Learning Short U Sounds With Decodable Stories, Word Lists & Activities

Before children can learn to read they need to know what sounds the letters of the alphabet make.

One of the first things they will learn are the sounds of short vowels. These are included in some of the earliest words children will learn and are very important. 

Learning Short U Sounds With Decodable Stories, Word Lists & Activities

Learning short U sounds with decodable stories, word lists and activities are great ways to get children excited about learning and give them confidence in their own abilities. 

We take a look at what the short U sound is, why it’s important for kids to learn it and how you can help them. 

What Is The Short U Sound?

As with the other vowels U has both a short and a long sound. It is the last vowel in the English alphabet.

When children start learning to read, it is best for them to begin with the short vowel sounds as they are much easier to grasp than long vowel sounds(see also: Long Vowel Sounds With Word Lists & Activities). 

In phonics the short U sound is made with a slightly open mouth and a relaxed tongue which is set low in the mouth. The sides of the tongue will be lightly touching the bottom teeth. 

The sound of the short U is ‘uh’ as in up, bug, and under. The long U sound is more difficult for kids and is found in words such as unicorn, cute and huge.

It is normally a better idea to teach this sound with words which begin with it like up, under and umbrella. 

When they are confident and comfortable with these words they can move onto words with the short U sound in the middle like cup, hut and bus. 

The best way to engage and encourage kids to learn this sound is through fun activities, word lists and decodable stories(see also: Learning Short I Sounds With Decodable Stories, Word Lists & Activities). 

Why Do Kids Need To Learn The Short U Sound?

Teaching kids the sounds of the short vowels is essential to their fluency, as well as their confidence when learning to read.

When they know the sound of the letter they can sound out words and this helps them achieve a degree of independence with their reading. 

The short U sound features in a lot of CVC or consonant, vowel, consonant words. The vowel in these words is always a short vowel sound. Being able to sound out these short words will give children a lot of confidence and encourage them to read.

It’s not a good idea to teach the short U vowel sound and the long U vowel sound at the same time. Leave it for a few weeks until your child is confident with the short U sound. 

Long vowel sounds are always the same as the letter name so in some ways they can be easy to learn, but the words are often longer and not ideal for beginning readers(see also: The Best Decoding Strategies For Beginning And Struggling Readers). 

Short U Sound Families

One of the easiest ways to introduce the sound of the short U to children is through the short U sound families. 

  • ub 
  • ud 
  • ug 
  • um
  • un
  • up 
  • ut 
  • uck 
  • ump 
  • ung
  • unk 
  • ush 

The first seven combinations of letters are what you will typically come across in CVC words. Examples of CVC words using the short U sound are cup, bud and gum. 

The last five combinations of letters are used in longer words, and you can move on to these when kids have mastered the easier U sound families. 

The sound families can be sorted into word families and this allows children to practice similar sounding words to familiarize themselves with the short U sound. 

Word families comprise words that contain the same two or three letters. A short U sound word family would look like this:

  • tub
  • mud
  • rug
  • sum
  • bun
  • cup
  • hut

Once children have become more familiar with the short U sound you can add longer words. These should only be added when kids are happy and comfortable with the shorter word families and know the beginning sounds too. 

  • duck
  • jump
  • stung
  • trunk
  • brush

How Do Decodable Books Work?

When children can sound out words for themselves it gives them a sense of pride, achievement and confidence. This encourages them to move forward and try ever more challenging sounds and words. 

This is what decodable books do for children learning to read. Only the sounds that they have learned and already know are included in the books. 

They can then read independently without needing any prompting or visual clues to guess what the words are or what the story is about. 

Decodable books build the phonic skills, fluency and confidence that children need when learning to read. 


Decodable Books For Short U Sound

You can buy decodable books with the short U sound which are appropriate for the age group that you are teaching.

It’s also possible to find a lot of free resources online with plenty of downloadable and printable materials that you can use. 

Decodable books are written with what is called controlled text which means that only certain words are included. Unfamiliar words are not used, so the children can read them unaided by sounding out the words. 

With this approach there are limitations but the use of good illustrations, funny stories and a character that kids can relate to make them an invaluable resource. 

Word Lists For Short U Sounds

When kids first start learning the short U sound it is important to provide them with lots of examples of the sound for practice. Use word lists to help them. These CVC words are perfect for reinforcing what kids learn about the short U sound. 

  • pup
  • tug
  • bud
  • cub
  • fun
  • nut
  • jug
  • cut
  • tug
  • bun
  • mug
  • run
  • mud
  • cup
  • hut
  • sun
  • hug
  • mud
  • hum
  • hub
  • sum
  • jug
  • tub
  • bug
  • hub
  • dug
  • rug
  • bus
  • sub
  • gum
  • nun
  • dud

These are the kinds of words that will feature in decodable books for kids so being familiar with them will help young children to progress with their reading.

Once they are confident with these CVC words they can move on to longer and more complex words and sounds. 

Fun Activities For Learning Short U Sounds

Four In A Row

A great way to engage kids with single syllable short U sound words is the Four in a Row game. These can be printed out and there are different sheets for the various sound families. This game involves two people. 

Print out the sheet for the sound family you want to practice with your kids. Give them each a sheet and a different colored dot marker or crayon. You can also use round manipulatives to cover the words. 

The students have to take turns reading the words and marking them on the sheet. The first person to get four of the same word in a row is the winner. 

Clip Cards

These cards are great for beginning readers learning about short vowel sounds. They feature a word with the middle vowel missing and a picture which corresponds to the word. To the right of the card there are three boxes each containing a vowel. 

The objective of the game is for students to attach a clothes pin next to the vowel which is missing from the middle of the word. If the cards are laminated then the children can write the missing letter in as well. 

CVC Puzzles

Kids love puzzles and many of these consonant, vowel, consonant word puzzles are available free to download and print. Find the appropriate short U sound printables and make as many copies as you need. 

Then cut them into the puzzle pieces, dividing them into three, each piece containing a letter and part of the picture. Students then need to reassemble the puzzle in the correct sequence in order to spell the words correctly. 

Laminate the pieces so that you can use them more than once. Or if you want the kids to be able to color in the picture then leave them unlaminated. 

Short U Sound Worksheets

For practice with recognizing, sounding out and writing short U sound words worksheets are a priceless resource when teaching kids this important skill.

These worksheets can include filling in the missing letter in CVC words or matching a short U sound word to its picture. 

Practice Activities

Get your kids practicing all their letter sounds with segment, blend and match games. Each activity sheet has a list of CVC words.

The first column has a dot underneath each letter so that kids can practice the sound of each one as they work their way from left to right. 

The next column has the complete CVC word so that they can blend all of the sounds together to form the word. Underneath is an arrow pointing to the third column. Students then need to choose the right picture to match the word. 

Word Family Writing

Activities that use word families are a wonderful way to get kids engaged in learning short U sounds(see also: Short O Sounds With Word Families, Decodable Texts & Practice Activities). As the words rhyme children enjoy saying them and can read short texts with the word families included. 

These are similar to decodable books where only the words that children are familiar with are used. Worksheets can include a short story using a word family such as ‘the bug is on the rug, now the bug is on my mug’. 

These activities include pictures of ‘ug’ words and kids can color in the words that appear in the text. This helps with word recognition and reading comprehension. 

Missing Sounds

A game that fills in the missing sounds in CVC words is a fun activity for kids. It uses worksheets which have a picture corresponding to a short U sound.

Next to the pictures one or two of the letters of the word will be filled in, but the others will be missing. 

Give each child some magnetic letters and let them fill in the missing ones on each line.

Using different colored letters for consonants and vowels is a great idea and really helps kids to succeed. Have them sound out the letters as they are working through the activity. 

Word Family Spin Game

This game has the short U sound word family in the center of the dial with six different consonants around the outside. Kids spin the arrow and whichever consonant it lands on they have to spell out that word. 

For example, with ‘ug’ in the center and the letters r, m, b, p, d and h around it kids will have to spell out rug, mug, bug, pug, dug, or hug depending on which letter they landed on. Use magnetic letters or letter cards for this activity. 

Final Thoughts

We hope you have enjoyed our guide to learning short U sounds and that it’s been helpful and informative.

Suzy Anderson
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