All About Word Families



If this is your first time visiting Little Learning Corner, you may not know I have written several other blog posts about strategies or resources to teach word families. I will list them at the end of this post for you to check out on your own time. However, for the purpose of this post, I will give you all the information you need to understand, and get ready to teach, word families.

Today, I’m going to share with you what I know about word families, how I teach the cvc word families, and my favorite word family worksheets.


What are Word Families?

Because I tend to simply everything, and don’t want to undervalue this reading skill, I am going to start with the wikipedia definition.

“A word family is the base form of a word plus its inflected forms and derived forms made with suffixes and prefixes plus its cognates, i.e. all words that have a common etymological origin, some of which even native speakers don’t recognize as being related.”


CVC Word Families

Now, in relation to teaching kids how to read, let’s look at how I would define word families.  More specifically, I’m going to talk about CVC word families.  If you are wondering what CVC means, CVC stands for Consonant-Vowel-Consonant.

CVC word families, also known as phonograms, are groups of words that share the same rime, but have different onsets. 

Let’s break down onsets and rimes a little more. 

What is an onset? An onset is the initial sound of a word.

What is a rime?  A rime is the vowel and consonant(s) that follow.


Benefits of Teaching Word Families

According to the article, The Timing and Teaching of Word Families, written by Francine R. Johnston, “Word family pattern recognition is a key to understanding the complexities of the English language.” 

Based on my 17 years experience teaching kids how to read, I can say, with confidence, word families help kids build stronger reading fluency.  Kids are often not confident when reading unknown words, and rely on familiarity or support to read.  Yes, it’s great to support the readers, but it’s even more important to help them build reading strategies to decode unknown words.

This is where word families come into play.  If kids can recognize a word chunk (phonogram) within the unknown word, they are likely to build an understanding of word patterns and decode more words while reading.

Thankfully, learning word families will greatly increase the number of words your kiddos will learn to read.  Rather than learning words in isolation, they begin to notice that pattern of word chunks, which sets them up to read a collection of words.  This will help build their confidence in spelling and reading abilities.





Word Families List

If you do a search on teaching kids how to read, you will most likely come across Wylie & Durrell (1970).  After conducting research, Wylie and Durrell found 37 most common English spelling patterns.  They refer to these spelling patterns as  phonograms (word families).  The following phonograms appear in almost 500 high frequency words taught in the primary grades.

The 37 most common phonograms found by Wylie and Durrell are:

  1. an (ran, fan)
  2. at (bat, cat)
  3. aw (saw, jaw)
  4. ay (bay, say)
  5. it (sit, fit)
  6. op (cop, top)
  7. ot  (cot, pot)
  8. ug (rug, mug)
  9. ack  (back, rack)
  10. ank  (plank, rank)
  11. ash  (rash, dash)
  12. ell  (bell, smell)
  13. ick  (sick, tick)
  14. ill  (pill, still)
  15. ing  (sing, ring)
  16. ink  (sink, link)
  17. ock  (rock, stock)
  18. unk  (funk, bunk)
  19. ail  (pail, sail)
  20. ain  (pain, stain)
  21. eat  (meat, seat)
  22. ake  (rake, take)
  23. ale  (stale, pale)
  24. ate (gate, date)
  25. ice  (rice, lice)
  26. ide  (ride, hide)
  27. ine  (line, pine)
  28. oke  (poke, coke)
  29. ore  (more, chore)
  30. ap  (tap, map)
  31. est  (best, rest)
  32. uck  (dick, muck)
  33. ip  (zip, tip)
  34. in  (pin, tin)
  35. ump  (lump, hump)
  36. ight  (light, tight)
  37. ame  (same, tame)





Now, please don’t feel like you will be responsible for teaching all of these phonograms in one year.  That, typically, is not the case.  Usually, the words are spread out over the course of a few years, ranging from kindergarten to third grade.

As a kindergarten teacher, I taught the following 17 CVC word families during the second half of the school year.


How to Teach Word Families

First, if following a curriculum program, you will want to look over the curriculum mat. A curriculum map lays out the scope and sequence of the phonics instruction. Keep in mind, every school district is different, and may have their own curriculum map.

When teaching word families, we would focus on a core five words each week, all from the same word family (i.e. at, et, in).

To get started, I introduce the new word family, and the five focus words.  Then, as a class, we brainstorm a list of other words with that same rime (the ending pattern).  At that point, the kids typically go through each letter of the alphabet, add it to the beginning of the sound pattern, and see if it’s a word. This is a great time to also review real vs. nonsense words.  Both are great for building fluency, but it’s good for them to know the difference.

From there, the word family activities continue throughout the week.  We do mini-lessons during morning meeting, phonics instruction as a whole class, leveled instruction during guided reading, and practice during center activities.  On Fridays, I pull the students one at a time to assess their ability to read and write the weekly focus words.




Word Families at

If you would like a breakdown of how I would spread out the instruction over the week, here are some examples.

Monday:  Blending mini lesson for _at words, introduce five  _at word picture cards on focus wall. Students copy words into their word family house worksheet, and take it home to practice throughout the week.  You choose; do the sound boxes worksheet as a whole class or during small groups.

Tuesday: Review the _at word cards, tapping out each sound on our arm (top, middle, and bottom), and blending the word as we slide our hand down our arm.  Introduce CVC decodable book (book walk to build vocabulary and echo read).  Practice writing CVC words on dry erase boards.

Wednesday: Ask kids to recall the word family words from the decodable book (sat, mat, etc).  Do a shared reading.  Then, have the students highlight the word family word on each page.  Do a pocket chart activity:  finding _at words in our Build a Poem, or doing a picture card to word match-up activity.

Thursday: On this day, the kiddos do partner reading and read-to-self during the Daily 5 reading block. Highlight any _at family words in the poem of the week printable poem.  Allow kiddos to work with a peer to come up with their own _at family word lists.  

Friday: Use printable reading and writing assessments to see how well the kids are progressing with their fluency and spelling abilities.






Throughout the week, along with the ideas posted above, I would also have CVC activities at several stations around the room.  For example, using magnetic letters and playdoh to build CVC words, roll and reads, cut and paste Build a Word: Guess a Word activities, sensory bins, making words, and more.


Word Families Worksheets

When I was teaching kindergarten, I wanted a collection of CVC word family resources and assessments I could quickly access throughout the week, and align to our district’s curriculum map.  That, along with my love of creating resources, is why I created the entire collection of word families worksheets below.

To be consistent, I will show you an example of the printables included in the _at Word Family Packet.

  1. Directions for each activity
  2. Illustrated Word Cards: Perfect for introducing the word family.
  3. My Family Word Book 
  4. Picture Card and Word Match Activity – Match picture cards to word cards.  Color coded for self-checking.
  5. My _at Family Word House – Kiddos record list of words, take home for weekly review.
  6. Build a Word – Cut and paste to build 3 word family words. Draw a picture of one word family words, and a peer/teacher guesses the word.
  7. Sound Boxes – Say the picture word, tap the sounds, and write/stamp the letters.
  8. Sound Boxes Intervention – Say and tap out the sounds. Students TRACE the letters to make word. 
  9. Write the Word – Kiddos write words to match the pictures given.
  10. Write and Illustrate – Great for those who need a challenge. Writing a word, use it in a sentence, and illustrate to match the sentence.
  11. Writing Assessment – Kiddos write the words independently to match the words. Score at bottom, and space for notes. 
  12. Reading Assessment – Kiddos read the word in the box independently. Score at bottom, and space for notes.
  13. Word Family Match-Up – Kiddos read the _at word, then draw a line to match it with the same word on the right. 


Everything You Need

Take the stress out of planning your CVC activities from week to week with my CVC Bundle.  



This 425 page printable packet has everything you need to teach and assess 17 CVC word families, including _ad, _ag, _at, _ap, _an, _ig, _ill, _ip, _in, _it, _og, _op, _ot, _et, _en, _un, and _ug. Yes, friends, every resource mentioned in this post is included for each word family.  And, best of all, for under $60, you won’t have to plan out your cvc activities and assessments…simply find your word family and print!  You’ll have what you need year after year!  


Free Word Families Worksheets

Grab your free CVC worksheets, today, and get started teaching your kids how to read with word families.  Join my Little Learning Corner email crew to get a complete set of free _et family worksheets.




Before you go, here are a few blog posts you may enjoy:

75 Best Yes or No Questions for Kids

How to Use CVC Sound Boxes

3 Fun CVC Word Games


Word Families