Teaching word families to your child can form a useful part of helping your child learn to read. A knowledge of word families helps your child to recognise unfamiliar words quickly and so builds their confidence during the difficult early reading stages. Teaching word families is an integral part of teaching reading using analytic phonics.
Single syllable words can be broken down into two parts - the onset at the beginning, which is usually a consonant or consonant cluster, and the rime at the end. So, for example, in the word 'bright', 'br' is the onset and 'ight' is the rime. By varying the onset, you create a family of rhyming words such as 'light', 'fright' and 'sight'. A word family is therefore a set of words with the same rime.
Grouping words into word families helps to improve the predictability of letter sounds. The sounds that letters make vary depending on the other letters around them. For example, think of the many different ways to pronounce 'a' depending on the word (eg map, cake, boat, head, said, salt, eat). Letters grouped together in a rime within a word family form a stable unit, which sounds the same in the majority of the words it appears in. This increases the probability that your child will read the letters correctly.
There are various reasons why teaching word families is considered beneficial. Teaching word families can help your child to:
According to Wylie & Durrel (1970) the 37 most common word families can be used to learn 500 words. You can find examples of words in each of these families, plus a few additional families here.
If your child can already decode regular words, letter combinations, and high-frequency irregular words, they will already be able to read many of the words in these common word families using their decoding skills. In this case, a useful list to refer to is this short list of 'Super Word Families', which identifies the most frequently occurring word families which cannot be easily decoded:
There are many fun and engaging activities you can do with your child when teaching word families.
One of the simplest is to write the rime of your chosen word family in a circle in the middle of a page and draw arrows out from the circle. Then ask your child to hunt through a book you have recently read together and find words which belong to that family, writing each word at the end of an arrow. When you have exhausted the words in the book, add additional ones which you brainstorm together.
Another good way of hunting for word families in a book, is to cut out a small window in a piece of card which corresponds to the size of the rime you are looking for in that particular book. The size of the window will vary between books depending on the typeface in the book. I found it easier to cut out the window if I folded the card in half and cut along the crease. Then ask your child to hunt for words containing the rime. Each time they find a word from that word family they should place the card over the word such that the rime appears in the window.
My children and I have had a lot of fun playing this commercially available game, POP for Word Families, where you try to win as many popcorn pieces as you can by making words with the right word-ending.
You could also try this online word family game from ReadWriteThink. Drag each new word to the correct word family column. Ask your child to say the word aloud as they drag it.
Here are some of my other favourite ideas for practicing word families which you can find on the internet.
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