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Word Families: The Pros and Cons

You’ve probably noticed that kids’ brains like to discover patterns. 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.

A child's head with EE vowel team words inside

Meet the Concept of Word Families

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.

Word families significantly increase the number of words your child can master.

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 new words. And the recall of individual words is improved because similar words are stored together in the student’s brain. That’s all great news.

The Downside to Word Families

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 you won’t find activities such as “write all the spelling words that end in –an” or “read all the words that end in –est” in All About Reading and All About Spelling

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.

Young girl writing on chalkboard

The “Thinking Approach” to Word Families

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

    Practice sheets from All About Reading and All About Spelling
  3. In reading, the decodable 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.

The Bottom Line on Word Families

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!

Would your child benefit from this “thinking approach to word families”?

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vanessa

says:

I know that the all about spelling 1 is out of stock until Sept 8th and then im sure there will be a delay with shipping.Is there any way to get a printable PDF of some of the first lessons to hold over until I can get the full Curriculum?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Vanessa,
I’m sorry, we don’t have the first lessons of All About Spelling 1 available. However, if you wanted to start informally, here are some things you can do to cover the skills and concepts of the first lessons:

Lesson 1, Phonograms: See if your student is familiar with the multiple sounds of the alphabet (for example, O has 4 sounds, A has 3, S has 2 and so on). This article on How to Teach Phonograms has some activities you can do with him or her to work on sounds.

Lesson 2, Segmenting: First, have your student practice repeating the first sound that they hear in a word. So if you say the word ball, they would say /b/. Note that you are not asking for a letter name, just have them repeat the sound. You can help your child hear the first sound in a word with our free “Go Find It” game.

This article on segmenting sounds in words has activities you can use to help your child segment two- and three-sound words.

Lesson 3, Letter Tiles: Put just one set of the alphabet up on your board and introduce the tiles to your student. Point out several tiles and have your student tell you the sound(s) that the phonogram makes. Mix the tiles up and have your student practice putting them in alphabetical order. (If you don’t have physical tiles, you can use the Stage 1 download from this article on alphabetizing for a printable alphabet that your student can practice putting in alphabetical order.)

Lesson 4, Sound Cards: The red Sound Cards work the exact opposite of the Phonogram Cards. Here, instead of showing your child the phonogram, you will say the multiple sounds and your student writes the phonogram that relates to those sounds. For example, for letter C, you will say: “/k/, /s/.” Giving both sounds lets your child know you mean C and not K.

First, say the sound or sounds of a phonogram and have your child point to the correct Letter Tile. When your child can do that easily, have your child practice writing the phonograms.

We also have some free supplemental resources listed online. Please check out:

Resources for Teaching at Home We’ve compiled some free resources and sample lessons from every level of our programs and organized them by topic for easy searching.

Phonogram Sounds App This is our free app for reviewing phonogram sounds.

Free Resources This page features more than 150 free resources, articles, and free downloads.

This should give you a good jump start on All About Spelling level 1!

Evangeline Mitchem

says:

Yes, my 6 yr. old can read but needs the reinforcement of sounding out words.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Then you may find our blog post Helping Kids Sound Out Words helpful, Evangeline. Please let me know if you have questions or need more information.

kristina

says:

This is where I’m having trouble with my child. She just doesn’t understand or is not clicking.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

What exactly is your child having trouble with, Kristina? I’m happy to help, but am unsure how to begin.

Dianna

says:

This is a great approach and it’s working for my daughter! We love this program.

Beauty

says:

i love it

Kim

says:

Awesome approach! I have seen it work for my family.

Dawn Rust

says:

Excellent information. So glad I stumbled upon this site.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m pleased you found this helpful, Dawn. Let me know if you need anything or have questions.

Kimberly Culp

says:

Oh my gosh! I am so glad I read this. I have used this program for my two older kids and it worked beautifully. My third has some dyslexic tendencies I think. I have been supplementing other methods and using word families out of ignorance, I noticed her brain was getting confused and was reading the words backwards. Which totally frustrated her and I and all the hard work we have been doing. :( Any thoughts on other methods to help train her to read from right to left? Thanks!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry your daughter is having trouble with directionality in reading, Kimberly, but I am glad to hear this was helpful for you.

To help your daughter get back to reading words left to right consistently, go back to the blending procedure daughter in lesson 1 of All About Reading 1 and also in our Helping Kids Sound Out Words blog post. Specifically, have her touch each tile left to right as she says the sounds and then slide her finger under the word from left to right as she blends the sounds into words.

You can do the same with the word cards, the fluency practice sheets, and the stories. And when she reads a word backward or out of order, have her touch the beginning of the word and then read it again. I’m not sure why, but having a child touch what you want them to pay close attention to is very effective. I used that technique a lot when my youngest child had trouble reading vowels incorrectly. She never misread a vowel when she touched it first.

I hope this helps, but please let me know if you need additional ideas or more help. I’d love to hear how it goes over the next few weeks too.

Cecilee

says:

Interesting!

Amy Toren

says:

I love all the great information!

Barbara

says:

These are interesting. I’m just learning about your program.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Do you have any questions or need more information about our programs, Barbara? Just ask!

We have a video that does a great job of overviewing Why Our Programs Work. Let me know if you need anything else.

Robin

says:

I’d really like to try these. home schooling 11year old grandson

Cheriley

says:

I love this! I had heard of the word families, but I’ll now remember to focus on the left to right reading. Thanks!

Erin

says:

Thanks, this is really helpful

Amy

says:

Looks awesome
I was a school teacher who used Orrin grilling ham… I love how this uses the same approach but in a more fun way

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Amy!

Desirae Cave

says:

My child would definitely benefits from this “thinking approach to word families”. My daughter is dyslexic and we have had a hard time helping her read especially her being able to change one letter to make another word. We have had to hold her back, had tutors, and different programs, but I feel this program will change our lives. This process will help her change her dyslexic behavior and help her retain information that she has not be able to do and processes she hasn’t been able to catch onto. I look forward to her improving and getting some confidence back with program and this concept in particular. Thank you for existing.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Desirae,
All About Reading and All About Spelling made huge impacts for my dyslexic children!

Please let me know if you have questions, need help with placement, or need anything else.

Desirae

says:

Thank you.

Amanda

says:

This is a great strategy to keep in mind!

Karen McLain

says:

This looks like a great reading aide

Lili Robertson

says:

I just found out about your program. I already bought a phonics simple program form my pre-schoolers, but I will definitely have this approach in my list to review.

terry plummer

says:

I have purchased your Spelling program for the coming school year. Excited to try it.

Jenna

says:

This is good information. Word families are great for recognizing patterns. However, students also need to learn how to spell. I think the key is to find a balance.

Constance Ruth Leslie

says:

I like your reading resources

Crystal

says:

I am so so excited to explore AAR and AAS with my first grader! Thank you!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Crystal! If you need anything or have questions, just let me know!

Summer I.

says:

This was very interesting. I am looking for a good reading curriculum.

stephanie

says:

This was a really interesting read. And very helpful.

Pamela S.

says:

How interesting!

Ashley

says:

This is really helpful already.

Emily

says:

Very Interesting! I’m starting to teach my first child to read, and I have found several articles on this blog super helpful! Thank you for providing such great materials!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re so welcome, Emily! If you ever have questions, just let me know.

Liz

says:

One of our sons has some dyslexic tendencies and auditory processing issues. We’ve tried a number of different curriculums with him and have had success helping him gain confidence by using a thinking approach like this. Thanks!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re so welcome, Liz.

Gladys Aguilar

says:

I never thought about a downside to word families! I appreciate this informational post!

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