Short U Words
Vowel sounds come in two varieties: long vowels and short vowels. When it comes to decoding words, beginning readers most frequently start with short vowels. Why? Because short vowels have fewer spelling variations. That makes it easier to master the sounds before moving on to the more complex long vowels. Some short vowels have only a single common spelling pattern, such as the Short A sound, while others are a bit more complicated. Let’s take a look at short U words.
In phonics, the Short U (ŭ) is formed by opening the mouth partway. The tongue is relaxed and set low in the mouth, with the sides of the tongue lightly touching the bottom teeth, as in the image below.
As with all phonics sounds, it is a good idea for new readers to practice saying short U words in front of a mirror. Doing so will allow them to see how their mouth moves when making the Short U sound.
Before children can learn to read, they must first understand the sound a letter makes. The Short U sound (ŭ) is pronounced “uh,” as in the words up, cut, gum, hug, and rub.
The best way to teach the Short U sound is by focusing on words that begin with a Short U, such as up, under, and umbrella. This approach is recommended because it is easier for children learning phonics to isolate the first sound in a word than to break a word apart into its individual phonemes (or sounds).
When practicing short U words, try saying them aloud. Encourage your child to repeat the first sound in the word back to you. Then ask them to determine what letter makes that sound. Some words that begin with a short U sound include:
Pro Tip: Be careful to avoid words that begin with a long U sound like unicorn, unite, and uniform.
Once they have mastered identifying the short U at the beginning of a word, move on to short U CVC words.
Children who are just beginning to read and decode words are most likely to encounter short U words in the form of CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words. Some examples of such Short U words include tug, bus, mud, and lug.
As a child’s decoding skills increase and encounter longer words, the short U will appear with letter blends. Common short U words include plug, club, and drum.
Below are more examples of short U words. For short U word lists and short U activities, see the activity section after this article.
Learning to read doesn’t just happen. It takes hard work and a lot of practice to learn how to decode text. More and more, we see parents and teachers turning toward structured literacy and decodable text as a way of teaching children to read.
Focusing on a single vowel at a time is a great way to cement a child's recognition of what sound a letter makes. For more practice with short U words, check out Run, Pug!: Short U Decodable Reader, part of the Charge into Reading Short Vowel Decodable Reader Set.
Help your child learn to recognize short U words and spelling patterns by using word families.
A word family is a set of words that share a common feature. For early readers, that common feature is typically the ending sound of the word.
Below is a list of short U word families to begin with:
Pro Tip: Although words such as blurt and curb seem like they should be short U words, the “UR” sound actually falls into a unique category called “R-controlled vowels” that are neither short vowels nor long vowels.
As children’s abilities to blend letters improves, they may move into more complex short U word families such as:
Word families may be presented as a list of words for a new reader to practice decoding, such as the one below.
The more a new reader practices a spelling pattern, the more ingrained it will become until reading and recognizing the spelling pattern becomes second nature.
Understanding how to read short U words is about more than being able to read a single word containing a short U. It is also about being able to recognize the sound a short U makes in a word. Begin by asking your child to read single words that use the short U sound. Then try stringing several words together to form a sentence. Below is a sample of decodable text focusing on short U words:
Note that each of these sentences features only CVC words. Once your child has mastered reading CVC words featuring the short E sound, try introducing short E sentences that feature consonant blends. Below are a sample of decodable sentences using short U consonant blends:
Pro Tip: Writing sentences without the words such as the, and, and is can be challenging. These words are high-frequency words and are among the first children memorize. Don't be afraid to include them in sentences, but to be sure to help your child read them.
Charge Mommy Books is committed to getting children the resources they need to learn how to read. But we know that not every parent and teacher around the world has access to our printed books. That's why we offer free beginning reader books and resource on our site. Sample resources include:
Print a short U word on a piece of paper, with a picture of the word on the other side. Do this for several words, all using the short U sound. Encourage your child to read the word. Then flip the card over to see if they read it correctly.
Once your child has mastered short U words, add cards that feature all five short vowel sounds. Encourage your child to say the name of the picture word out loud as many times as needed to identify the vowel used. Then ask them to put the card in a pile labeled with the correct short vowel sound. Once all of the words are sorted, turn the cards over to see if the words were properly sorted.
This kind of hands-on activity engages an early reader in the process of recognizing words and reinforces spelling patterns in a way that endless reciting, copying, and workbook pages cannot.
Ask your child to read sentences featuring Short U words. Then test their comprehension by asking them to draw a picture of what they read.
Download our Short U activities and word lists below for more practice.
One of the best ways to practice short vowel sounds is by reading short vowel specific books. While printed passages are good start, the sense of accomplishment a child feels from completing a physical book cannot be rivaled. This achievement can make a child feel like a "big kid."
Grounded in the Science of Reading and designed in consultation with Orton-Gillingham trained literacy specialist Marisa Ware, the Charge into Reading Decodable Readers take the guesswork out of learning to read!
The Short Vowel Beginning Reader Set is perfect for children who know their letter sounds and are ready to begin decoding or "sounding out" words. Each book in the set focuses on a single short vowel sound, building reading confidence one sound at a time. Compelling storylines paired with a strict scope and sequence make for a series that children won't just be ABLE to read, but that they will actually WANT to read.
"These cvc focused decodable books are perfect for our beginning readers. I love that they are truly decodable so that my beginning readers get to experience success with applying their new skills. My students love these books!" —Sarah Paul - Reading Intervention Specialist: K-3
"We are loving the stories and especially the Let’s Talk Literacy pages at the back which work on phonological and phonemic awareness skills and target practice for specific phonics skills from the text . . . It's a fantastic set." — Hanna Stroud - Literacy Tutor & Consultant
What is decodable to one child may not be to another. Ask yourself the following questions:
Use our reading assessment to find the right books for your child.
A list of short U words in the -UB word family.
A list of short U words in the -UCK word family.
A list of short U words in the -UD word family.
A list of short U words in the -UG word family.
A list of short U words in the -UM word family.
A list of short U words in the -UN word family.
A list of short U words in the -UP word family.
A list of short U words in the -UT word family.
One of the first things children learn is how to sing their ABCs, but being able to sing a song and being able to put letters IN ORDER is not the same. This short U activity focuses on the -UG word family and encourages children to actively think about the alphabet and what order the letters appear in.
Decoding text is an important part of reading comprehension. That means asking a child to read sentence without any visual cues, and then asking them what it said or what it meant. This short U activity uses similar short U words to engage children in decoding and understanding the full sentence, rather than just a single word.
The ability to sound out words and figure out what letters they include is one of the first steps in reading and spelling. Ask your child to say each picture word. Then work with them to figure out what ending sound the word makes and match it to the words in the word bank. This short U activity focuses on -UCK, -UG, -UM, and -UN word families.
One of the earliest steps in reading is recognizing the sounds that go into a word. Often this is achieved by tapping out each letter sound in a word. This short U activity encourages children to sound words out and determine which letters work together to create a word.
Being able to figure out what letters are missing from a word is important for building word recognition and fluency. This short U activity provides the short vowel sound for each word, but asks the child to identify the beginning letter (also called the “onset”) and ending letter of the word.
Sounding out words (and ultimately reading) begins with understanding letter sounds. When several words all end with the same spelling pattern, this is called a Word Family. This short U activity encourages children to identify picture words that belong to the -UG word family.
Decoding words is about being able to break a word apart into its phonetic components and then blend them together into a word that can be understood. This short U activity encourages children to decode three similar short U words to identify which matches the picture.
Rhyming word families are groups of words that feature either a common spelling pattern or a combination of letters with the same sound. This short U activity focuses on the -UB word family, encouraging children to identify the different words formed and match them to the appropriate pictures.
Drawing a correlation between phonetic sounds and the letters that appear in words is one of the first steps in reading. This short U activity encourages children to recognize beginning letter sounds by matching the beginning sound they hear when saying the word with the correct beginning letter.
One of the earliest steps in reading is recognizing the sounds that go into a word—and identifying the letters that form each sound. This short U activity encourages children to determine the letters that make up a word and find them within the line of letters.
Rhyming word families enable early readers to develop a base on which they can build by supporting greater predictability with reading and spelling. This Short U activity encourages children to match words and pictures that belong to the same word family, putting a focus not on the spelling of a word, but on the sound it makes.
One of the first steps to reading is learning not only what their letters look like, but the sounds they make. This short U activity encourages children to find only the words that make a short U vowel sound by saying the name of each picture out loud and then following the path of short U words to the end.
Writing letters means understanding how they are formed. And that means understanding how big or small a letter should be, and how high or low a letter should extend. Try drawing the sky, plane, grass, and worm lines for your child. Then teach them what lines each letter should touch!
Understanding rhyming words is rooted in understanding what makes two words the same and what makes them different. This short U activity encourages children to create a new rhyming word by changing a single letter (or letter blend) at the beginning of a word.
Kids learn to hear rhyming words early on, but being able to find them in writing isn’t always as easy. Learning to recognize patterns in words is a major step toward building a vocabulary of easy-to-read words. This short U activity focuses specifically on learning to identify words that fall into the -UM word family.
A comprehensive set of Short U Word Families. This collection of word family cards is downloadable and printable for use at home or on the go! Just print, cut, and start practicing reading short U words!
A comprehensive list of short U word families, with all short U word families on one page.