Using Word Families for Onset and Rime Practice

Word families are groups of words that have the same final sound and spelling pattern with varying initial sounds.

Onset refers to the beginning consonant or consonant blend before the vowel in a word or syllable. Rime refers to the chunk of a word that begins with the first vowel and includes any consonant sounds through the end of a syllable. In word families, the onset changes while the rime stays the same. Because the words contain the same vowel and final consonant sounds, all words in a word family rhyme.

While students learn to blend individual sounds to read simple words, exposing them to word families can help build reading fluency, improve their understanding of rhyming words, and increase confidence due to their predictable nature.

Word families can also be used to teach phoneme manipulation, the phonological awareness skill that involves substituting, adding, or deleting individual sounds in words to create new words. Students should be taught that words are made up of individual sounds (phonemes), and that phonemes live in different positions in a word (initial, final, medial). After students learn to identify initial, final, and medial sounds, they can learn to manipulate, or change, them (e.g., Say “fan.” Now, change the /f/ to /k/. “Can.”). This can be done with just the mouth and ears, but adding in letters turns it into a phonics drill that builds reading fluency.


Do’s and Don’ts When Using Word Families:


  • Have students “tap out” sounds and decode the word family until fluency is established
  • Work with word families that contain syllable patterns you’ve taught
  • Tie it to phonological awareness (initial sound manipulation and rhyming)
  • Make it fun, interactive, and multi-sensory


  • Have students try and memorize word families
  • Work with word families with untaught patterns
    • If students only know short vowels, they don’t need to see long vowel families in written form, although you can incorporate a range of sounds during listening-only phonological awareness tasks
  • Ignore the phonological awareness connection!!
  • Make it a chore.

After introducing the concept of word families, you can incorporate onset and rime activities into your phonics lessons and centers. You can explain to students they need to find the correct “word family” to complete the word.

When different phonological awareness or phonics concepts overlap, we want to help our students make these connections and apply their knowledge in different ways.

Click the image below to access these Onset and Rime Task Cards.

Click HERE to access the FREE set of Word Family Posters in my TpT shop.

You may also be interested in I Spy Rhyming Word Family coloring pages for extra practice for your students. Find each of these word families in this set of 88 unique read-and-find worksheets HERE!

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