Shhhhhhh! The sheep are sleeping!


A Lesson Design for Beginning Readers

By Jessica Freeman


Rationale:  In order for children to become fluent readers, they must learn to recognize letter combinations such as digraphs.  Digraphs are two letters that make only one sound.  We must help children learn that sometimes when two letters are together in a word they make the mouth move a certain way when pronouncing.  In this lesson we will learn about and be able to recognize the digraph /sh/.


Materials: chalkboard and chalk, a picture of a sheep (Google images has some great pictures of sheep), chart paper to write tongue twister on (optional, the board could also be used), Sheep, Sheep, Sheep, Help Me Fall Asleep, by Arlene Alda, Elkonin boxes for letterbox lesson (one per student and one for teacher), the letter tiles containing the following letters : a, b, e, f, h, I, k, l, l, o, p, r, s, and w.  (a set for each student and teacher),  overhead projector, cards containing the following words used in letterbox lesson:  she, wish, shell, shake, fish, show, fresh, blush, and splash, the book Sheep in a Shop, written by Nancy E. Shaw, paper and pencil for journal time   


  1. First, we will begin by reading a old favorite, such as Fuzz and the Buzz, published by Educational Insights and written by Shelia Cushman, which teaches the short u correspondence.  However, any familiar text may be used as long as it reviews a previously taught correspondence.  Assessments may also been done at this time on an individual, as needed, basis. 
  2. I will introduce the lesson on the sh = /sh/ correspondence by saying, “Sometimes when two letters are together in a word, they make the same sound.  Quickly review any diagraphs already learned such as th, and ch.  To assess prior knowledge, write the letters s and h on the board and say to the students, “Can anyone tell me what sound this letter makes (pointing to c)?  Right, c can make the /s/ sound and sometimes the /k/ sound.  What sound does this letter make?  (Pointing to s).  Right, s makes a /s/ sound.  Does anyone know what sound these two letters make when they are together in a word?  If no one knows, tell them and model the /sh/ sound for them.  Tell students that, “/Sh/ makes the same sound as when someone’s is telling you to shhhhhhh!  Has anyone ever told you to shhhhhhhh before?  Model this for the students by holding your finger over your mouth and saying “Shhhhhhhh,”  Now, you hold your finger over your mouth like this (model for them) and say Shhhhhhhh as if you are telling someone to be quiet. 
  3. Next, hold up a picture of a sheep and ask the students to identify.  Can anyone tell me what this is a picture of?  Right, it’s a sheep.  Now everyone say sheep.  Good!  Did you hear the /sh/ sound in the word sheep?  Write the word sheep on the board.  Point to the sh at the beginning of the word. “Now say the word sheep, but this time stretch out the /sh/ sound, like this shhhhhhhheep!  Now you do it.  Very good class.”
  4. Then continue modeling the /sh/ sound by reading students the tongue twister:  Sheep should shop for shoes and shirts for the Shepard. “Now class let’s say it together.  Sheep should shop for shoes and shirts for the Shepard.  Very Good!  Now lets say it one more time, only this time, when we say /sh/ in every word, let’s stretch it out.”  Model this for the students and then have them repeat it.   “Shhhhhhhheep shhhhhhhhould shhhhhhhhhop for shhhhhhhoes and shhhhhhhhirts for the shhhhhhhepard.” 
  5. Next, we will have a letterbox lesson.  The teacher will explain the letterbox lesson by reminding students that each box represents one sound, not one letter.  Model this by making the word sheep using Elkonin boxes and the overhead projector.  Students, please watch as I make the word sheep.  I will need 3 boxes because I hear 3 sounds in the word /sh/ /E/ /p/.  Let’s see, the first sound I hear in the word sheep is /sh/ and we’ve already learned that the letters s and h make the /sh/ sound, so I know that the letters s and h go in the first box.  Model this using the overhead and by thinking and reasoning aloud.  The next sound I hear is /E/.  This is kind of tricky.  It sounds like an e should go in the second box, but I know that sheep has two e’s by looking at the book that we just read.  I am going to put two e’s in this box because I know that two e’s sometime makes the /E/ sound.  The last sound I hear in the word sheep is /p/.  Can anyone tell me what letter I should put in the third box to make the /p/ sound?  Right, the letter p.  We have just spelled the word sheep.  Does anyone have any questions?”  Please refer to the following link to learn more about letterbox lessons:
  6. Have the students pull out their Elkonin boxes and letter tiles.  Ask the students to make the following words:  she(2), wish(3), shell(3), shake(3), fish(3), show (3), fresh (4), blush(4), splash (5),  As students are making each word, walk around and observe. If someone needs help, repeat the word.  If they have spelled the word incorrectly, reread the word as they made it.  Remember that there is a ONE FAILURE LIMIT.  If after the 2nd try the student doesn’t get it right, simply tell them how to make the word.  Frustration is not a positive method in learning new information!  Students after you have made the word, raise your hand so that I can see if you are right.  Please do not look at anyone else’s letterboxes.  It is okay if you don’t know how to make a word.  I will help you.  Just try your best and be sure to listen for each sound in the word. ” Allow approximately 2 minutes for each word.  Once everyone has had a chance to make each word, model by making the words using the overhead projector.
  7. Next, hold up cards with words from letterbox lesson.  Class, as I hold up a card, everyone read the word on the card together.  What word is this?  Read each word aloud together.
  8. Allow students time to write a message or in their daily journals if applicable.  Challenge them to use words containing /sh/.  You may want students to turn in their journals/messages for the day in order to assess their knowledge of the sh=/sh/ correspondence.  As students are writing in their journals, take time to call those students who seemed to struggle with the sh=/sh/ correspondence during the letterbox lesson in order to help them and learn the correspondence to the teacher’s desk individually.
  9. Next, we will read the book, Sheep, Sheep, Sheep, Help Me Fall Asleep, by Arlene Alda.  First I will give an introduction to the book by saying, “Has anyone ever had a hard time falling to sleep?  I sure have.  You know, when I was a little girl and I couldn’t go to sleep at night, my mother would always tell me to count sheep.  Has anyone else’s mother ever told them to count sheep?  Well that is what this book is about.  It is about a person, who’s probably about your age, who tries to fall asleep by counting sheep.  Let’s read and find out if it worked?”

Assessment:  Write on the board, "Sheep in a ___________________.  Then ask the students to think of words with the /sh/ sound to fill in the blank.  Children raise their hands and offer ideas.  Some possible suggestions are “Sheep in a shoe.  (Shirt, shoe store, shell, fish)  You could also modify by changing the sentence structure to make, “Sheep get the shivers.”   “Sheep get shaved.”  “Sheep in a shoe store.”  “Sheep shrink.” Have students keep a list of words with /sh/ in their journals.  This list may be added to throughout the week.  Challenge students to go home and look for things that might contain the /sh/ sound in the word. 


Lesson Extension:  A great follow-up book for this lesson would be Sheep in a Shop, by Nancy Shaw. 




Alda, Arlene, Sheep, Sheep, Sheep, Help Me Fall Asleep, Doubleday Books for Young Readers; October 1, 1992, (click the following link for a free preview of the book:


Amanda, Kindergarten Teacher, Sheep in a Jeep Activities,


Gainor, Brandi, Shhhh! Don’t Wake Mama.


Murray, Bruce A. and Theresa Lesniak.  "The Letterbox Lesson:  A Hands-On Approach for Teaching Decoding."  The Reading Teacher.  Vol. 52, No. 6  March, 1999.  664-650.


For questions and comments please notify me by email:

Click here to return to Explorations.