Kindergarten students are lovely to teach for many reasons, but it is incredibly awesome to see the growth in the early readers! It is like Kindergarten magic! With many months of consistent and purposeful practice, that magic shines through! One of the most effective ways to build reading in the early years is to teach word families and sight words. Read on for some helpful tips to create confident readers.
After children have learned the letter sounds, they begin to put sounds together to make words. This is where word families are helpful in becoming a fluent reader because they continue to build phonemic awareness in young learners. Word families are a group of words that share a similar pattern, such as the -at sound in cat, hat, and rat. When word families are taught, students start to see and hear the repetition of words and recognize patterns in words. Word families also help to chunk words when they read because of the recognition of the phonics pattern in different words. Children will start to see that some words contain recognizable “chunks,” which is an essential step in becoming a fluent reader, decoding effectively, and reading with confidence!
Word Family and Pictures
Introducing a word family with pictures helps to build the connection between the sounds the students hear and the meaning those sounds make together. Showing the students a word family chart and photos of each word is an excellent introduction to the word family. Based on the student’s ability, for those who still need extra practice with letter sounds, beginning with pictures to introduce the word family will help with word meanings and make the association that letters form words together.
As a follow-up activity, you can do a picture match. Mix up the pictures and words and see if the students can match the word to the picture. This is a great whole class activity or as an independent informal assessment of the word family words.
Word Family Practice
Young learners, especially Kindergarten kids, learn at different rates and have different learning styles. Therefore having a variety of hands-on activities for students to practice word families is crucial in keeping engagement high, learning successful, and having lots of fun. CVC, or consonant-vowel-consonant, words are simple words that follow phonics rules. These are great because they are essential words in the same word family. Focusing on one word family at a time is vital in allowing students to grasp the concept. As they become more fluent, multiple word families can be practiced simultaneously.
One fun way to practice CVC and word family words is by building them. Show the students pictures of the words in the family, then have them make the word using magnetic letters or a printable worksheet of letter tiles. After they build the whole word, have them write it. This will help the students to listen for all the word sounds. To scaffold this activity for learners, the rime, or ending chunk of the word, can be given to the students, so they only have the beginning sound missing. This will connect the pattern in the word family with the sound they hear.
Another fun learning game is to have the rime written with a blank spot at the beginning. For example, “___at”. Students can use magnetic letters or letter tiles to fill in the blank. They can put the beginning letter in the “Real Word” pile if it makes a real word. If it did not make a real word, they could put the beginning letter in the “Nonsense Word” pile. This is great for students to practice reading words but also focus on vocabulary.
Allowing students to read the words in isolation is essential as well. Allowing them to illustrate the word after they read it is a fun practice. A spin on this activity is to have a collage of pictures with a word bank. Have students label the pictures using the words from the word bank. This type of word worksheet would be beneficial for first grade to third grade and even beneficial as a kindergarten worksheet!
Word Families in Context
After students have practiced reading, writing, and building the new word family words, they must also start to practice reading the word in context. Start with simple sentences where sight words are used with the word family words. Sight word lists can come from reading programs you are using, any high-frequency words chart you have, or Fry lists. First, have the students highlight, underline, or circle all the word family words in the sentence. As a scaffold, have a picture of what that sentence is about. After identifying the word family word(s), have them read the simple sentence to themselves, a friend, or an adult.
After simple sentences, read simple word family-focused passages or readers. This can be done whole group but is often beneficial in small groups so you can monitor and hear the students’ reading and their recognition of the word family letter pattern. Before the students read the story, they can highlight, underline, or circle all the words in the same word family. If there is more than one word family in the passage, have your students use different colors to identify each word family word. Then they can read the story to themselves, a friend, and/or an adult. Repetition is essential for the students to continue building decoding speed, word patterns, and fluency. The joy on your students’ faces will be priceless when they become readers with each new word family they learn!
Sight Words and Reading
Word families help create readers. However, sight words are also important words that play a significant role in our emerging readers’ success. Teaching sight words through sight word printables, sight word flash cards, or other hands-on engaging sight word practice will help build fluency and reading. Examples of sight words can be found on a Fry sight word list created by Dr. Edward Fry, Dolch lists, or other kindergarten sight words in your reading program.
As students become more fluent readers, your lesson plans can include more than one word family at a time. Using pictures, activities that incorporate building, drawing, and identifying words, as well as words in context, and continued sight word practice will help your Kindergarteners grow into readers and see that reading magic come alive!