Using Word Families enables students to be successful as soon as they begin learning to read and gives students a feeling of accomplishment. Once a student understands that all of the words rhyme, the student can begin to "read" some of the words even if they know the sounds of only a few first letter consonants. As they continue to practice using the Word Wheels they can strengthen their phonemic awareness and reading skills. Learning a handful of letter sounds can allow the student to read many words in the word family if they practice the rhymes they create, e.g., cat, sat, mat, hat, etc. I developed these word wheels to facilitate this process. The student can repeat the words with an adult, an older student, or more advanced student, and can gradually evolve into reading by themselves using the rhyme and a few consonant letter sounds. Initially, I ask the students to repeat the words after me one at a time. This helps to reinforce the rhyme pattern. Next, I like to say the first sound of the word and then say the phoneme after, e.g., sound of the letter "c", then "at", and then say the whole word "cat". The more you play with the words and sounds the more fun it is for the student and you can hit upon the best process for success. I find that Word Families are also very helpful for learning vocabulary. Parents and teachers should take the time to discuss the meaning of the words on the Word Wheel. Building vocabulary is a major factor in reading success.
In my kindergarten class I include what I call "Rhyme Time" into our daily schedule. I use different activities for each day of the week.
Monday - We begin on Monday by reading the rhyme together and talking about the meaning of the words in the rhyme so as to increase our vocabulary skills. I teach the song that uses the rhyme and each child then has the opportunity to come to the front of the class and "act out" the rhyme. This gives us the chance to hear and practice the song many times. Students are encouraged to participate, but never forced or coerced. I have found that eventually all students want to act out the rhyme. It's just a matter of time that varies from each student to the next.
Tuesday - We again sing the rhyme and ask for volunteers to act it out. This is followed by a brainstorming session where I ask the students to try and think of words that might be on our word wheel. I write each word on the board and ask the student to attempt to spell the word, if possible. We then review the entire word wheel concentrating on the vocabulary "meaning" of the words.
Wednesday - Again we begin with the singing and acting out of the rhyme followed by the reading of the word wheel. Early in the year I just ask that students repeat the words after me. Later, as they improve their phonemic awareness and gain skills, I ask the students to attempt to read the words. This is followed by Rhyme Time bingo. I created 3 by 3 word bingo cards using all of the rhyming words (many bingo card generators are available on-line). I laminated the cards for extended use. When students get a bingo they are asked to "read" the words to the class (with assistance when necessary). The winner gets a sticker and a round of applause from the class. Three by three cards work well because the games go quickly and multiple winners for each round are the norm.
Thursday - We have a writing activity using the word family words. I have provided an example to download, but you could easily devise your own. I believe that it's important to connect the writing of the words to the oral activities. Thursday is the day I send homework home and I send a word wheel along in each student's homework envelope. We have practiced it each day in the classroom and they are asked to practice it with their parents as part of their weekly homework.
Friday - We have a review of the rhyme, song, word wheel etc. We often play a guessing game where I describe the word family word I'm thinking of, or display a drawing or photo, and have the students try to guess the word.
How to Assemble the Word Wheels:
Copy the Word Wheels onto 90lb (163g) 8 1/2 x 11 card stock. One for each student in the class and a couple of extras for classroom work. Use different colors of card stock from week to week to differentiate the Word Wheels. Using a razor blade or x-acto knife cut out the hole where the letter is displayed. Scissors are used to cut out the round wheel portion. Brass brad fasteners are used to join the two pieces together. Tip: I use a pushpin to make a starter hole on the "X" on the two pieces to make it easier to insert the brad.