Uhhhh… I Don’t Know

Beginning Literacy Lesson Design

By: Courtney Leyde

Rationale: This lesson is designed to teach children the vowel correspondence u = /u/. In this lesson, children will learn to recognize, read, and spell words containing the /u/ phoneme. They will learn a meaningful representation of a confused person saying “Uhhhhh” and begin to associate it with the short u sound. They will then learn to both spell and read words with this phoneme with a letterbox lesson and then practice reading a decodable book that focuses on the phoneme as well.



·         Image of a confused person saying “Uhhhh”

·         Large white board or SMARTBoard version of Elkonin boxes

·         Class set of individual Elknonin boxes

·         Large magnetic or SMARTBoard letters for teacher (b, c, g, j, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, u, z, z)

·         Individual letter manipulatives for each student (b, c, g, j, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, u, z, z)

·         List of words on a poster or SMARTBoard (tug, tune, fun, boat, cake, bug)

·         Decodable text: Bud the Sub

·         Worksheets for practice/assessment



1.   Say: “Learning to read is like learning to understand a secret code. To do this, we have to learn which letters make which sounds. Today we’re going to learn about /u/, the short u sound. When I say “uhhhh” I think of a confused person when they don’t know the answer to something (show image). The way to spell the /u/ sound is with the letter u (write u on the board).”

2.   Say: “First, we need to learn how to listen for the /u/ sound in words. When I listen for the /u/ sound in words, I realize that why I say it, my lips are relaxed and my tongue is down and behind my bottom teeth. (Model saying /u/ a few more times so the students can practice saying it and notice how their mouths move.) Uhhhh, there is a short u in tug. Now I’m going to see if I can hear or feel the short u sound in tune… No, my lips were pursed together, not relaxed. Now you practice: when I point to a word, quietly say it out loud. If you heard the /u/ sound, give a thumbs-up signal; if you didn’t, cross your arms.” (Practice with each word on the poster or SMARTBoard.)

3.   Say: “How do I figure out how to write the word sub, as in ‘The sub went underneath the water.’? Sub is short for submarine. To spell sub in letterboxes, I have to know how many different phonemes or sounds I hear in the word so I have to stretch it out and count /s/ /u/ /b/. So I need three boxes, one for each sound. We know that we use the letter u for the /u/ sound and that sound came in the middle of the word so we put the u in the second box. SSSub, the first sound in the word is the /s/ sound and for that, we use the letter s and we put that in the first letterbox. Subbb, that last sound is /b/ so we put the letter b in the last letterbox. Sub.” (Think aloud and point while modeling the letterbox lesson to the class.)

4.   Say: “Now, I’ll show you how I figure out how to read a tough word.” (Show the word strum on the poster or SMARTBoard and model read it.) “First, start with the vowel sound; we know that the letter u says uhhhh. Now I put the beginning sounds together with it - /s/ /t/ /r/ /u/. The last thing we do is add on the last sound /m/. So now we have ssstttrrruuummm. Oh, that word is strum, like I learned to strum the guitar strings.”

5.   Say: “Now, you will practice spelling words in your own letterboxes. First, we’ll start off with just two letterboxes for the word up. ‘The elevator is going up.’ (Walk around the room to observe the students’ work.) Next we need three boxes so add another box. Now try bug. Remember: if you have trouble, start with the vowel sound, then the first sound(s) and then the last sound(s).” (Repeat this process and allow students the time needed to spell out the remaining words, giving sentences for each one and letting them know when to add another letterbox. Remaining words: 3 phonemes- buzz, sun, luck; 4 phonemes- jump; 5 phonemes- crust. Continue to walk around the room and observe the students’ progress.)

6.   When all the words have been spelled, use your magnetic or SMARTBoard letters to list the words and have the students chorally or individually read all the words they just spelled.

7.   Say: “Now that we’ve learned how to read and spell words with the /u/ sound, we can read the book Bud the Sub. This story is about a submarine named Bud who is not the biggest or fanciest sub, but he is the best. Let’s read to find out why he’s the best.” (Have children read either individually or in pairs, whichever works better for your class, while you walk around to observe. After reading, the class will reread the story chorally, while the teacher stops between pages to ask questions and discuss the story.)

8.   For assessment, each student will be given the following worksheet. Uhhhh Practice.pdf



Cushman, Sheila. Bud the Sub. Educational Insights, Carson, CA, 1990, 9pp.

Meredith, Lauren. Under my Umbrella. http://www.auburn.edu/academic/education/reading_genie/doorways/meredithlbr.htm





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