Working with Word Families

Being back in Kindergarten has meant a huge change in what I teach!  As a first grade teacher, I was used to teaching things like vowel patterns and digraphs and blends.  Of course, we reviewed word families as well!  But teaching Kindergarten meant going back to the basics- and at the end of Kinder, that meant teaching word families.

Why Teach Word Families?

Sorry, this is the "boring" part.  :-)

Teaching word families is a great way to get your students reading.  Word families use the natural rhyming ability of most young children to help them read simple words.  Learning how to use the spelling patterns in simple CVC word family words will help students be able to use these same patterns in more difficult words.  For example, a if a student learns words from the -at word family, they would be able to use the pattern to help them decode "category" or "acrobat".  Notice I said HELP!  We, of course, must do more than teach them word families to help them decode tricky words! 

When do I teach Word Families? 

Students who are at various stages of spelling can all benefit from instruction in word families.  Students who don't hear medial vowel sounds can benefit from instruction in word families that have the same vowel sound, such as ip, it, and in.  Students who hear some medial vowel sounds and can hear some blends/digraphs can benefit from comparing word families with different vowels.  Students who hear the medial vowel sounds would benefit from long and short vowel sounds.  I've taught word families in both Kindergarten and first grade, because first graders can often use a refresher and the opportunity to practice these patterns again, especially after a long summer off.  And obviously, most Kindergarten students haven't even been exposed to them!

I begin teaching word families when most of my students know their beginning and ending sounds but may still be struggling with medial vowel sounds.  We begin with short a word families.  Each week, we introduce a new word family.  We study each word family for an entire week, and we have a different activity we do each day to reinforce the spelling pattern and give them practice with it each day.

Here's a typical week in my Kindergarten classroom:

On Monday, I introduce the new word family in two ways.  First, I introduce the poem we read each week.  I read the poem aloud twice, and then invite the students to read the poem with me the third time.  Then, we practice making words using the vowel pattern.  I have a cookie sheet with the word family pattern already on it.

We practice reading the poem a few times.  I usually read it the first time, and then I invite the students to read it with me the second and subsequent times.  We practice reading fluently at this time as well, so we incorporate some fluency practice into our phonics!  Win win!

Then we practice making words with the magnetic letters.  The kids love this part.  After doing this for a few weeks, they really caught on to how to blend the words together to make new words.  Usually they've already read the word as soon as they see me pick up the next letter!
I use digraphs and sometimes blends as well with our making words.  This allows my students to practice those sounds as well, since we've taught them and practiced them already as part of our Phonics Dance.

On Tuesday, we do a picture sort using picture cards.  We sort whether a word ends with the given word family or doesn't.  I have a pocket chart that I use to sort them.

Then, I give them a chance to do a Making Words activity using their own letters.  We use this Making Words sheet for each of the word families.  
As I model making the word on the cookie sheet with the magnetic letters, the students follow along using their own letter cards.  When I do making words with the students, I just place the exact same letters the students have on the board.  Then I manipulate the letters to make different words using the same word family.

They like being able to manipulate the letters to make different words, and they really love trying to guess which word I'm going to give them next!

On Wednesday, we re-read the poem, and then we spend time highlighting the sight words and word family words in the poem as a class.  For the first few weeks, we also did this sheet together, just blown up as a poster.  We determined which words were real words and not real words.  I asked them if they could use the word in a sentence, and if they couldn't, then it probably wasn't a real word.  They put their thumb up for a real word, and down for a non-sense word.  (They LOVE that!  Seriously- who knew?!)

Then, once they got the hang of it, we practiced it together, and eventually I got to the point where we got to go over it before they did it on their own.  Yay independence! 

On Thursday, we did the word family book.  They really liked doing the books, and they got to keep them in their book boxes for independent reading.  Since the books were very simple, most of the kids could read them on their own.  

The books had a matching page with 4 pictures and 5 words.  I did this on purpose to make it a little bit of a challenge.  A lot of students will match a few of them, and then guess on the others.  But with an uneven number of pictures and words, they actually had to think about what the word said, because they didn't match up.  

They loved having their own books to read.  

Friday:  Assessment day!
On Friday, we used this Word Family house as a mini-assessment.  They had to use the letters at the bottom of the page to build the word family words.  I like this little assessment because it allows me to see what they can do without it really feeling like a test.  You know, since they are allowed to color the pictures after they are finished.  

I always found it really interesting to watch how they made their words.  This sweetie made all the word family endings on his page first, and then went back and did the beginning sounds.

This little cutie pie made each word in its entirety, one at a time.

Now, I know what you're thinking!  Wow, it's all sunshine and rainbows in there, and all the kids get it!  Right?  WRONG.  There were a few students that still really struggled with the patterns.  You can see me pointing to this little guy's paper to show him the picture of the word he's supposed to be building.  There were students I had to work with independently or pull in a small group to work on these particular pages because they simply couldn't do them independently.   As the weeks went on, this number became smaller and smaller.  But yes, I definitely had a few who struggled!

One thing I really liked about these activities is that, while they seem repetitive to us, they allowed my students to gain more and more independence as they worked each week on a different word family.  Their familiarity allowed the students to focus more on the words and not the activity they were doing.

I will say that those activities definitely helped my students.  At the beginning of the year, we had to give an assessment called the Phonemic Awareness Test (I think!- we just called it the PAT).  I was taking a class through a university through my school, and that was one of the requirements.  At the beginning of the year, of course, my students could not blend and segment sounds, except for a few.  At the end of the year?  NAILED IT!  It is so exciting to see that growth and to know that these activities helped them get there! 

You can find these activities in my store.  I have 16 word families included in the bundle, or you can find the activities listed individually as well.  These activities will be on sale through Wednesday for 20% off if you want to snag them now for next year!  

Also, there is a 3 page freebie in the preview!  You can download the preview for these 3 freebie pages.  


Of course, I know that those few exposures to those word family words aren't enough!  I have another post coming with some more ways we practiced word families in my classroom.  You can find it here.

Thanks for reading!


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