Practicing Sight Words With a Salt Tray


Now that Miss G is in First Grade {first grade!!} she’s given a new list of sight words to take home each week.  At the moment, the expectation is that she’s able to read them aloud, but since she’s already quite advanced with her reading, we’ve been practicing spelling them too.  She loves sitting down with mama to do her ‘homework’, but it goes without saying that we keep it lighthearted, hands-on, and FUN.  One of our very favourite ways to do so?  Practicing sight words with a salt tray!

This is actually one of my favourite ways to help munchkins practice their printing / handwriting, their names, and their sight / spelling words and was a go-to activity in both my Kindergarten and Grade One classes.  Not only is it easy to set-up {all you need is a tray or shoebox lid and some cheap salt}, but kids LOVE it.  It’s waaaay more fun than printing using a pencil and paper {for most kiddos at least}, plus with fixing mistakes being an absolute breeze {shake, shake, shake!}, a lot of the anxiety that comes with potentially making mistakes and the frustration that comes with constantly have to erase is removed completely {which is especially great for kiddos with anxiety, dyslexia, fine motor delays, and other challenges, but also just means more time for practicing }.  On top of it all, being such a sensory-filled process means that it’s interesting and has the ability to hold little ones’ attention.  Win!

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Here’s what you’ll need to put together a salt writing tray of your own…  A tray or box lid of some sort {shoebox lids work great and though we’ve had ours for ages, trays like this one or this one would be perfect for practicing sight words}, some inexpensive table salt {hello, dollar store!}, some cue cards, and a marker of some sort.

*Classroom teachers, if you’re using this same idea to help your students practice their printing {one letter at a time mostly}, I highly recommend keeping a stack of coloured plastic plate salt trays on hand at all times {these plates are perfect!}  They’re super easy to store and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be pulling them out again and again.  If you’d like your kiddos to be able to practice their sight / spelling words on them, it’s a bit trickier to find an affordable, easy-to-stack tray option, but I’ve used these large oval plates in the past and they’ve worked just fine.

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Now because I want Miss G to be seeing the words / letters as I’d like her to practice printing them, I’m the one who writes them who makes up her new cue cards each week, but you could also put your child in charge of this part if you wish.

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The two keys to good salt trays?  Contrast between the white salt and the tray colour, plus using as little salt as possible.  First off, if all you have is white tray and white salt, don’t fret – you have options.  Nearly anything can be painted, but taping a piece of coloured paper down to the base of your tray works too.  Also?  Dyeing salt is the easiest thing ever.  Just put the salt into a zip-close bag, add several drops of liquid food colouring or liquid watercolours {our favourite!} and shake!  You can set it out to dry for a short period of time, but honestly it dries so quickly that you don’t even really need to.  As far as the amount of salt goes, you really want the base of your tray {or plastic plate} to be just barely covered.  As a point of reference, our tray is approximately 18 by 8 inches edge to edge {and more like 16 by 6 along the edges of the base} and we use approximately 3/4 of a cup of salt in ours.  Minimal salt means that the letters will show up nicely when made instead of just filling back up with salt if the tray is over full.

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Then you’re ready to go.  You can adapt the process to fit your child’s style and needs obviously, but here’s what Miss G does. First, she reads the word card aloud…

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Then she prints it in the sand using her ‘finger pencil’ and says each letter as she’s doing so…  {You can use a small paintbrush or the eraser end of a pencil, among other things, instead if you wish.}

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Then she gently shakes the tray back and forth keeping its base on the table…

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Until the word completely disappears.

Here she is in action tonight…

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14 thoughts on “Practicing Sight Words With a Salt Tray

  1. Most grocery stores will give you unused meat packing trays to use as your tray. Sugar, pudding, and shaving cream are great options along with the salt if you want to mix it up! Reading Recovery at its best!

  2. Funnily enough, back when my daughter was younger, I tried this at home and they had activity trays set up for them at Montessori Playgroup (when she was between 2.5 and 4 years old) too and she just wouldn’t touch them. She’d draw images in the sand on the bottom of the slide at the playground with the same idea in mind but not do letters or numbers. I think these days – now she’s been going to kindy for the last year – she might actually take it on board so I’ll give it another go. I’ve got plenty of beautiful fine white beach sand here so I’ll use that instead. :)

  3. You could use a styrofoam tray that you get with fruit or veggies- some are long and thin- take a white carry out box and make a pattern with sharpies. You would then have a top to close it up!

  4. Be careful using this with preschool age children or in a classroom environment where each child can’t be closely monitored as young children often will eat the salt. It doesn’t take that much salt to cause salt poisoning which could be fatal.

  5. Did this yesterday because of your post and it worked great! I just used an old cookie sheet and my son was SO excited and focused better than he has in a long time with spelling words! Thank you so much!

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