Word Families Can Help Struggling Readers

Imagine how confusing our language must appear to emerging readers! Sometimes vowels are long, sometimes they're short, and sometimes they sound altogether like another vowel. How can a struggling reader make sense of it all?

Word families (also known as phonograms or "chunks") can really help your students "crack the code" of our inconsistent language by providing some predictable patterns within words. As you and I learned to read, we picked up these patterns effortlessly, and they still help us when we try to decode new words. When we direct our students' attention to these same patterns, they too will be able to untangle the seemingly unrelated sounds of English.

What patterns are these? Here's an example: I see the word, "C-H-A-L-K ". Now, how can I figure out how to say that word? I'll try breaking it into chunks that I'm familiar with. What words look like "chalk"? Well, there's walk" and "talk", so maybe "chalk" rhymes with those words. I know that "ch" has it's own sound, so if I add it to the "alk" chunk, I get "chalk." That's it--"chalk."

Can you see how much easier this method of using "chunks" of letters is compared to sounding out one letter at a time? We break words into chunks naturally, and we can teach our students to do the same.

It gets even better! Once your students become familiar with the 37 most familiar chunks, they can use them to decode 500 words. (Wylie & Durrell, 1970)

Word families are indeed an efficient way to get your students reading. Scholastic andother publishers have prepared excellent resources for teaching word families, below.

Reference:
Wylie, R.E., & Durrell, D.D. (1970). Teaching vowels through phonograms. Elementary English, 47, 787-791.

See our other pages on word families:

See our other pages on word study and sight words:

Resources for Teaching Word Families

Image of Easy Lessons for Teaching Word Families: Hands-on Lessons That Build Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Spelling, Reading, and Writing Skills
Manufacturer: Scholastic Teaching Resources (Theory an
Part Number: SC68570
Price: $16.99
Image of Phonics Poetry: Teaching Word Families
Manufacturer: Pearson
Part Number:
Price: $37.20
Image of Reading Success Mini-Books: Word Families: 20 Interactive Mini-Books That Help Every Child Get a Great Start in Reading
Manufacturer: Scholastic Teaching Resources (Teaching
Part Number: SC910439
Price: $10.99
Image of Word Families: 50 Cloze-Format Practice Pages That Target and Teach the Top 50 Word Families, Grades K-2 (Fill-in-the-Blank Stories)
Manufacturer: Scholastic Teaching Resources (Teaching
Part Number: SC945861
Price: $11.99
Image of Word Family Stories & Activities, Level B
Manufacturer: Evan-Moor
Part Number: 3354
Price: $17.99
Image of Word Families, Grades K-2 (File-Folder Games in Color)
Manufacturer: Scholastic Teaching Resources (Teaching
Part Number: SC-0439517680
Price: $19.99
Image of Phonics Poetry: Teaching Word Families
Manufacturer: Pearson
Part Number:
Price: $37.20
Image of Word Family Bingo Ladders: Fun-and-Easy Reproducible Games That Teach Kids the Top 25 Word Families
Manufacturer: Scholastic Teaching Resources (Teaching
Part Number: SC-9780545094405
Price: $12.99