Uncle Understanding says Uhhh

Amanda Gluckman

Beginning Literacy

Rationale: As students progress in their reading development, they learn that there is a relationship between the grapheme (letter) and the phoneme (sound) of a written word. Decoding words is an important tool for them to use in order to read and spell words correctly. In this lesson, the students will learn to decode words with the short vowel /u/. Short vowels are often difficult for young readers, and so it is important to dedicate time to teaching the grapheme-phoneme relationship of each. This lesson willss incorporate the spelling of words as a means of teaching the decoding skill, and then practicing how to read and spell words in and out of context.


- Baggies of letter tiles and letterboxes for each student (each bag will contain a letterbox and the letters: r, u, n, h, g, t, j, m, p, s, c, l, b, t)

- Teacher letter box set big enough for clear instruction and modeling

- Phoneme picture of monkey thinking

- Poster of tongue-tickler

- Flash cards of words to read as a class (3—run, hug, gut; 4—jump, brush, club; 5— trust, scrub)

- Class set of decodable book, Fuzz and the Buzz

- Primary writing paper for each student

- Pencils


1. "Today we are going to learn a new sound for the letter 'u.' It makes the sound /u/ like when you don't understand something and say "uhh." Look at this picture of the monkey thinking. He is putting his pointer finger on his chin and says /u/."

2. "Now everyone try to do what the monkey is doing by putting your finger on your chin and saying /u/. Very good!"

3. "We are now going to learn a tongue twister to practice our /u/ sounds."  (Use poster). Say the tongue twister once, and then have the students repeat it several times so that they understand the sequence of words. Point to the words on the poster as they say them. "Uncle Understanding went under the umbrella." "That sounds great!"  

4. "This time when we say our tongue twister, I want you to put your pointer-finger on your chin like the monkey and stretch out the /u/ sound you hear in each word.  Ready?  "Uuuuncle Uuuunderstanding went uuuunder the uuuumbrella." Great work!" Repeat this several times, emphasizing the /u/ correspondence and using the "thinking" phoneme gesture.

5. "Now we are going to try and pick out the /u/ sound in words. I will say two words and you tell me which one has the /u/ sound in it. Here we go: Run or walk? Bowl or mug? Nut or fruit? That's very good!"

6. "Now everyone needs to get their baggies of letterboxes and tiles out for our letterbox lesson. Each box is represents a sound that you hear in a word. We are going to spell words with the /u/ sound today. I will show you how this works and then you can try it on your own. Our first word is going to be run.  It will need three boxes. Listen to how I stretch out the sounds in run—'rrrr-uuuu-nnnn'. It's a good idea to sound out the word to yourself as you put the letters in their boxes. Put one sound in each box like this (Model how to put the letters in their boxes for the word run). 'Rrr-uuu-nnn'—the first sound I hear in run is /r/, so I put the 'r' in the first box. 'Rrr-uuu-nnn'—then I hear /u/ (make thinking motion like they practiced earlier), so I put the 'u' in the second box. 'Rrr-uuu-nnn'—then I hear /n/ so I put an 'n' in the last box. 'Rrr-uuu-nnn', that word says run."

7. "Now it's your turn to practice with some words! I will say a word, and then you try spelling it in your letterbox using the tiles that you have in your baggy. It's okay to say the word out loud as you spell it. Be sure to put just one sound in each box." Give students the words starting with 3 phonemes and increasing the number up to 5 phonemes: 3—run, hug, gut; 4—jump, brush, club; 5— trust, scrub one at a time and indicate how many boxes they will need for each word. "Whenever you are done spelling the word, raise your hand and I will come around to check it. Feel free to ask your neighbor to check your spelling also!"

8. After the letterbox lesson, introduce the book Fuzz and the Buzz.  "Fuzz is a cub who is playing one day and tries to get nuts from the top of a tree. The nuts keep falling down and hitting him on the top of his head! Along with the nuts are some mean bugs! They swarm around him and buzz and buzz.  Oh no! What will Fuzz do?  Let's read and find out!"  Have students read book to themselves or in pairs.  When everyone is finished, ask students to raise their hands if they remember any words with the /u/ sound they read in the book.  Spell the words together as you write the words on the board. The students will write the words on their own primary paper.

9. For the assessment I will give each student a worksheet with pairs of pictures of objects grouped together. The students will have to look at the pairs of objects and write a 'u' on top of the picture that they hear the phoneme /u/ in. This will demonstrate their understanding of the relationship between the grapheme and the phoneme /u/. For individual reading assessment, I will have one-on-one time with each student. During this time, I will show them the flashcards of the words that we spelled as a class in our letterboxes and see if they can read them correctly out of context.


Murray, B.A. & Lesniak, T (1999).  The Letterbox Lesson: A hands-on approach for teaching decoding.  The Reading Teacher, 52, 644-650.

Long, Lauren.

Fuzz and the Buzz. Phonics Readers.

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