Word families are great for boosting the reading skills of young children.
A few years ago I had a couple of students in my class who were so frustrated with learning to read they refused to do it. Every time we had a reading session, they would have a meltdown. These children weren't diagnosed with dyslexia but they did have autism. In their first year of school, they struggled and missed out on valuable reading instruction. They had learned that if something is hard, a meltdown would mean they wouldn't have to do it.
Their IEP goal was to read ten new words that term. It wasn't a huge goal but to accomplish it they needed to experience some success and begin to see themselves as readers. Rather than focus on sight words, I looked at CVC words and word families.
What are word families?
Word families are groups of words that share a similar pattern, such as hop, mop, and pop. Teaching children that some words contain recognizable “chunks” and how to search for these word parts, is an important step to developing reading fluency. When a child can read hop and knows the sound for /sh/, they can also read shop. They no longer need to sound out a word letter by letter. Very quickly you've also increased the number of words a child can read.
Introducing word families
Start with the short vowel sounds such as ‘-an' when you begin teaching word families. It's important to teach one word family at a time. You don't want to mix them up until children have begun to master the patterns.
To introduce the word family have your students brainstorm all the words they can that have that chunk. Some of your students will quickly realize that the words rhyme. Others may give you words that have the wrong phoneme. For example, if you're looking for an words, you might get ‘ham'. If this is the case write the word down and draw attention to the end letter.
When your students give you their words, make a column of real and nonsense words. Discuss the meanings of the real words and ask for the word in a sentence.
I also use word family posters to check and see if we were able to find the same words as the list.
I love playing the Yes/No game with my students. When you have your word list, choose a child to close their eyes or turn their back. Choose another child to point to a word. Everyone else must be silent. The first child turns around, comes out to the front and has three chances to guess the word. I ask the child to point to the word as well to make sure they are reading the words and not just remembering the words we wrote. When they say a word, the class either says yes or no. If they haven't guessed by three guesses they are told the word.
My kids love it and it's a great game to play to fill in 5 – 10 minutes. You can make your list into an anchor chart or use a word family poster.
Practice with games and activities
Once you've introduced the new phoneme, there are so many activities you can do to consolidate your student's learning. To make it easy for you, I've put together a huge pack of games, activities and worksheets which are perfect for centers and independent learning.
Use playdough mats and have your students make their words.
Develop those fine motor and reading skills at the same time with a picture match activity. Students clip the picture card to the word with clothespins or paper clips. Combine them with other word family cards and they can play a matching game with their classmates.
In the following activity, students match the onset (consonant or blend found at the beginning of a word) to the rime (vowel and consonant found at the end of the word) with jigsaw pieces. Add a recording sheet and they can write down the words they've made. Place it with other sets and you've got another great game.
If your kids love playing board games, each word family has two that you can use.
Independent practice is important too. Choose from the six different worksheets that each word family has. Have your kids practice writing their word family words.
Students can make a list of real and nonsense words.
Practice spelling by cutting out the letters and reassembling them to make their words.
Use a worksheet to have your students write the word and match it with a picture.
When you've taught the phonemes from one short vowel sound you can use even more games and activities to consolidate it before moving onto the next short vowel.
Grab a pack
If you'd love a massive pack of 700 + pages of worksheets, games and activities for your classroom, you can grab one from my TPT store. Just click on the image below.
If you prefer working with one word family pack, just click on the thumbnail below to go to my TPT store.