Word Families

Teaching Technique to Help a Struggling Reader

Word wall in a classroom.

Nicole Yeary / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

An emphasis on sounding out words with isolated phonemes often leads students to dread reading and think of decoding as some sort of mystical power. Children naturally look for patterns in things, so to make reading easier, teach them to search for predictable patterns in words. When a student knows the word "cat," he can pick out the pattern with mat, sat, fat, etc. 

Teaching patterns through word families— rhyming words—facilitates fluency, giving students more self-confidence and a willingness to use prior knowledge to decode new words. When students can recognize the patterns in word families, they can quickly write/name members of the family and use those patterns to nail down more words.

Using Word Families

Flash cards, and thrill and drill work to a certain extent, but providing your students with a variety of activities keeps them engaged and increases the likelihood that they will generalize the skills they acquire. Rather than using worksheets that can turn students with disabilities off (demanding the use of fine motor skills), try art projects and games to introduce word families.

Art Projects

Artistic word sorts with seasonal themes capture kids' imaginations and use their enthusiasm for a favorite holiday to introduce and reinforce word families.

Paper Bags and Word Families: Print a variety of related words, then ask your students to cut them apart and put them in bags labeled with the corresponding word families. Turn them into trick or treat bags with crayons or cutouts (or buy some at the dollar store) and use them as a centerpiece in your classroom before Halloween. Or draw Santa's sack for Christmas, and label them with a word family. Then instruct students to sort words written on "presents" cut from construction paper into the appropriate sacks. 

Art Project Sorts: Draw or print Easter baskets and label each with a word family. Ask students to write associated words on Easter egg cutouts, then glue them to the corresponding basket. Display the word family baskets on the wall.

Christmas Presents: Wrap tissue boxes in Christmas paper, leaving the opening at the top exposed. Draw or print Christmas tree ornaments shapes and write words on each one. Ask the students to cut and decorate the ornaments, then drop them into the proper gift box.


Games engage students, encourage them to interact appropriately with their peers, and give them an entertaining platform on which to build skills. 

Build Bingo cards with words from a word family, then call out the words until someone fills all of their squares. Occasionally insert a word that doesn't belong in that particular family and see if your students can identify it. You can include a free space on the Bingo cards, but don't allow students to use it for a word that doesn't belong to that family.

Word ladders use the same idea. Following the pattern of Bingo, a caller reads the words and the players cover steps on their word ladders. The first student to cover all of the words on the ladder wins.

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Your Citation
Watson, Sue. "Word Families." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/word-families-to-teach-reading-3111381. Watson, Sue. (2023, April 5). Word Families. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/word-families-to-teach-reading-3111381 Watson, Sue. "Word Families." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/word-families-to-teach-reading-3111381 (accessed May 30, 2023).