Although systematic explicit phonics instruction should be the core of beginning reading instruction, as a reading specialist I support an eclectic approach to ensure success for all students. One such approach that I have used with success is teaching the basic word families, also known as rimes.
Now to be certain that I don’t lead you astray, let’s be clear that I do mean rimes, and not rhymes. Although the two are certainly related, especially in terms of instructional practice. Simply defined, the rime consists of a vowel and final consonants, such as “ack.” The rime usually follows an initial consonant, e.g. “b,” or consonant blend, e.g. “bl,” to form words, e.g., “back” or “black.”
Learning the common rimes can help beginning readers recognize common chunks of letters within words. Margaret Moustafa’s research has demonstrated that beginning readers tend to figure out new words through analogy (1997). In other words, they connect “what they already know” to “what they need to know” through word similarities. Goswami found that both beginning and dyslexic readers benefit from learning and practicing rimes (2000). To summarize, if beginning readers learn to recognize the “ack” rime, they will be able to use that chunk to learn words with different single consonant onsets to form words such as “back,” “hack,” “jack,” “lack,” “rack,” “sack,” “tack,” as well as words with different consonant blend onsets, such as “black,” “crack,” and “stack.”
Now, good reading teachers will note that teaching rimes could be used to side-step blending the individual vowel and final consonant sounds, just as teaching the consonant blends could side-step blending the individual consonant sounds. Thus, with the consonant blend onset “bl” and its rime “ack,” the word black becomes two pronunciation units, rather than four. I certainly would not advocate these short-cuts; however, once beginning readers have mastered, or are in the process of mastering how to blend, I see no reason to avoid practicing blending automaticity with rimes. I do suggest leaving the consonant blends to the traditional blending strategies rather than practicing these as chunks because mispronunciations, such as “bluh” for bl, will create more harm than good.
Parents can be helpful partners in practicing rimes with their children. Although oftentimes well-intentioned parents can do more harm than good when they teach their children to blend improperly, practicing rimes is almost foolproof. A good list of rimes, such as in the following Word Family (Rimes Activities), will give parents the tools they need. Also, reading rhyming books, such as Dr. Seuss, are wonderful practice.
For older students, say second-graders or reading intervention students (think Response to Intervention Tiers I and II), this Rimes Assessment with recording matrix can provide the data teachers need to effectivelydifferentiate instruction.
So for those of you who have read this far, here are some terrific Word Families (Rimes) Activities to practice rimes in the classroom. You may also wish to use the phonics materials and activities found in these articles: Phonics Games and in How to Teach Phonics. Also, check out these related Phonemic Awareness Activities.
Mark Pennington, MA Reading Specialist, is the author of the comprehensive reading intervention curriculum, Teaching Reading Strategies. Designed to significantly increase the reading
abilities of students ages eight through adult within one year, the curriculum is decidedly un-canned, is adaptable to various instructional settings, and is simple to use—a perfect choice for Response to Intervention tiered instructional levels. Get multiple choice diagnostic reading assessments , formative assessments, blending and syllabication activities, phonemic awareness, and phonics workshops, comprehension worksheets, multi-level fluency passages recorded at three different reading speeds and accessed on YouTube, 586 game cards, posters, activities, and games.
Also get the accompanying Sam and Friends Phonics Books. These eight-page decodable take-home books include sight words, word fluency practice, and phonics instruction aligned to the instructional sequence found in Teaching Reading Strategies. Each book is illustrated by master cartoonist, David Rickert. The cartoons, characters, and plots are designed to be appreciated by both older remedial readers and younger beginning readers. The teenage characters are multi-ethnic and the stories reinforce positive values and character development. Your students (and parents) will love these fun, heart-warming, and comical stories about the adventures of Sam and his friends: Tom, Kit, and Deb. Oh, and also that crazy dog, Pug.
Everything teachers need to teach a diagnostically-based reading intervention program for struggling readers at all reading levels is found in this comprehensive curriculum. Ideal for students reading two or more grade levels below current grade level, English-language learners, and Special Education students. Simple directions and well-crafted activities truly make this an almost no-prep curriculum. Works well as a half-year intensive program or full-year program, with or without paraprofessional assistance.