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.
Wylie, R.E., & Durrell, D.D. (1970). Teaching vowels through phonograms. Elementary English, 47, 787-791.
See our other pages on word families:
- The 37 most common “chunks” and some of the words in which they appear
- For reading professionals: More thoughts on phonograms
See our other pages on word study and sight words:
- Working and Playing with Words
- High-Frequency Sight Words: The Fry List, Instant Words, Dolch Words, and Word Wall Words