The English language is full of thousands of beautiful words, but learning to read them can sometimes be overwhelming.
In school, teachers make it easier for kids to read English by helping them see patterns in the words they're learning. To do this, teachers use word families, specific groups of word endings and beginnings that consistently have the same pronunciation. For example, in the -op word family, kids learn that chop, hop, pop, and bop have different beginning sounds but the same -op ending sound.
You can support your child's ability to learn word families with this hands-on, phonics activity that has kids making "word sliders" out of paper plates. "Word sliders" can help your child interact with words and become more adept at visualizing word patterns. Put these "word sliders" up on your child's wall as he's learning—ideally right near an area where you like to sit together to read. See how many show up in your books each evening!
What You Need:
- 5 or 6 small (dessert-size) paper plates, in one plain color
- White or colored card stock paper, 8-1/2" x 11"
- Permanent marker
What You Do:
- Make two, 1-inch cuts on each plate, parallel to one another. (See Image 1).
- To the right of the two parallel cuts, write a 2-letter word ending such as -op, -ip, -it, -at, and -ot. (See Image 1). As your child becomes more comfortable with reading, you can create more complex word endings with four or more letters.
- Cut a strip from your card stock, approximately 1 inch wide and 8 inches long. Use a pencil to mark dividing lines at each one-inch interval. (See Image 2).
- Have your child write one consonant or a two-letter blend in each square, taking care to see that it goes with the ending you have picked. (See Image 2). As he writes, have your child practice saying the letter sounds out loud.
- Next, thread the letter strip through the two cuts on the plate, so that one letter shows at a time as you slide the strip through. (See Image 3).
- Repeat this process with the rest of the plates and card stock, using different consonants and endings.
- Play around with your slider—children are usually delighted by the “magic” of the disappearing letters—and then keep it near a place where you and your child often read. The next time you sit down with an early reading book such as “Hop on Pop,” or “Pig in a Wig,” take out a slider first and have him practice those word families!
What's Going On?
Researchers remain divided over the best way to teach reading—is it better to learn by using phonics or by using a whole words approach?
Educator groups such as the International Reading Association answered this debate by arguing that the best way to learn to read is to balance the two approaches. With homemade toys like these "word sliders", you can help your child identify whole words while practicing his phonics. With this handy tool, he’ll build confidence with those important kindergarten and first-grade words, a gift that can carry through years of reading in future grades.
Julie Williams, M.A. Education, taught middle and high school History and English for seventeen years. Since then, she has volunteered in elementary classrooms while raising her two sons and earning a master's in school administration. She has also been a leader in her local PTA.