kids reading

The Ins and Outs of Word Families

Once your child knows all of their letters and sounds, the next step on their reading journey is to begin blending sounds together to create words. While some children catch onto this very quickly, others can struggle when faced with an entire word. It is a lot to remember. All of the letters, their sounds, and then on top of that, having to put it all together. Talk about overwhelming!

One approach that I like to use with my tutoring students is to start with word families.

What are word families?

According to Enchanted Learning, LLC, “Word families are groups of words that have a common feature or pattern – they have some of the same combinations of letters in them and a similar sound.” The repetition of letters and sounds makes words families an easier concept for beginning readers to grasp. They only need to focus on the beginning sound in a new word, not all three sounds. By grouping similar words together, your child will be able to read more words more quickly. This not only builds skill, but more importantly builds confidence!

Start with simple short a word families and work your way through the different vowels. These CVC words are ones that your child will most likely be familiar with. One common example is the -at family.

-at family

As you can see, each three-letter word ends in -at, but the beginning sound changes each time to create a new word.

Why Teach Word Families?

  1. They are predictable: Word families follow a predictable pattern that children are able to visualize. Because the ending sounds are the same, the words also rhyme. This makes the words more approachable for beginning readers.
  2. They are beneficial: By teaching word families, not only will your child will be able to read more words, but they will also be able to write and spell more words. Once your child is comfortable reading the words in the family, they will be ready to start writing the words too. This allows them to start building their reading and writing skills!
  3. They are adaptable: You’ll want to start with short vowel CVC word families first. However, as your child progresses as a reader, word families can be used to teach simple and more complex short and long vowel words. Blends and digraphs can also be added to the beginning or end of the word family in order to create more complex words.

The Downside to Word Families

While I believe word families are fabulous for beginning readers, they do have their downsides. As with anything, you have to mix it up.

If you only teach word families, you might be disappointed with the results. Your child may learn to just follow the pattern, zipping through each word. Instead, you want them to slow down and really think about each individual letter and the sound it makes.

As your child becomes comfortable with word families, try to add in other blending exercises that are not always predictable. A blending board is an excellent tool to use because it allows for flexibility. You can mix and match different letters and sounds very easily. You can also start by just blending two sounds together if your child is not quite ready for three. Read more about blending boards, and how to create your own, here.

blending board

As you can see… I am a big fan of word families! While there are many great resources out there, below is a list of some of my favorites.

The Top 5 Resources for teaching word families

Word Family Houses by The Measured Mom: This creative resource is easy to prepare and provides an interactive way for children to practice reading words in each word family. There are houses for MANY of the different word families.
word family house word family house

Word Family Books by This Reading Mama: These word family books are excellent for practicing word families in context. They utilize many word family words and beginning sight words to create an engaging storyline that some of my tutoring students loved! I have found them to be a little too difficult for very beginning readers though.

word family book word family book word family book

Phonics Books by The Measured Mom: This collection of phonics books are a little more simple than the books created by This Reading Mama. Each page reviews a word in the word family and then uses it in a sentence with simple sight words. They are perfect for your emergent reader who is not quite ready to tackle a full story yet!

phonics reader phonics reader phonics reader

Color the Chunk Phonics Pages by This Reading Mama: I love this resource for word families, however there are Color the Chunk pages for MANY other phonics skills. Children color in the “chunk” of the word they are practicing, which allows that section of the word to really pop. This allows them to see parts of the word more visually, which makes for easy reading.

Hands on Reading Mats for Short Vowels by The Measured Mom: These mats are a hands-on way for kids to practice word families by matching word cards to a picture on the mat. I like the pictures, which check for comprehension, along with providing an additional support for beginners.

You just can’t go wrong with any of these resources! I hope they will be helpful to you as your child starts learning word families.

Happy Tutoring,


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