Learning to read is a highlight of the primary grades. One of the best ways to help our students learn to read is through word families. Here’s some teacher tested tips for teaching word families.
What are Word Families?
Word families are groups of words that all have the same ending. All words in the same word family will rhyme, like hat, cat, mat and sat. These are all members of the -at word family. But not all rhyming words are word families. Words like bird and herd rhyme because ‘ir’ and ‘er’ make the same sound, but since they don’t have the same ending letters, they are not a word family.
Why are Word Families Important?
Word families take our students from sounding out each letter in a word, to starting to see chunks of letters in the words. As students develop the ability to see and recognize “chunks” or common letter combinations in words, their reading fluency will improve.
Tips for Teaching Word Families
Tip 1: Start Small
The best place to start teaching word families is with one syllable, CVC words. The word family is the VC (vowel consonant combination) at the end of the word. This means that 2 out of the 3 letters are part of the word family. This really helps students to start to see the target letters in the word.
Using an anchor chart is a wonderful way to introduce the word family to your students. These interactive anchor charts are the perfect way to start. The word family characters give students a reminder of a word that uses the word family.
These interactive charts not only remind students of the word family sound, but students get a chance to work with some word family words too.
Students will work with the sounds to create word cards for each word family sound. Then they will add them to the anchor chart. Not only does this interactive aspect help them remember the sound and the lesson, but it also creates a wonderful learning tool for students to use in the days and weeks to come.
Tip 2: Focus on the Sound
If you haven’t taught word families yet, then it is very likely that your students are used to sounding out words letter by letter. That is a great place to start with word families, but the goal is to get those two sounds to be read as one.
Exposing students to word family words through reading is an excellent way to make the progression from sounding out to automaticity. This process can begin with the words added to the anchor chart, but should continue through individual activities too.
These one-page mini-books are a fantastic way for students to work on reading and writing word family words.
Tip 3: Making Words
Once students have been introduced to the word family you are working on, have them help make words. Write the word family on the board or on chart paper. Add a blank line in front of the letters so students know that the first letter in the word can change. Then let the students be part of adding different letters to the front to make new words.
Each word family anchor chart set includes a set of picture cards and letters for building words. While these are perfect for adding to the anchor chart they also make a wonderful word building center activity. Just create 2 sets, 1 for the anchor chart and 1 for the center. The added bonus is that the center activity becomes self-checking since students can compare their words to those on the anchor chart.
One of my students’ favorite practice activities is when they get to create their own word family buddies. Like the word family characters on the anchor charts, students love creating their own personal version that they can take home and share with their family.
After creating the characters, they practice making words by adding the first letter to a word family word.
Tip 4: Find the Chunk
Once students know the word family and its sound, it is time to start training students to look for those letters together. Start with individual words, some in the word family and some not. Have students find the word family by circling or underlining it. As students find the chunk have them say the sound. This is a great multi-sensory activity that helps students see and hear the sound while doing an action.
Once students are doing a good job finding the sound in words, start having them search for the chunk in sentences. You can write sentences out or you can have them search for the word family words in books they are reading.
Tip 5: Provide Lots of Practice
It’s really important to provide students with lots of opportunities to practice word families. The more they practice, the easier it will be for them to instant recognize these chunks in words. After all, the goal is to help improve their reading accuracy and fluency.
Digital Word Family Fun
One of my favorite ways to give my students word family practice is to incorporate different activities so that they are working on a variety of skills at one time. As teachers we know that time is valuable, so any time we can use our time for more than one skill it feels like the cherry on top of the sundae.
These SeeSaw Word Family activities are a great way to work on a variety of skills with word families. Focusing on one word family, students will work on finding the chunk, sorting words, reading words, reading comprehension, spelling and vocabulary. That’s a lot of great skills practice in one activity!
Each SeeSaw Word Family activity has three different, interactive tasks that help students work on word families in a progressive order. The first slide has students work on finding the word family chunk. Students will sort the words into groups with the word family chunk and words without.
The next task combines reading and reading comprehension. As students read the word family words and then match them word to a picture.
The final task has students working on spelling and vocabulary as they use the word family words to write a sentence.
Check out this short video to see the SeeSaw Word Family activities in action.
You can find all of the word family activities in this SeeSaw Word Family Bundle. What is great about have a resource that uses the same activities for different words or word families is consistency. Consistency is a great way to help your students work independently.
Start the activity with the whole group (or in small group). Use this time to model the activities, explain procedures, and set expectations. After students see it and do it a few times they will be ready to work independently. These SeeSaw Word Family activities are a great independent center or word work activity.
Word Family Resources
You can find all of the word family resources from this post in the Emily Education store.
If you aren’t ready for word families yet, pin this to your favorite classroom Pinterest board so you can come back for these practical tips for teaching word families when you are ready.