Helping struggling readers with word family instruction

Family matters! That’s no less true in learning to read than it is in life.

Many young and/or struggling readers need help learning words that share common patterns like -at words cat, hat, mat, and sat. These words are part of a word family that shares a common feature–they all end in -at.

Like many human families, word families share a common root. These groups of words have similar spellings and common sounds. They also follow predictable spelling rules that readers need to unlock many words in English.

Here are some examples of other common word families:

  • –ack (back, lack, pack, snack, etc.)
  • –ad (ad, bad, dad, glad, lad, mad, etc.)
  • –ate (ate, crate, date, gate, hate, etc.)
  • –eat (beat, eat, heat, meat, seat, etc.)
  • –ice (dice, ice, mice, nice, price, rice, etc.)
  • –ight (fight, light, might, night, sight, etc.)
  • –oat (boat, coat, float, oat, throat, etc.)
  • –oke (broke, choke, joke, poke, smoke, etc.)
  • –ow (bow, cow, chow, how, now, wow, etc.)
  • –uck (buck, chuck, duck, luck, stuck, truck, etc.)

You can download a list with 37 common word families.

For tutors and others working with young or struggling readers, word families can help students read and understand many new words that follow common spelling patterns. The key is to build fluency through practice with word families the learner (child) hasn’t mastered yet.

Tutors can take a dry-erase board or use magnetic letters stuck to a cookie sheet or other flat metal surface to spell out the root of a word family. Scrabble tiles also work! Then, taking letters from the alphabet, the tutor can have the learner place an initial consonant in front of the word family root and practice saying the word. For example, if a tutor is working with a learner who misreads or cannot read -ight words. The tutor can use Scrabble tiles or magnetic letters to spell out ight. Then, with the consonant letters handy, have the learner place the letter n in front of the root -ight. When the learner can read that as night then replace the n with other letters like f, m, r, and s. Give the learner time to read and learn each, and then go back and practice them again. Practice word families a few minutes each time you meet with the learner until they become easy for him or her to read.

Tutors can also create Word Family Sorts on paper or a dry-erase board by writing a common word from a word family (pat, for example, from the -at word family). Have the learner create other words in that word family (sat, bat, cat). You can also create Word Family Sorts by writing words from a small group of word families (for example: -at, -ell, -old) on small pieces of paper. Then, have the learner sort them into piles or into muffin tins. Here’s an example of some Word Family Sorts like this:

word sorts

Tutors can also make Sticky Note Word Family Booklets like those pictured here:

sticky note word family sorts

Sticky Note pads are great for creating Word Family booklets.

Ask the learner to flip through the booklet and practice reading the words. Learners can take these little booklets home to practice with family members, too.

Need other ideas for working with struggling or developing readers? Check out the ReadWriteServe Tutoring website for more information.


About bluegrassjb

I am an academic with a love for language, literacy and learning. The focus of my work is on student success at the K-12 and college levels. Outside of my professional interests I enjoy travel, photography and antiquing with my partner and wife. We like to hit the road in our travel trailer with the dogs and when at home party with the cats.
This entry was posted in Phonics and Decoding, Tutoring. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Helping struggling readers with word family instruction

  1. Drew says:

    Word family sorts are a great idea for struggling readers. Thanks for sharing this advice!

  2. Jordan says:

    This sounds like a great way to help readers learn lots of words. Will definitely have to use that flipbook idea next time I know someone struggling with reading certain words!

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