Home Meet the Blogger Freebies Contact TeachersPayTeachers BlogLovin Instagram Pinterest Facebook Twitter Image Map

June 22, 2022

What are Word Families & Why are they Important?

Did you know using word families in literacy instruction is a powerful way to get kids reading and spelling new words?  

Perhaps you aren't quite sure what word families are....well keep reading, teacher friend! 

What are word families?

Word families are groups of words that have the same ending or rime unit.    

The rime is the string of letters that follow the onset.  The onset is an initial phonological unit of any word  (e.g. /c/ in cat).  The rime unit in cat would be /at/.  Usually the rime consists of a vowel and a single consonant.  

Word families are sometimes referred to as groups, chunks, or rime units.  Members of the same family have the same rime unit.  For example some of the members of the "at family" would be at, bat, cat, rat, hat, mat, pat, drat, scat and splat. 

Why are word families important? 

Teaching students rime units, or word families, will increase their skills in sounding out and spelling words.  In Equipped for Reading Success, Dr. David Kilpatrick explains that words are stored in our brains by first sounds (onset) and rhyming patterns (rime units).

Basically our brains LOVE patterns!! If students are directly taught common rime units, they will be able to quickly and efficiently decode unfamiliar words. 

When a student sees an unfamiliar word, a first step to decoding would be locating an already mapped string of letters (common rime unit) present in the word. 

Next, the student would correctly say the rime unit.  

Finally, the student would say the onset, suffix or prefix. 

Keep in mind rime units don't just show up in single syllable words, but are also present in many multi-syllable words.  

Directly teaching and providing decoding practice for common patterns in our language (rime units) as a part of a systematic and explicit phonics curriculum will give students success with learning to read.   

What are the common word families?

In 1970, Richard E. Wylie (associate professor at Temple University) and Donald D. Durrell (professor at Boston University) were studying what made reading easier for some students, particularly surrounding the complexities of vowels.  

After their research concluded, the duo published a study called Teaching Vowels Through PhonogramsThis study provided observational data regarding how brains thrive off of patterns.   Furthermore, the study identified 37 common rime units (chunks or word families).  Nearly 500 primary grade words are derived from these thirty-seven high frequency word families (rime units).

There are many other word families beyond the 37 listed above.  Some of the others that occur on a regular basis are ab, ad, all, an, ar, eel, eep, eet, en, ent, ife, ile, oat and og.  AND...that isn't even an exhaustive list!   

So, when should you start teaching word families?  How should you teach them?  What resources are available?  

Stay tuned...in my next blog post I will answer all of those questions!!

No comments:

Post a Comment