequently occurring sight words, those words you will likely read countless times as a reader.
Imagine yourself as an Early Childhood student, trying your hardest to crack the code of the written words around you that almost everyone else seems to know but you! When children are 5 and 6, they can typically express themselves verbally in their own words and are learning new vocabulary at a quick pace. They love sitting down with a picture book and telling themselves the story using the illustrations. Maybe teachers or families read them a book and now they can retell it on their own.
Although some children will be reading fluently before starting Kindergarten, most will need direct reading instruction. The process of learning to read is different for each child. Phonics is typically an essential part of this process but cannot paint the full picture. Young children begin to recognize and name individual letters learning that letters make sounds. Once they know their sounds, “sounding out” may then begin, blending individual sounds to read a word. Yet, as we all know, the English language is a quirky one, and a focus on sight words must be present to make children truly reading ready.
Popcorn Words walls in different EC classrooms
Popcorn Words are taught to be so easily recognizable that they pop out from the page much like a freshly popped kernel of popcorn! The children know you need only your eyes to read these words. No sounding out necessary. And, of course, when you spot a popcorn word, buttering it is a must. We encourage children to look for popcorn words everywhere, and when appropriate, they can use a butter marker, aka a yellow highlighter, to mark any popcorn words they see. (In the absence of yellow, popcorn words can be highlighted with cheese or jelly!) In the classrooms, we create Popcorn Word walls as a reference to be used daily. Children learning remotely this year created their own Popcorn Word walls at home!
Popcorn Words also play an important role in the written expression of young children. In Kindergarten, students use “sound spelling” to express themselves in writing. Yet, proper spelling begins when they start to incorporate Popcorn Words either remembering them by sight or copying them from the Popcorn Word wall. Journal prompts will often feature the Popcorn Words we have already introduced. There are probably countless ways to introduce sight words. Read a book and count how many times you hear the target word. Write the word three times and use it in a written sentence. Write it in the air. Do a cheer. Play Bingo. Solve a word search. Create art featuring a Popcorn Word. Most morning questions and messages feature a sight word or 2 or 10!
The expression of empowerment and excitement is remarkable when a child looks at a word, is able to read it independently, and is able to tell teachers and family that you know what that word says. As Kindergarten teachers, these are moments of joy! In the K classrooms, you might hear children asking if I is spelled I and a is spelled “a” why is you spelled y-o-u? You will hear children noticing is hiding inside “this.” You will see them scanning for Popcorn Words that might be hiding in their own names. You will hear them call out, “You just said a Popcorn Word!” Ah…the magic of Popcorn Words.
Students enjoy learning about Popcorn Words remotely