Teaching -at words to emergent readers or reluctant readers

Calling all homeschooling parents - whether you have volunteered and it's a passion of yours or it has been thrust upon you during this pandemic here are some tips for starting to teach reading -at words.
  1. Make sure your child can sound out all of the basic alphabet. 
  2. Pre-prepared, short burst activities so that you are ready to go and your child isn't hanging around getting fed up while you are cutting things out or arranging things. 
  3. Visit the concept in very short bursts 3 times a day rather than one long session. Some children can handle a long session of reading skills but reluctant readers will roll their eyes, sigh, want to go to the toilet and it may be frustrating. Keep neutral, keep upbeat keep focussed. Repeat and consolidate. Some children do not enjoy acquiring reading skills at first. It can feel laborious. This is fine - we don't enjoy everything but perseverance is the skill that is being taught here. Acknowledge how they feel and explain why they are learning. Don't cave!
  4. Find a variety of tools and activities. One can be a worksheet one can be a video. Magnetic letters are fantastic. Flash cards. Tablet work. 
  5. Incorporate other skills such as handwriting, math /maths. 
  6. Don't give up. They are getting there. 
  7. After they are starting to pick up words - casually ask them to pick those words out in their story books, advertisements etc. 
  8. Rewards - what works for your child - stickers, an extra 5 minutes at the park. Be explicit about what you are rewarding them for.
  9. Youtube - check the video before hand to check that it matches your learning goals. One video I picked focussed on the names of the letters and and spellings. This was confusing at the early stages. 
  10. Check Pinterest - excellent resources there. 
  11. Check teacher online resources stores such as teachers pays teachers. 
Remember - these are things that worked for me - don't forget to share what works for you! Reminder - for children who do not enjoy reading and writing activities, short bursts interspersed with play is useful Ploughing through a lengthy planned activity or set of activities can cause some resentment or push back from your child. In a school setting they would often sit with an educator and then complete an activity in a small group in a carousel fashion.Once the activity is complete they will move on to some fun play. That isn't possible at home so you have to have something planned to help break up the lesson. 
Videos I have used (not sponsored):

This video by Jack Hartmann is a great resource to help children consolidate learning once you have introduced -at words. 

I play this and sing along with my child after we have finished our activities. 

But - start anywhere when introducing letter strings. Just start is the motto. 

This is another great video to reinforce the at-family rules. 

Here are some resources I have at home to help teach simple words (not sponsored) Click on the link below. Any child safe magnetic letters will do. I liked these ones as they had multiples of each letter and consonants and vowels were different colors. 

One activity that worked well after a few days of studying 'at' words was this one. 

I printed out some familiar -at family words and added some nonsense worse with familiar initials sounds. 

  • for each word that is sounded out correctly and subsequently read correctly, the player gets one multilink (replace with any object you think suitable)
  • first sound out each letter - you can use a pointer or ask the child to point and sound each letter. 
  • Next sound out the initial letter and the 'at sound. This will help children to start to group sounds - b-at. c-at. r-at.
  • Next ask children to try the nonsense words 
  • Place a multilink on each one they get correct. Count the multilink at the end and make a big fuss - sticker - etc. 

Here are some activities that can be completed on a magnetic surface once they have been completed. 

The flashcards were from a selection at the Dollar Tree


These magnetic word strips were purchased on Amazon.com but are no longer available. Super strong magnetic backing. There are lots of alternatives with good reviews.  They are usually double sided which allow children to get familiar with the word. Then you flip it over and it is blank with just a picture cue for help. 

Tips for reading with word strips. 

  1. Sound out the word first.
  2. Flip it over and spread out the letters.
  3. Remind children to always start with the beginning (initial) sound first
  4. They may remember the shape of the word - which is great - but you want in this case, to break down the sounds of the word
  5. Model how to say the word c-a-t then get your child to repeat. Then model c-at to introduce 
  6. Encourage connections - reward when a connection is made. 
  7. Watch out for when your child / student explains their reasoning. Reward this with praise or another reward system that works for your child
  8. Children may want to get through the activity quickly. Model the pace. repeat if necessary. 
  9. Some may still be insecure about some initial sounds. Remember to stop there and repeat the letter they are not sure about. For example - 'h' - repeat this sound and ask them to repeat back until the letter sound is secure. 
  10. Pictures are helpful at the beginning so that children can associate the word with a picture. They will be learning two concepts at one time in many cases - the shape of the word and how to sound it out phonetically.

If you do not have magnetic letters simply write or print some letters on a piece of card or paper. 


 This is a very good resource. You will only hear sound affects of the animal or object. This allows you to lead the reading and then hand this over to your student / child. 

Here is a great video incorporating the alphablocks. 



If you have a tablet or laptop - this is a useful resource that I have designed to practise learning the -at word family. Click on the link above to take you to the resource.