A couple of years ago, some kindergarten teachers asked me to write a song about word families, and I was happy to oblige. The result was a simple song that keeps being rewritten again and again, by children in PreK through First Grade. Making up verses for this song is a lot of fun, plus the finished product becomes a guessing game as well as a song.
Word families are groups of words that have exactly the same endings but different starting letters. Richard Wylie and Donald Durrell identified the 37 most common endings of word families in English: ack, ain, ake, ale, all, ame, an, ank, ap, ash, at, ate, aw ay, eat, ell, est, ice, ick, ide, ight, ill, in, ine, ing, ink, ip, it, ock, oke, op, ore, ot, uck ,ug, ump, unk. (Richard E. Wylie and Donald D. Durrell, 1970. “Teaching Vowels Through Phonograms.” Elementary English 47, 787-791.) The link to the complete list is here.
Why learn about word families? Because rhyming words are one of the best ways for children to start hearing and identifying distinct vowel sounds. Looking at the text of word families, children can easily see matching letter patterns and soon will be sounding out words in the same family.
Here are the lyrics to my original version of the song. You can download it at Songs for Teaching.
By Liz Buchanan
I’m thinking of a word, it’s top top top
Popping popcorn with a pop pop pop
All the bunny rabbits go hop hop hop
And if you don’t go, you stop stop stop.
Chorus: Word families, word families
What’s the next word, can you tell me please?
I’m learning to read, learning with ease
‘Cause I know word families.
I’m thinking of a word, it’s tap tap tap
Put my hands together with a clap clap clap
All the birdies’ wings go flap flap flap
Just don’t wake the baby from her nap nap nap. Chorus
I’m thinking of a word, it’s pit pit pit
If I don’t stand, I’ll sit sit sit
My clothes are too tight they don’t fit fit fit
The lights are on, they’re lit lit lit. Chorus
Many more verses have been created since the original. Once you’ve sung a few verses and know the basic structure of the song, you’re ready to invite children to help construct new verses. The challenge is to stay within the rhythm of the song. This is a great activity for beginning a songwriting process with children, as it helps them understand essential elements of both rhyme and rhythm. Here is a link to a related post on this blog about word families and songwriting.
I have used more complex word families to write the song with first graders, including words ending in ight, atch, old, est and ink. Kindergarteners stick with more basic combos, such as at and it. I had a group of four-year-olds last year who loved this song, too. Most were pre-readers, but their favorite thing was taking turns using the pointer and pointing to the words on my Word Families poster. The class had been doing a unit on Dr. Seuss and I started singing this song after I saw word families stuck up on the wall in the classroom.
The Common Core standards require students to “recognize and produce rhyming words.” Songs and chanted poems are by far the most fun and engaging way to accomplish this important task. You will not go wrong with this song!