Archive for the When to Teach Word Families Category

When is the Best Time to Teach Word Families? Is there a Right Way and a Wrong Way to Teach Word Families? Absolutely!

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Word Families are fun!  


Let’s face it, rhyming is always fun, that’s why so many reading programs include Word Families.

Likewise, Candy 4WAY Phonics also uses Word Families.  In fact, our step-by-step lessons are loaded with rhyme, rhythm and alliteration.  

However, we make absolutely sure that we teach Word Families at the correct time and in the correct proportion to make certain that children learn a balanced approach to sounding out words.



Unfortunately for parents and teachers today,

far too many reading programs

start children out

learning their letter sounds

but then immediately


their students

into Word Families. 



Although a good reading program should most certainly include Word Families, Word Families should not be presented to a child too early in his reading program.

What’s more, when we introduce Word Families too soon in a child’s reading program, it can eventually lead to bad reading habits and poor spelling.  

In fact, rushing a child into the Word Families Method too soon means: 

a)   that the child is skipping much-needed practice blending a beginning consonant sound with the vowel sound from left to right. 


b)    that the child is learning to approach his beginning words by looking at the ending of words instead of by looking at the beginning of words, thus interrupting his correct directional tracking responses. 


c)     that the child is skipping much needed practice sounding out and hearing the individual letter sounds and the distinct vowel sounds.


Moreover, whenever a curriculum rushes into Word Families too quickly, a child is taught to learn his vowel sounds only as those vowels are attached to word endings such as:  at, et, ig, op, and up.


This is so wrong!  A child should start out blending “into” a vowel from left to right so that his initial approach to the word is from the beginning of the word not from the middle of the word.  


By rushing into Word Families too soon in his reading program, a student is encouraged to look at words that vary their beginning letters but repeat over and over again their ending letters.  As a result, the student learns to incorrectly approach a word from the middle of the word instead of from the beginning of the word. 


How does introducing Word Families too soon into a reading program teach a child to approach a word incorrectly from the middle of a word instead of from the beginning of a word?


To answer that question, let’s look at the teaching steps given whenever a child begins his reading instruction too soon using Word Family combinations such as the word ending ag:


(Step 1) – The instructor could attach the consonant letter t to the beginning of ag and the child would read the word tag.


(Step 2) – The instructor could then attach a different consonant letter such as letter b to the beginning of ag and the child would read the word bag.


The child continues to drill the word-family combination of ag by having the instructor place more and varying consonants in front of the word ending ag.


As a result, here is what the drill family for ag looks like:


bag    hag    nag    sag    lag


Look at which part of each word stands out

The end of each three-letter word stands out to a child’s eyes, and, again, this is so wrong when it’s the method used to teach a child his vowel sounds! Vowel sounds should be “punched” as individual, distinct sounds before they are ever attached to similar word endings.  

Furthermore, we see that by introducing children to Word Families too soon, they are taught to approach a word from the middle of the word instead of from the beginning of the word.


It’s true!  Far too many children are learning to approach words backwards because they are rushed into the Word Families Method too soon!


Rushing into Word Families before a correct Synthetic Phonics Approach has been mastered results in three negatives for students:


1)    the “rush” simply doesn’t work with every age group


2)    the “rush” causes way too many children to approach a word by looking at the end of the word instead of at the beginning of the word


3)    the “rush” fails to teach children to distinguish individual letter sounds and to “punch” the vowel sounds. Children need to know those vowel sounds without having to have those sounds attached to similar word endings.  


Why?  Why is attaching vowel sounds to word endings too early so wrong?  


It’s wrong because not all vowel sounds that children will encounter are attached to similar word endings. However, to answer that question further, let me stop here and explain the difference between a phoneme and a phonogram.


A phoneme is an individual letter sound. A phoneme, therefore, represents the smallest sound segment a child can hear within an English word. When learning to read, children need to begin with phonemes rather than with similar pairs or triplets contained inside repetitive word endings.


When taught properly, beginning phoneme sounds should be blended together in a word, from left to right, starting at the beginning of the word, blending the first phoneme sound into the next and proceeding through the rest of word from left to right.


When a child is given the chance to hear and practice blending together individual phonemes before focusing on Word Family endings, then that child will learn to distinguish the individual letter sounds within words which is essential for his reading success throughout the rest of his education.

Becoming skilled at hearing the difference between the individual vowel sounds is especially vital!  A spoken vowel needs to be “punched” as it is blended so that a child can clearly hear the distinction between the individual vowel sounds.  

Far too many children and high schoolers cannot hear the difference between the vowel sounds of e and u or between the vowel sounds of i and e.  You simply wouldn’t believe how many times I have seen high schoolers spell the word “just” using the vowel letter e instead of using the vowel letter u.  The word “jest” is a completely different word than the word “just.”  

Likewise, the word “sense” is a completely different word than the word “since;” the word invelope isn’t even a word, and yet far too many high schoolers use that spelling instead of the correct spelling of envelope.  


Why are they spelling these simple words incorrectly?  


They are spelling many simple words incorrectly because they cannot hear the individual vowel sound distinctions.  

They cannot hear the vowel sound distinctions because they were introduced to vowel sounds within the context of Word Family endings before they were taught to distinguish the individual vowel sounds.  


When a child can capably hear those vowel distinctions, then later on, he will able to blend ANY combination of letter sounds, not just the combinations that would have been given to him during a limited set of designated Word Family endings or “chunks.



In addition to learning to distinguish individual consonant and vowel sounds, children also need to learn to approach words from the correct direction.  Correct directional tracking is extremely important to insure continued reading success.  Sadly, when a child switches back and forth too soon between the initial consonant sounds placed at the beginning of repetitive Word Family endings (as he most certainly will if he is rushed into Word Families too soon), it can cause him to begin reading from an incorrect right to left backward reading sequence. This is especially true with younger children.  


How does rushing into Word Families too early cause so many children to adopt a backward reading habit?  


When a student rushes too soon into Word Families, a child will jump from individual letter sounds to a reading process that looks like this:


bag   nag   sag   rag   tag


Once again, Mom, Dad, Teacher, try to imagine yourself not knowing any of the words above.  Which part of those words stands out to you? 

Answer: The ag stands out, and the ag is located at the end of each word.


So the child focuses on the end of the word first, thus practicing a backward reading focus of right to left; thus interrupting a correct directional tracking response. 


Now let’s look at a typical 3-letter word string found in a Phonics First, Synthetic, Intensive Phonics curriculum such as The Candy 4WAY Phonics Program.  In a strong synthetic phonics reading program, a child will correctly be presented with:


ba   be   bi   bo   bu 

bam   bed   bit  bog   bus


Which part of these strings stands out? The letter b stands out, and the letter b is located at the beginning of each reading item.  So when the child approaches his first printed words, he is correctly focusing first on the beginning of the words, thus practicing a correct left to right reading habit.


Moms, Dads, Teachers, children should be fed the main meal before they are presented with the dessert.  Only after a child has learned to approach all words from the beginning of the word, should he be given the fun of Word Families. 

In fact, after the correct habits have been formed, that child can have even more fun with rhyme and rhythm because she can easily move into varying Word Family endings such as:


bent    rent    pant    lint    punt


This is because her focus will be on blending the first two letters (a consonant sound with a distinct vowel sound) and then tacking on the nt ending. 


One final complication of introducing Word Families too soon is that it plays on a child’s natural, developmental tendency to see a word from the wrong position.  


How does introducing Word Families too soon play on a young child’s natural tendency to view a word from the wrong position?  


Up until the age of eight or nine years old, a young student easily reverses the positions of many items.  For example, if a chair has been knocked down and is resting on its side, a child will simply pick up the chair and place it upright so she can sit down. She won’t stop to notice if the chair is facing sideways or upside down when she finds it, she’ll just put it in the position that enables her to sit down.  Furthermore, she will see all the dimensions of the chair all at once.  To her, the top of the chair is the chair, the side of the chair is the chair, and the back of the chair is the chair.  The whole thing is the chair, so any part of the chair is the chair — it doesn’t matter in what position the chair is found.


Likewise, to a child, it doesn’t really matter in what position letters are placed or in what direction words are read.  Moreover, it’s just as natural for a young student to read a word from right to left as it is for him to read a word from left to right.


That means it’s just as easy for him to learn to approach words incorrectly from the middle or from the end of words as it is for him to learn to approach words correctly from the beginning of the words.



However, by focusing and receiving plenty of practice blending, from left to right, the beginning letters of phonics strings, a child will come to the conclusion that words should be read from left to right. This, of course, makes sense, since sentences and paragraphs and books are all read from left to right.


Sadly, many younger children who are rushed into Word Families too quickly find it harder to read a word from left to right because they are constantly looking for the familiar word ending, thus approaching the word from the middle and having to backtrack to the beginning of the word in order to read the entire word. This is because a young child will naturally focus on what is “constant” in a word string, and what is “constant” within Word Family strings, unfortunately, is found at the end of the word instead of at the beginning of the word.


Does this mean that Word Families should not be used as a tool for learning phonetic reading? Absolutely not!


In fact, Word Families make up a very distinct phonics approach that is vital for a COMPLETE phonics program. However, Word Families should not be presented in a strong phonics programs until after synthetic phonics blending from left to right has been fully mastered.


Parents, Teachers, start your students out with a systematic, synthetic phonics reading approach that begins reading instruction by giving plenty of practice with synthetic phonics before jumping into Word Families.

Word Families should be included

in every good phonics program,

but Word Families

must be presented at the right time. 


To read more about a tried and true, affordable and COMPLETE Synthetic Phonics curriculum that gives students plenty of practice developing the proper approach to words as well as a well-timed presentation of Word Families, click here




Carol Kay, President

Candy 4WAY Phonics