word families, montessori, moveable alphabet

Fascinating Word Families: 6 Essential Phases For Reading

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Writing word families with the Montessori moveable alphabet

In my previous blog post, I talk about the first time making words with the moveable alphabet. Once your child feels comfortable handling letters and making words, we move on to writing word families

Writing words in a word family is where all of the magic begins! When I was a Montessori classroom teacher, I remember the children having  “aha” moments at some point while writing words in the same word family. 

The beautiful thing about writing words in a word family is not only the rhyming of the words and the repetition, but the children realize that they can make visible their thoughts, and a whole world opens up for them.

In this post, I’ll share how to guide your child through the 6 phases of word family dictation patterns. I’ll also share how it went with my four-year-old daughter, Annie, at home. 

With regular practice, your child will most likely move into reading at some point in this process!

word families pin

Table of Contents

What are word families and why are they important?

A word family is a group of words with similar letter sounds and patterns. For instance, the /et/ word family includes bet, get, jet, let, met, net, pet, set, vet, wet, and yet.

Exploring words with the same ending letter pattern helps children learn to read. Seeing that letter and sound repetition also helps prepare children with spelling and vocabulary later on.  

For work with the moveable alphabet, the teacher uses dictation or saying the words to the child. Then the child listens to the sounds and writes what she hears. You, the adult, must be involved so your child hears the analysis and dictation of the whole word.

Dictation allows children to explore further and deepen their understanding of print. It is the crucial link between writing and reading. 

Through spoken language, children create rules independently while exploring writing the words they hear with the moveable alphabet. They make spoken language visible while simultaneously practicing phonics.

What is onset and rime?

According to the Reading Rockets article, Onset-Rime Games,

"The 'onset' is the initial phonological unit of any word (e.g. /c/ in cat) and the term 'rime' refers to the string of letters that follow, usually a vowel and final consonants (e.g. /a/ /t/ in cat)... teaching children about onset and rime helps them recognize common chunks within words. This can help students decode new words when reading and spell words when writing."

Working with the word family format benefits young children learning to read because of the letter sound combinations of onset and rime. 

Therefore, the word family strategy is recommended while working with the moveable letters. 

*If you’d like to download the word family cheat sheet, sign up for the Resource Library at the bottom of this post. If you’re already a subscriber, check my newest email for the updated password. 

word families printable pin

Here are the 6 phases for writing word families

1. One word family: start with short vowel /a/

word families, montessori, moveable alphabet
writing words in the /an/ family

The first step is to write words in the family of /a/. As a Montessori teacher, I always started with the /at/ family (cat, sat, rat, mat, hat, bat). But you can also start with the families of /ap/, /an/, /am/, /ad/, or /ag/

Ensure you work with one /a/ family at a time, with the ending consonant staying the same. 

Continue exploring with as many /a/ families as possible before moving on to the next short vowel. 

I have done the /a/ family several times with my daughter, Annie, at home, and she loves it!

2. Write words using short vowel /o/

word families, montessori, moveable alphabet
writing the /og/ word family

After exploring words in the /a/ family, it’s time to move on to the family of /o/. In my experience, I like to start with the /op/ family, for example, pop, cop, mop, top, and hop.

Then, you can move on to other words in the /o/ family, such as /ot/, /on/, /od/, and /og/. After exploring with the /o/ families, we will move on to the next phase. 

Annie has primarily worked with the /a/ family, so we just started to work with the /o/ family, so she’s having fun with it. 

3. Two word families together: use short vowel /a/ and /o/

word families, montessori, moveable alphabet
Combining /a/ family and /o/ family

After you have explored the /a/ and /o/ families separately, we move on to bringing them together. We combine steps 1 and 2 above. 

Dictate and write /a/and /o/ words, alternating them. For example, you can write cap, hot, rat, dog, sad, and job. Initial and ending sounds can vary. 

I tried this with Annie; she was attentive and helpful in writing words in both /a/ and /o/ words with me. Although, we will go back and work only on /o/ words. This is what she is currently working on! 

4. Continue phase 1-3 with short vowels /e/, /i/, and /u/

word families, montessori, moveable alphabet
combining /e/ family and /i/ family

Continue with steps 1, 2, and 3 above, using the short vowels /e/, /i/, and /u/. You can do them in your desired order and mix up the words. But be sure to do each vowel separately first, and then you can combine the different word families.

5. Write longer words using consonant blends and two syllables

word families, montessori, moveable alphabet
writing words with consonant blends

After phase 4, we move on to phase 5: short vowel words that contain consonant blends. Examples of words with blends are clap, grin, spot, fist, lamp, and task. 

Mix up the words with a consonant blend at the beginning of the word and write some words with a blend at the end.

Common consonant blends include /ld/, /lf/, /lp/, /ft/, /mp/, /sk/, /sp/, /st/, and /ck/.

When you get to a word with/ck/, like duck or lock, you can tell your child, “this is really interesting; sometimes we need both the /c/ sound and the /k/ sound to make /ck/.”

In my experience as a Montessori teacher, I have found that the children love to hear us talk about how we use letters to build words, and sometimes, we have to write words in a funny way!

During this phase we also move into two syllable words. Some two syllable words have a double consonant such as doll, pass, mitten, velvet, basket, cactus, napkin and wagon. You can say to your child, "this is funny; I need to get two /t/ for mitten, but I only hear one /t/." When first introducing blends and two syllable words, you can say, "we are writing words that are a little bit longer."
writing two syllable words with consonant blends

During phase 5, we also move into two-syllable words.

Some two-syllable words have a double consonant, such as doll, pass, mitten, velvet, basket, cactus, napkin, and wagon. 

You can tell your child, “this is funny; I need to get two /t/ for mitten, but I only hear one /t/.”

When first introducing blends and two-syllable words, you can say, “we are writing words that are a little bit longer.”

6. Use words that contain phonograms such as /ee/, /ch/, /ar/

word families, montessori, moveable alphabet
writing words with phonograms

The last phase is writing words that contain phonograms that can be found on the green double sandpaper letters. Examples of the phonograms include: /ai/, /ee/, /ie/, /oa/, /ue/, /sh/, /ch/, /th/, /er/, /ar/, /oy/, /oo/.

Only use words that have 40 key sounds

40 key sounds mock up, word families

We have many words in the English language with various spellings. At this point, only write words with your child with the 40 key sounds. We will deal with even more different spellings of these sounds later in the sequence. 

I created a 40 Key Sounds cheat sheet in a previous blog post about I-Spy and phonemic awareness

*If you’d like to download the 40 key sounds cheat sheet, sign up for the Resource Library at the bottom of this post. If you’re already a subscriber, check my newest email for the updated password. 

More fun ideas with word families

In my previous blog post about the first time writing words with the Montessori moveable alphabet, I talked about using printed word cards, objects, and pictures to aid in writing words. 

With word cards, the adult reads the word aloud, flips over the card, and your child writes the word. Then your child can turn the card over to check her work. 

You can also do this while working with word families. You could create a set of word cards for each word family. 

Use pictures and objects with the 40 key sounds, and use sounds your child is familiar with. As you move along with each word family, your child will pick up on the letters and sounds even more. It will become easier, and the whole process will start to click for your child!


If your child is writing with a pencil

Your child could practice writing the words she wrote with the moveable alphabet with a pencil and paper as an extension. Do this only if your child chooses; we don’t want to force a child to write with a pencil unless she is ready.

You can also give your child different ideas for writing words. You can ask your child to make a list of things they like to do, foods they like, favorite games, animals, types of clothing, sports, and so on. You could also make a list of action words or different ways we move. 

You can write longer words, phrases, sentences, and stories as your child progresses. Older children could dictate stories to each other to write.

Children who are already writing with a pencil could get some paper and write down a list of things they like to do favorite foods, games, and animals. Older children could write a survey on paper and ask others about their favorite colors, food, tv show, pet, and clothes.

word families, writing and reading, Montessori, moveable alphabet

Concluding Thoughts about word families

Writing word families with the moveable letters is a fantastic method to prepare your child for reading. As I mentioned earlier, your child will most likely move into reading during these 6 phases. It is an exciting time! 

It’s important to remember to follow your child’s pace. Every child is different; for some, you may move along this process quickly. Also, for some children, it may take longer, or you need to go slower, or you may have to go back to practicing phonemic awareness and letter sounds if she gets stuck.

Allowing your child time to write her thoughts with the moveable letters is also important. It’s true that we have the plan to dictate words in a word family, but always spend some time asking your child to write her thoughts, as well. 

While working with my daughter, Annie, she is excited to make words and is open to word families. But she becomes so enthusiastic about coming up with words to write that are important to her, and I encourage her to write them. 

I love the moveable alphabet because it’s a fascinating way for your child to make her thoughts visible. 

Check out my next blog post in the sequence, Word Building and Writing Phrases: 1 Important New Lesson

Have you tried working on word families with your child? Leave a comment below! 

word families pin

More Montessori Resources

Writing word families with the Montessori moveable alphabet

word family printable pin

*If you’d like to download the word family cheat sheet, sign up for the Resource Library below. If you’re already a subscriber, check my newest email for the updated password. 

24 thoughts on “Fascinating Word Families: 6 Essential Phases For Reading”

  1. The characters on your website are adorable and engaging.
    I love how you’ve incorporated cute and friendly animal characters into your word family activities.
    The characters add an extra layer of fun to learning about word families. The characters bring a sense of playfulness and joy.

  2. These are such great tips. I am so excited to teach my little ones to read. Bookmarking this post for later.

  3. I recall using these concepts when I was teaching my son to read.. now he is 20! Love these word families

  4. Bedabrata Chakraborty

    On reading the post I realise I did not know so much! For example I had no idea about word families. Your post benefits adults too, thank you!

  5. These are all such great tips, and I love reading about the phases! My kids both learned to read at Montessori schools, so it brought back memories!

  6. Zandra I Castillo

    I am an online English teacher and these are the same methods I use for some of my students. This blog would be very useful for some of the online teacher groups.

    1. Hi Zandra,

      I’m so happy you found my post on word families helpful. Thank you for suggesting my blog would be useful for online teacher groups! I have taught teachers at teacher education programs and at workshops. Montessori language workshops and courses are beneficial because teaching children to read can be overwhelming.

  7. Wow, this post is a treasure trove of information on word families and reading phases! It’s fascinating to learn about the different strategies and techniques for teaching children how to read. As a parent, I’m always looking for new ways to help my kids develop their reading skills, and this post definitely gave me some great ideas. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Sangeetha,

      I’m glad you found my post on word families helpful! I have found that this lesson is essential in teaching young children to read the Montessori way. This is when kids tend to have that “aha” moment!

  8. Jennifer L Prince

    This is so smart, and I appreciate the steps. My daughter has a 3 year old and is just starting to homeschool her. I’ll pass this along!

  9. This is an awesome post – I always learn so much from reading your posts. Thanks for being a great teacher and sharing your expertise with us!

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