Maybe you’ve seen your child create a pattern with toy cars or blocks, or even with her breakfast cereal.
The neat thing is that you can use this natural inclination toward patterns to your child’s advantage by using word families as you teach reading and spelling.
Word families are groups of words that follow a similar pattern. Grouping similar words is an excellent way to teach a large number of words in a relatively short period of time. For example, when we teach the EE vowel team in All About Reading Level 2, we teach words like tree, feet, and deep in the same word list. And when we teach the GN phonogram in All About Spelling Level 5, the word list includes design, resign, and assignment.
With word families, the number of words your child can master increases significantly.
Instead of learning one or two words per spelling pattern, your child can learn eight to twenty-five words without much additional effort, making it an efficient way to learn. And the recall of individual words is improved because similar words are stored together in the student’s brain. That’s all great news.
But there’s bad news, too.
If you stop there—just teaching word lists grouped by word families—you will be severely disappointed in your teaching efforts.
Why? Because if you use word families incorrectly, students may end up just following the “pattern” of that particular lesson, blindly zipping through the spelling words without really learning them. What you intended to be educational and insightful becomes an exercise in following patterns—and the time you spent teaching spelling goes down the drain because your child can’t actually spell those words outside of the neatly organized list.
Another downfall of overemphasizing word families is the risk that your child will pay too much attention to the ends of words, skipping over the first part of the word to get to the answer. Instead, we want the student’s eye to start at the beginning of the word and move to the end of the word. Encouraging his eye to start at the end of the word and then jump back to the beginning of the word is reinforcing incorrect eye movement. We don’t want to reinforce dyslexic tendencies. That’s why All About Reading and All About Spelling don’t ask students to do activities such as “write all the spelling words that end in –an” or “read all the words that end in –est.”
That said, after the student has learned the word pan, it is a good thing if he realizes that he can also spell the words van and ran. Just keep the emphasis on moving the eyes from left to right.
Now that you know the pros and cons of using word families, what should you do?
You want the benefits of teaching related words at the same time, but you also want your child to be able to spell correctly outside of spelling class and away from the neatly organized lists.
Let me introduce you to our “thinking approach to word families.”
All About Spelling and All About Reading provide a fail-proof system to prevent your child from mechanically following the patterns as he learns to read and spell. It’s a simple system, and it’s built right into the lesson plans.
Just as it’s important to drill random math facts to ensure mastery, it’s essential to mix up spelling words with different patterns after they have been learned. The idea is to keep your child’s mind on the reading and spelling of the words and not on the simple repetition of a pattern.
Our system for breaking up patterns and improving retention is three-pronged:
- Every lesson begins with a short review of previously taught Word Cards. The cards are shuffled so that words with different patterns are presented in different orders, and the words from the same family are no longer grouped together.
- Each lesson ends with fluency practice (reading) or sentence dictation (spelling) which both feature a wide variety of previously learned words containing various spelling patterns.
- In reading, the short stories emphasize the newly taught pattern while mixing in a natural balance of other words. And in spelling, beginning in Level 3, the Writing Station feature requires your student to write original sentences using suggested words with a variety of spelling patterns.
With our “thinking approach to word families,” your child will steadily grow in reading and spelling ability and confidence. And with our step-by-step lesson plans, everything is laid out for you so you don’t have to wonder if you are doing the right thing. Just sit back and watch our method work for you and your child!