Phonic Generalizations in Chrysanthemum

K - 2
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
One or more 30- to 45-minute sessions
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This lesson uses an active, hands-on activity to teach students how to determine the common and alternative sounds for specific vowel combinations. Authentic literature provides an excellent framework for teaching decoding and spelling. The words for this lesson are taken from the book Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes. Students practice the generalizations by reading nursery rhymes that include words with the same vowel pairs. Students then make words from the book in an online activity.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Vowels pose the greatest difficulty for young readers (Calfee, 1998). Vowel generalizations may be needed more than consonant generalizations due to their irregularity and subjective interpretation.

  • Students need to develop flexible strategies when studying specific vowel combinations. Alternative sounds, such as the /ow/ sounds in how and grow, can be taught simultaneously. Context can usually confirm which sound works in a word.
  • Students pay closer attention to the phonemes that letters represent while spelling words versus reading them. By spelling words first, they transfer this careful spelling analysis over into reading.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.

Materials and Technology

  • Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow Books, 1991)

  • Letter tiles or squares for students

  • Overhead letter tiles

  • Overhead projector


Student Objectives

Students will

  • Learn how to look for the vowel pairs ow, ew, and aw in unknown words

  • Recognize the common and alternative sounds for ow, ew, and aw

  • Use context to determine which sound works in a word

  • Spell and read words containing these vowel pairs

Introductory session

1. Read aloud Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes.

2. After reading the book, remind students that Chrysanthemum was named after a flower and that every time Victoria said something bad about Chrysanthemum's name, Mrs. Chud said, "Thank you for sharing that with us, Victoria. Now put your head down."

3. Ask students what common sound they hear in the words flower, now, and down.

4. Using the overhead projector and overhead letter tiles, demonstrate the word now, explaining that the vowel combination ow often stands for the sound in now.

5. Distribute letter tiles or squares to individuals or pairs of students, and ask them to follow along with you through a few sample exercises.

6. "Let's make the word down. What's the first sound you hear? That's right, /d/. Now, what two letters make the /ow/ sound? What's the ending sound?" (Have students place their letters as you demonstrate). Have students read the word, and possibly write the word in their journal or personal dictionary.

7. Continue, dictating the words cow, plow, town, brown, frown, clown, and flower. Always have students read the new word after making it. You might also have them use the new word in a sentence to reinforce vocabulary. Students may need additional help with the er ending in the word flower.

8. Explain that sometimes ow stands for a different sound. Using the overhead letter tiles, make the word grow. Ask students what vowel sound they hear in grow (long /o/ sound). Continue, dictating the words low, glow, mow, show, snow, crow, and tow, having students use their letters to make the words.

9. Next, on the overhead, make the word bow. Explain that this word can be pronounced with either the sound in now or the sound in grow. The only way to tell which sound is correct is by how the word is used in the sentence. Ask students which sound bow would make in the sentence, "The package was wrapped with a big, red _____." Then, "After the concert, the singer took a _____." Explain that sometimes you must read the whole sentence to know which sound to use in the word.

10. Bookmark the website Word Families in Nursery Rhymes. Have students find and read the two lists for the ow word family. Then, have them scroll down to find the nursery rhymes and select "Jack and Jill" for /ow/ as in now and "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary" for /ow/ as in grow. Have students read the nursery rhymes aloud.

Additional sessions

Reread Chrysanthemum to the class and repeat the lesson, this time focusing on the vowel generalizations found for aw and ew.

  • aw: Remind students that when Chrysanthemum dreamed she really was a flower, Victoria picked her and there was nothing left but a scrawny stem. Explain that the vowel combination aw makes the sound heard in scrawny, which is similar to, but not the same as, the short /o/ sound. Using the same format as the introductory session, dictate the words saw, lawn, fawn, yawn, dawn, drawn, and straw. Then have students find the aw word family on the Word Families in Nursery Rhymes website and read them. Have students scroll down to "See-Saw Margery Daw" and read the nursery rhyme aloud.

  • ew: Follow the same lesson format and dictate the words new, dew, flew, grew, crew, chew, blew, and grew, noting the long /oo/ sound. Point out that the words few and mew are exceptions and have the long /u/ sound instead.


  • Using the interactive Word Wizard, have students make words from the book, Chrysanthemum. Have students find the ow words from Chrysanthemum (low, flow, row, flower), and read those words to you.

  • Students can get additional practice with long- and short-vowel sounds by playing the online Picture Match game.

  • Have students practice reading the previously selected nursery rhymes for fluency.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Teacher observation during the lesson, and ongoing assessment to determine whether the student is able to read and spell the words correctly and apply the generalizations to other texts.

  • After the introductory lesson, dictate the same words plus other words with the same vowel combination to see if the student has mastered the spelling patterns.

  • Using the same words previously dictated, have the student read the words to see if the knowledge gained in spelling has transferred to the task of reading.

  • Observe whether students can determine the pronunciation of a word based on the context of the sentence.

  • Encourage students to use the words that they have learned when writing in their journal or notebook.