See If Word Families Are The Best Route To Reading For Your Kids

Word families are lists grouped by similar sound.

Like this:  book, took, cool, pool, boot, foot...

Word lists demonstrate

a pattern but

don't explain it.

Do you notice the slight difference in the sound of oo in the words above? Some people do - some don't. The difference is there if you listen carefully when the list is read out loud.

There is a pattern to the sound change in oo. Here it is: If the oo comes before k and sometimes t then the oo sound in shorter. It sounds more like "uh".

If your child can pick up this pattern and apply it (it does not matter whether they are aware of using a pattern or not) then they can learn to read with similar lists. See more examples

If a child does not pick up the pattern on their own then they will do OK when they read words in lists. When they move on to normal text they will get mixed up.

How can you tell if a child is picking up the patterns behind word families?

See if he or she can read two lists such as a page of by, try, cry words and a second of lady, baby, shady words. Then move to a story that includes a mix of these words.

Do they get stuck? Is there hesitation, confusion or frustration? Do they "Not like this story." Explanation: In their mind choosing the correct y sound is a toss up. Give them more information. If reading from the story is smooth sailing you will forget you ever read this article and move on. Good for you : )

What can help a child learn the patterns behind word families?

There are three things that I know of. If you know more please write to me with the contact us button/form.

1. Learn the patterns yourself. I wrote a lot of them out in types of letter sounds. Point out why a letter makes one sound or another when you come to it in text or a word list.

2. Use SI worksheets which mark the sound a letter makes if there is an option of more than one. About a third of English letter groups (called phonograms) can make more than one sound.

3. Use English decoder. This explains each pattern when the letter sounds are introduced. There are a few free worksheets that use a version of this system here. The book and program includes a later, improved version.


Most people fall somewhere in between picking up patterns immediately and not at all. By helping your child learn the patterns you will be easing the process. They will learn faster and, most likely, find reading more enjoyable when they are done.

Return from word families to home page.