Under the Umbrella

Emergent Literacy Design

Amanda Mahoney


Rationale: To learn to read and spell words, children need the alphabetic insight that letters stand for phonemes and spellings map out the phonemes in spoken words. Children need to understand that the different letters of the alphabet stand for phonemes; they must be able to identify these individual letter(s) and phoneme(s) in words before they can learn to read and spell words; and they need to have the chance to hear and identify the different phonemes in words. Because the variances in sound and mouth shape are not grossly obvious, short vowel sounds can be very difficult for children to detect; therefore, this lesson will help children identify one of those short vowel sounds: u = /u/ (short u). Through this lesson, children will learn to recognize the /u/ sound in spoken and written words by learning a meaningful representation, a letter symbol by practicing with a tongue twister, by reading a short book, and by practicing finding /u/ in words.



1.       A poster/chart with the letter symbol for the short u phoneme (/u/ sound,) the /u/ sound tongue twister (under the umbrella is an upset umpire,) and a picture of an umbrella (held upright it’s an upside down u or if held down, is in shape of u) or if you can get a good picture/cartoon of someone saying /u/ when being hit in the stomach (could use this instead of umbrella.)

2.     A blown up version of the letter u written on primary paper; you can have only lower case letter or both upper and lower case, depending on the ability of your children. (you can label the lines of the paper too, if needed, as sidewalk, fence, and roof)

3.     A stamp (can be on the end of a marker) that is simple, to use to mark papers so that children know they can move on with writing task or can use small star stickers.

4.     A large poster of an open umbrella or you can draw one on the white erase/chalk board at the front of the room, making sure that everyone can see the drawing. For the “Under the Umbrella” Game, needs to be big enough to hold the index cards of the words that have the /u/ sound in them.

5.     Index cards (size of large index cards, so all in class can see) with words written on them. Most of the words should have the short u phoneme, but there should be some without, to use as filler words (would be best to do other short vowel phoneme words, as review). These words can be added to word wall if desired.

6.     Words to the “Starts with /u/ Song” written to the tune of Skip to My Lou. You can write these lyrics on a large sheet of butcher paper, poster board, or on the white erase/chalk board so that all can see.

7.     Children’s Book (Bud the Sub, Fuzz and the Buzz, or The Lucky Duck) that contains samples of the /u/ sound with in the words of the story. If available, a big book or a copy for all students in class would be best, so that they can follow along with reading or read themselves.

a.      Bud the Sub ; book 10, short u, Phonics Readers, Short Vowels, by Educational Insights, c. 1990

b.     Fuzz and the Buzz ; book 9, short u, Phonics Readers, Short Vowels, by Educational Insights, c. 1990

c.      The Lucky Duck ; by Carolyn Clark, Modern Curriculum Press, c. 1996

8.     Primary Paper and Pencil

9.     Blank Paper and Crayons/Markers

10.  Worksheet Page – a variety of images; some that have the /u/ sound in them and some that do not



1.       Introduce the lesson by explaining that our written language is a secret code. The tricky part is learning what letters stand for – the movement our mouths make when we say words. Today we are going to work on spotting the mouth movement for the sound /u/ (short u). (teachers model sound and mouth movement – jaw moves down, lips apart, tongue in middle of mouth) At first /u/ will seem hidden in words, but as we get to know it better, you will be able to spot /u/ in all kinds of words.

2.     Ask students: Have you ever been punched in the stomach (or seen a cartoon punched in the stomach) and said /u/ (make the sound)? Teacher models sound while asking some question, for instance… That is the mouth movement we are looking for in our words today. (teacher models the sound again) As I say the word sun, listen for the sound /u/… s-s-s-u-u-u-u-n-n-n. (be sure to emphasize the /u/ sound as a punch in the stomach) That punch in the stomach sound is what we are looking for in words today. (if needed/wanted, you can add the gesture of punching at your stomach, but not really hurting yourself, to make it a bit more fun, but not too confusing)

3.     Okay, let’s try a tongue twister with the /u/ sound in it: “Under the umbrella is an upset umpire.” Or, from the reading genie website list, “Uncle was upset because he was unable to put his umbrella up.” The teacher will say tongue twister alone once, in normal speaking voice… Let's all say the tongue twister together. Now the class says together at normal pace and in normal tone. This time when we say it, stretch the /u/ sound at the beginning of the words.  “Uuuuunder the uuuuumbrella is an uuuuupset uuuuumpire.” The class says as group, stretching the sounds. Well done! Let's try it one more time and this time break the /u/ sound off of each word and make the gesture as we say the sound. “/u/ nder the /u/ mbrella is an /u/ pset /u/ mpire.” If needed, the teacher can model the following word… up  as /u/ p, so that the children see how to separate the beginning sound. The class says together while making the gesture… Nice job!

4.     Have children take out primary paper and a pencil. Tell the children… The letter u (Uu) represents the sound /u/. When you see the letter u by itself in a word, it signals you to say /u/. Here is a sample of the letter u written. Show the children the large version you have of the letter u written on primary paper in the correct fashion; you can also have the upper case U too. Let's practice writing u. If the children to not already know or need reminding, talk to the children about what the lines on paper may represent, roof, fence, sidewalk; so that they will be able to understand your directions. We start with the upper case U – Start at the roof, go down to the sidewalk, curve around and head back up to the rood, then stop. Remember there is no stem on the upper case U. Now, I want you to write two upper case U’s on your paper and stop. As I walk around, I am going to stamp your paper; after I put a stamp on your paper, I want you to write a whole row of uppercase U’s just like the two that are on your paper. As the children practice writing, walk around the room and make sure that everyone is staying on task and writing their U’s correctly. Next, we will be working on writing the lower case u. You 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). Notice, that unlike the upper case U, the lower case u has a stem. Great, now everyone try; I want each one of you to write two u’s on your paper, next to the practice u we just did. As the children are practicing writing, the teacher can walk around and see/make sure that everybody is practicing writing the letter u and help those who need it. As I walk around, I am going to stamp your paper; after I put a stamp on your paper, I want you to write a whole row of u's just like the two that are on your paper. Continue walking around to check the children’s progress and correct/help them when/where it is needed.

5.     Play “Under the Umbrella” Game. The teacher will place a large poster or draw a large open umbrella on the white erase/chalk board at the front of the room so that everyone in the class can see. The teacher will explain the game…The name of the game is under the umbrella because the words under and umbrella have the /u/ sound in them and want to protect their friends. Their friends are the other words with the /u/ sound in them. The teacher will hold up a card that has a word on it and if the word contains the letter u with the sound /u/, then it gets out of the rain and under the umbrella; on the other hand, if it does not contain the /u/ sound, the word will remain out in the cold and rain. If the children hear the /u/ sound in the word, they will give you a thumbs up sign (high in the air), and if they do not hear the /u/ sound in the word, they will give you a thumbs down sign (high in the air). If there is a disagreement, let the children each sound out the word slowly, aloud, so that the others can hear and they can help each other learn. The teacher will be the final and correct judge of the sounds in the words. Be sure to give the words slowly (so children have enough time to sound out) and one at a time. Once the game is explained, the teacher will model one word with and one word without the short /u/ sound. Class, this card has the word sun on it; I know that sun has the short /u/ sound (make sound of getting punched in the stomach), so it gets to go under the umbrella and stay dry. Now, the word big does not have the /u/ sound in it, so it has to stay out in the rain. (you can do these models quickly or have the class participate at a slower pace) I am going to show you a word on an index card (you can either say it for them too or just let them see the word, depending on their ability level) and I want you to give a thumbs up sign if you hear the /u/ sound in the word and a thumbs down sign if you do not hear the /u/ sound in the word. If there are any disagreements, we will have a short discussion and decide as a group. If the thumbs up/down signs are too complicated, you can just have the students wait till you count to a number and then say the answer, discussing if there are disagreements. Okay, does everyone understand? Good. Let’s begin. Here is your first card… Some words with the /u/ sound that you can use on your cards are hug, run, sun, nut, fun, mud, bug, tub, puff, sub, up, tug, cut, jump, lump, luck, blush, crush, drunk, skunk, strung, struck, etc. And the filler/add-in words you can add are other short vowel phoneme words that the children are familiar with, such as fat, man, bat, pet, yell, pen, six, hit, miss, hot, pot, top, etc.

6.     Sing/Play the “Starts with /Uu/ Song,” a sound matching game. Sing this song to the tune of Skip to My Lou. If you have a musical tape background, you can turn off the voices. (I think the treble button) Write the words on a large sheet of butcher paper or a poster board or you can write it out on the white erase/chalk board in the front of the class for everyone to see. Class, we are going to sing a song that uses words that start with the /u/ sound. So, think of some words while I get the tape ready and be ready to say your word when it’s your turn. Let’s practice the song once with the word up.

Who has a word that starts with /u/?
Starts with /u/, starts with /u/?
Who has a word that starts with /u/?
Skip to my Lou, my darling!

Call on a student who knows a word that starts with /u/. The word is then plugged back into the song.

Up is a word that starts with /u/.
Starts with /u/, starts with /u/.

Up is a word that starts with /u/.
Skip to my Lou, my darling!

Continue until all students or groups of students have had a turn or until they have run out of known words that start with the sound /u/. For some help, you can use some during the “Under the Umbrella” game and leave them on the board for some starting points, help for those who need it. Or, you can change the song to say “Who has a word with the sound /u/.” Some words that could be used are up, under, us, umbrella, upset, uncle, undertook, ugly, until, utter, upper, unbend, unmask, etc.

7.     Give a book talk to get the children interested in the book you are about to read; either Bud the Sub or Fuzz and the Buzz by Educational Insights. Read the story one time and discuss the story’s characters, setting, problems, resolutions or whatever else the children bring up. Then, read the book again, and have the students raise their hands when they hear a word with the /u/ sound in it at the beginning, middle, or end. List their words on the board. (if they are at a higher writing ability level, you could have them write the list along with you on their own sheet of primary paper, being sure to write the letters correctly) Then, have each student draw a picture of a submarine (for Bud the Sub) or a picture of a bear/bathtub (for Fuzz and the Buzz) or a picture of a large, friendly duck (for The Lucky Duck). The students need to make sure that each picture has at least one word/picture with the sound /u/ in it. With the picture, each student should write a message about it using invented spelling. You can display their work on a bulletin board, or under the big umbrella picture. If time permits, allow the children to color in their pictures.

8.     For assessment, distribute a worksheet page (that the teacher creates using clip art or images scanned or other images you have found) that has a variety of pictures on it and ask the students to circle the pictures whose names have the sound /u/ in them. Make sure the images are of a certain item and you may have to go them if the class is coming up with different names than you had wanted for the image. 



1.       Eldredge, J. Lloyd. Teaching Decoding in Holistic Classrooms. Prentice Hall: c 1995, page 58.

2.     The Reading Genie website: The Lucky Duck: Author - Ginger Outlaw http://www.auburn.edu/rdggenie/discov/outlawel.html

3.     The Reading Genie website: Under the Umbrella: Author – April Casey http://www.auburn.edu/rdggenie/inroads/caseyel.html

4.     Bud the Sub ; book 10, short u, Phonics Readers, Short Vowels, by Educational Insights, c. 1990

5.     Fuzz and the Buzz ; book 9, short u, Phonics Readers, Short Vowels, by Educational Insights, c. 1990

6.     The Lucky Duck ; by Carolyn Clark, Modern Curriculum Press, c. 1996

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