Under the Umbrella 

Beginning Reading Lesson

Amanda Mahoney

Rationale:  Children need explicit instruction to learn how to recognize phonemes so that they can learn to read. Vowels are the basis for children being able to decode words; they are seen in almost all our words. Having a strong understanding and identification of common correspondences develops proficient readers.  It is extremely important to be familiar with vowel correspondences. This lesson will focus on teaching the vowel correspondence u=/u/ (short u).  This lesson will teach children a meaningful representation (letter symbol) and how to pronounce the phoneme /u/. The children will have practice in identify u=/u/ in written words, recognizing the grapheme u, reading u in print, and writing words that contain the u correspondence.


1. Tongue Twister (written on poster board or the chalkboard, large enough for all to see)

          a. Uncle is upset because he’s under an umbrella with an upset umpire.

2. Large poster of an Open Umbrella (large enough to hold many words under the umbrella)

3. Large Class Version of Letterboxes and Letter Tiles (with a plastic hanging rack to hold them)

4. Student Set of Letterboxes and Letter Tiles (one for each student)

5. Large Index Cards (with words from letterbox lesson written on them)

a. Word List of u words: cup, fun, sub, mud, duck, rush, luck, drum, jump, jugs, thump, scrub, stump, etc.

          b Word List of review words: cat, rot, top, mend, milk, flag, etc.

6. Class Set of Book

          a. Bud the Sub – book 10, short u; Phonics Readers, Short Vowels;

by Educational Insights, © 1990

7. Small Paper Umbrellas (one for each student)

8. Primary Writing Paper and Pencil

9. Worksheet (pictures of /u/ words with letterboxes or primary writing lines below them)

10. Crayons (to color in pictures if finished early)


1.       Begin the lesson with a review of the vowel correspondences previously taught (for instance, short vowel, such as a=/a/, e=/e/, i=/i/, o=/o/, and u=/u/). Class, can anyone give me a vowel that we have talked about in class? wait for an answer That’s right! The teacher can write them on the board as the students call them out. The sound we are going to concentrate on today is the vowel u=/u/. Can everyone make that sound with me? Wait for class to make sound together, go over a gesture if you feel it is needed, may use the punching sound)Review how the mouth moves and the tongue twister used when Uu was taught as a phoneme. Do you remember what your mouth does when it says /u/? Wait for the children to make the sound with their mouths and to give you an answer. Watch what my mouth does and then we will all do it together. The teacher says the phoneme and the children watch her mouth; then it is repeated as a class. The sound is /u/. Watch as I hold the sound out /uuuuu/. Can you guys hold /u/ out like me? Wait for children to repeat. Splendid! That was perfect! You are all remembering. Now go over a tongue twister for the /u/ phoneme. Class, I am going to say a short tongue twister. First, I will say it word by word. Then I will say it as a sentence. I want you to repeat after me. Have the tongue twister written on a large sheet of paper, to hang on the wall, or you can write it on the board, above your lists of words. “Uncle is upset because he’s under an umbrella with an upset umpire.” Say each word of the tongue twister in order and allow time for the children to repeat; then break the saying into words or thirds, say aloud and wait for children to repeat; lastly, say the whole sentence and wait for children to repeat. While you are saying the words and the children are repeating, be sure to point to each of the words on the poster or on the board.

2.     Ask the class, Class, we have learned how to identify words with the vowels a, e, i, and o in them, so which vowel do you think we will discuss identifying today?” Wait for the answer of u. That’s right; so Uu is what we are going to learn today. We are going to learn how to spot the letter u in written text. Now, call out a list of words and ask the children which word contains which correspondence. Okay, I am going to call out some words and I want you guys to tell me which ones have the /u/ sound. A list of words you can use are: fat, hog, best, bug, milk, maps, gum, dock, yell, ran, tub, hit, mends, stop, big, and duck. If the children miss a word, say the word again and emphasize the phoneme. If the children say that the word does not have the /u/ sound, ask them which sound it does have and place it under that letter on the board, for instance, the word fat would go under a=/a/. If you think the children need to see the words, you can write them up on the board under the vowel graphemes you wrote on the board earlier.

3.     If needed, have children practice writing the letter Uu on the first couple lines of their paper. Let’s all write a lower case u on our papers, remember, we start the letter u at the fence (dashed middle line). Then, draw straight down to the sidewalk (solid bottom line), curve over (still on bottom line), and draw back up to the fence (dashed middle line). Now, without lifting your pencil, draw a straight line back down to the sidewalk (solid bottom line). Do the same with the upper case U. You can model writing these on the board if necessary. Walk around to make sure that everyone is writing the letters in the correct way, have the children do one to two lines of each.

4.     Ask the class, Class can you tell me any words that come to mind that have the /u/ sound in them? Wait for some answers, if none, say, I will begin. I am thinking of the word bug. As the students give you words, write them on the poster (picture of large open umbrella) and underline the /u/ in each word. So, put bug on the poster and underline the u in bugDoes everyone see why I used this word and why I underlined the u? Wait for responses. Good, now I want you to give me some words. As the children give you words, ask the whole class if they agree that the word should go on the poster, if they agree and are right, write the words on the poster. If the children give you a wrong word, say the word aloud and ask if anyone can tell you why it should not go on the poster, be sure to explain if the other children do not explain fully.

5.     Tell the class, Now we are going to play the “Under the Umbrella” game. Put/ Draw a picture of an umbrella on the chalkboard or on one side of the board. Explain the game to the class; I am going to show you a card that has a word on it. If the words have the /u/ sound, I want everybody to say “umbrella” and if it does not, I want everybody to say “rain.” For example, if the card had the word bug on it you would say “umbrella,” but if the card had the word mad on it you would say “rain.” Does everybody understand? Wait for responses, answer any questions. Okay, now let’s play the game. A list of words may be rug, ran, boat, rung, fun, sat, mend, lump, rush, milk, rump, bump, get, etc. Be sure to make them different from the list you used in step one, so that the children can not just look at the lists on the board. Place the words along the chalk holder on the chalkboard, into two sides, “umbrella” and “rain.”

6.     Explain to the class that we are going to do a letterbox lesson. The class will know how to do these, since they are done throughout year. Okay class; put your letterboxes on your desk. Now, I need everyone to get out the following letters: a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, and u. The teacher needs to get out her big set of letter tiles and a plastic hanging rack. You can place a colored square in the hanging areas to represent the letterboxes (add more as needed) and you can place the letter tiles needed either in the bottom hanging racks or on the chalk holder of the chalkboard. Explain that we are going to spell words with the /u/ sound using the letter u and we will have some review words mixed in with the letters a, e, i, and o. Remind the students to turn their letters over to the lower case side. Review with class how to use the letterboxes and tiles; model by spelling the word tug. The word is tug. TUG. A tug floated by on the water. It will go into three boxes because we made three different mouth movements. Listen "t"  "uuuu"  "gggggg”. So in the first box I will put a t, in the second I will put a u, and in the third I will put a g. Now let's try one as a class. Let's use the word sub. SUB. The sub moves under the water. How many boxes will we need for this word? Wait for answer – three. How many sounds does our mouth make? Good, three. What will we put in our first box? s will go in our first box and then u and then b. You guys did that wonderfully! Now the children will fill in the correct letters in their letterboxes for the words you give them. Be sure to give a sentence with each word, or you can allow them to make up sentences for the words. Be sure to remind the children that each letterbox holds only one mouth movement. Class, we are going to use the letter tiles to spell words. I am going to call out some words. As I call out these words, I want you spell them the best you can on the letterboxes. Remember, say the word to yourself and sound it out letter by letter. For each sound you hear, put the representing letter in a box. Start with two/three phoneme words and work your way up to five/six phoneme words. First, fold your letterboxes where three boxes are showing. The first word is hug. As the students are placing the letter tiles down for the words, walk around and check their progress. Once everyone has it done, choose a child to go to the front of the class and create the word using the large class set. If anyone has it wrong on their set, make sure they understand now how the word is correctly spelled. Continue on with words, adding letterboxes as needed, until you have done the whole list. After the spelling of each word, ask the students the number of phonemes in each one. Instruct them to count with their fingers to figure out how many sounds (phonemes) are in each word. This is to make sure that the students really understand the concept of phonemes. You should be sure that the students are not simply counting the boxes to figure out the number of phonemes. A list of words could be cup (3), fun (3), sub (3), mud (3), duck (3), rush (3), luck (3), drum (4), jump (4), jugs (4), thump (4), scrub (5), and stump (5). If you want, you can add some review words to the lesson, such as cat (3), rot (3), top (3), mend (4), milk (4), and flag (4). Remember to tell the children the number of phonemes in each word after it is spelled. During this entire process, the teacher should walk around the room checking the children’s progress. Making sure that when there are errors, the child fixes them and understands the correct way. When you are done with the letterbox lesson, have the children put all materials away, so that they are not distracted during the reading of the story.

7.     After the letterbox lesson is complete, take out the cards (the words used for the letterbox lesson should be written on the cards) and explain to the class that you will hold up a card, give them a minute to look at it and come up with a word, then we will all say the word aloud together or call on individuals. Class, I am going to hold up cards that have words on them, I want you to identify what the word is and raise your hand when you have it. Once the whole class has it, I will call on someone to tell the class the word. I will only call on children who are following directions and working quietly. Now, go through the list of words; you can either put these on the word wall or you can put these words along the chalk holder of the chalkboard.

8.     Have the children will take out their book or pass out a class set of Bud the Sub, so that each child has a book of their own. The teacher can pass out a small paper umbrella to each child. The teacher will give brief book talk about the book giving the names of the characters and the initial interesting event. Instruct the children that as we read the book, when we hear the /u/ sound, we need to raise our umbrellas high in the air and twirl them around. Then put them down and wait for the next /u/ word to appear or be read. Model this activity with the tongue twister that is still hanging in the front of the room for all to see. The class reads through the book, following along when others are reading and reading themselves if selected.

9.     After everyone has read the story, have each child take out a pencil and a sheet of primary writing paper. Tell the children, Now, I want everyone to get with their partner and read the book again together. This time though, you will write the words that contain the /u/ sound on your sheet of paper. Explain, After everyone is finished, we will go over the words everyone has written down. I will have a copy of all the words in the story that have the /u/ sound. This time should be spent working quietly, if they have questions, they can ask their partners or the teacher. If needed, they can pair up by reading ability and the teacher can walk around assisting and scaffolding as needed. After most everyone is finished, call on various children to give you a word. Try to allow everyone to give you a word. You may have to call on those lower ability children first, so that they get a chance to participate before all the easier words are called out. Explain to the children; Do not call out any answers unless you are called upon. I will call on those who are raising their hands.

10.  Assessment: I will give each child a worksheet that has pictures on it (approximately 9 or 10). Explain to the children, Each picture will have letterboxes below it. The number of letterboxes will be appropriate for the picture. If the picture represents a word that has the /u/ sound in it, then you need to write the word inside the letterboxes. If the picture represents a word that does not have the /u/ sound in it, then you leave it blank. If you finish and there is still time, you can color in the pictures. Remind the children that each sound of a word goes in one/different letterboxes. If you do not want to create the pictures with letterboxes under them, you can just put primary paper lines under the pictures and have the children write the words of the pictures with the /u/ sound in them. Whichever is best for your children? You can get the images from clip art or from the internet or copied from books.


1. Cushman, Sheila.  Bud the SubCarson: CA.  Educational Insights, 1990.

2. Murray, B.A. and T. Lesniak.  (1999). "The letterbox lesson:  A hands-on approach to teaching decoding."  The Reading Teacher, 52, 644-650.

4. Maudlin, Heather. The Reading Genie Website: Umbrellas Up. http://www.auburn.edu/rdggenie/elucid/mauldinbr.html

5. Wells, Lisa. The Reading Genie Website: Ugly Umbrellas. http://www.auburn.edu/rdggenie/inroads/wellsbr.html


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