Tips for teaching phonics word families in K-2. Learn why and how to teach short and long vowels with word families and grab a weekly routine that will make it simple to implement into your literacy program.
How to Teach Phonics Skills with Word Families
Are you looking for ways to build upon foundational phonics skills and help students learning to read? Integrating the study of word families into your literacy program is a reliable strategy.
But what are word families, and how do we teach them in our classroom? This article lays out the importance of teaching this phonics skill and tips on how to go about it.
How Phonics Relates to Word Families
Phonics is a method of teaching reading that focuses on using the correlation between letters and sounds to help a student decode words as they read. It is no secret that the English language can be difficult to decode due to ever-changing rules. But certain patterns emerge that we can teach students to help strengthen their reading ability.
Word families, also called phonograms or “chunks,” provide us with groups of words that have a predictable pattern or “chunk.” We teach these patterns as word families- groups of words that have a similar pattern, making them appear to be part of a “family.” By grouping words in this way, students can learn to read groups of words quickly by learning the pattern.
These words also have the same ending, and they all rhyme. This makes learning a set of words (a word family) easier for our beginning readers.
Start with Simple Word Families
So, how and where do we teach when teaching word families?
In Kindergarten, start with simple word families. Begin with one-syllable words, specifically those containing a short a. One of the first families to teach is -at.
Once students can identify the letters and their sounds, it is as simple as changing the first letter of the word to make several other words.
Examples of words in the -at family are bat, cat, hat, fat, mat, sat, etc. Other one syllable, short -a word families, include: -an, -ap, -all.
Besides short -a, there are more one-syllable short vowel families.
- The short e sound has such families as -en, -et, -ed.
- A good one to teach early on is -it (hit, sit, fit, etc.). Short i also has -in, -is, -ip.
- Continuing through the vowels, the short o families are -ot, -op.
- As well as short u: -ug, -up.
All of these are simple families for beginners. By studying the letter/sound patterns, students develop skills that increase their reading fluency.
By first grade, students will be learning long vowel word families, as well.
- Long a makes up many different families: -ake, -ame, -ace, -ate, just to name a few.
- Long e has such families as -ee-, -ea-.
- In addition, long -i families include -ight, -ine, and -ide,
- Long o has -ome, -one, and -ow.
The words in these families are a little more complex, so they should be taught as students are advancing in their reading ability. You can find comprehensive lists online that give examples for each family.
Use a Variety of Engaging Activities
Now that we know the why, it’s time to go into HOW to effectively word families. This is where we can get creative! There is a multitude of creative activities and fun ways to teach and practice word families.
The main goal is to get kids to interact with words as much as possible. The repetition of seeing sets of words in a variety of activities will help children begin to read and remember them.
A Weekly Routine
I suggest having students interact with a weekly word family each day of the week. The more that kids actively participate, the more effective the teaching and learning will be.
- Introduction – On the first day, begin by introducing the word family. Give the “chunk” and have kids repeat the sound. Then, ask kids to close their eyes and visualize words that rhyme with that sound.
- Word Wall or Anchor Chart – Next, brainstorm words that belong to that family. Record words on an anchor chart or engage students to come and write the words they discover on a word wall.
- Individual Booklets – Then, students will write the completed list in a word family book to be sent home for practice throughout the week.
DAYS 2 – 4:
Start each day with a quick review of the words you are working on with your class. Use word cards in a pocket chart for kids to read and match words with a picture.
Over the next three days of the week, incorporate a variety of hands-on activities to help kids practice and build fluency with the word family. Use different activities as centers that students rotate through or that can be completed individually at their desks.
- Puzzles – Practice matching pictures with words, and build words one letter at a time with puzzle activities. These are great for kids to do independently during small groups!
- Magnetic Letters – Have students use magnetic letters on drip pans to spell out the words.
- Other Methods for Spelling – Write, build, create, draw, or stamp the words.
- GAMES – You can play BINGO with the weekly words or make a spinner, where kids spin a letter to add to a vowel ending to create words.
- Read & Spell – Some students will be past reading the words and ready for more. For these kids, provide activities that challenge them to spell the words and use them in sentences.
- Read books – Don’t forget, as you go through the activities during the week, to incorporate literature as much as possible. Find books that have words from the word family you are working on that week.
- Repetition – Also, let kids create their own little books to practice reading. You can find mini-books to print for each short vowel family here.
After much emphasis and practice over the course of the week, the words should be easy for students to recall and even spell by Friday!
- Assessment – At the end of the week, it is good to have an assessment (this can be part of your weekly spelling test) to see if the kids have mastered the words. Make reading assessment fun with a sticker book!
- Extra Practice – However, if some struggle, don’t forget to provide extra practice. Send activities home for kids to complete that build recognition and fluency.
Teaching Phonics Through Word Study is Effective Practice
The joy of teaching word families is that by teaching students a mere 37 words, they will decode 500 words! That will be a great benefit as you work towards improving reading fluency.
The study of phonics is an effective method for teaching reading, and learning word families is an important part of that process. Besides, your class will have tons of fun as they learn and complete the routines!
FREE -AT Word Family Activities
To get started, check out the free downloadable resource: short ‘a’ vowel word family pack of activities. Click the image below to get your copy!
This free printable resource gives you a sample of what other great resources are available to teach word families. Click below to check out the word family resources available now!
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