Phonics In Context

K - 2
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
One 20-minute read-aloud session
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Research abounds on the benefits of teaching phonics within the context of rich literature and immediately applying it within known contexts. In this minilesson, students become familiar with the short /u/ sound as they listen to Taro Yashima's Caldecott Honor-winning book, Umbrella. Prereading activities build vocabulary and comprehension skills, a read-aloud introduces students to the sounds of the story, and concluding exercises allow students to apply their understanding of phonic elements in other contexts. Depending on students' needs, this minilesson can be adapted to teach additional phonic elements using other authentic texts.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Decoding skills must and can be introduced, taught, practiced, and reinforced within contexts meaningful to students.

  • Quality children's literature provides rich and varied examples of phonics elements that may easily be taught in context.

  • Minilessons before, during, or after choral or shared reading can offer direct instruction that barely breaks the flow of the story.


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.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 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).
  • 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.

Materials and Technology

  • Umbrella by Taro Yashima (Puffin Books, 1977)
  • An umbrella
  • Chart paper on an easel or chart stand
  • Markers


Student Objectives

Students will

  • Listen attentively to a read-aloud

  • Learn about another culture

  • Develop an understanding of the letter-sound relationship for the short /u/ sound

  • Apply their knowledge of the phonic element short /u/ to words they heard in the read-aloud that they will decode in print

  • Extend this knowledge to independent practice with copies of the text

Instructions & Activities

Umbrella, by Taro Yashima, is the Caldecott Honor-winning story of Momo, a little girl who receives red boots and an umbrella for her third birthday. She can't wait to use them, but the rain will not come. Finally, the rain comes, and Momo is able to use her gifts. But more importantly, Momo learns what it is to be a "grown-up lady."

Before reading

The introduction to any read-aloud is important for building background knowledge, implanting vocabulary, and building motivation. Although this introduction is quite detailed, it takes only a few minutes to complete.

1. Show students the umbrella. Ask them if they know what it is. Ask them what they might use it for, or if they have ever used an umbrella.

2. Ask students to slowly say the word umbrella. Ask them what letter they would expect to see at the beginning of the word.

3. "Rubber band" the word, by saying it slowly and stretching it out. Ask students to say the first part of the word (um). Repeat it slowly. Ask them to tell what other words they know that have the same beginning sound. Accept oral responses.

4. Show students the cover of the book. Point out the title and read it aloud. Ask students again to say the word umbrella, and sweep across the title as they are saying it.

5. Ask them to listen carefully as you read the story for each time they hear the word umbrella and to cup their hands over their heads each time to represent the umbrella.

6. Tell them they are going to hear a story about a little girl who receives a gift she can't wait to use. What do they think it might be?

During reading

7. Begin reading the story. On page 2 of the book, there is a Japanese symbol. Point it out to students and tell them it is Japanese writing. They will see these symbols throughout the book. Read it as you would other text in the book.

8. On page 4, slow down as you read the word umbrella to cue students to cup their hands and join in with reading the word if they wish.

9. Continue reading, stopping only to make a prediction or highlight parts of the story that may need to be explained.

[It is very important in a read-aloud to strike a balance between stopping too much and losing the meaning of the text, and not stopping enough to take advantage of the learning opportunities. During this first read through, there are two other points in the story where you may wish to stop and provide explanations: on page 6, to explain the "Indian Summer" reference; and on page 12 to elicit a prediction. You may wish to highlight other features of the text during rereadings.]

After reading

10. Invite reactions to the story. Guide students through an oral retelling of the story.

11. On the chart paper, print the word umbrella. Ask a student to point out the word on the cover of the book.

12. Again, ask students to say the word slowly. Ask them what sound and letter they hear at the beginning of the word.

13. Turn to page 6 in the book. Have students look at the Japanese symbol for summer. Ask them if they hear the same sound in the word summer that they hear at the beginning of umbrella, and what letter makes that sound.

14. Turn to page 8 in the book. Copy the sentence "But, strangely enough, a splendid idea made her jump up when she was watching the sunshine in her milk glass." Say each word as you print it.

15. Ask students to find the words in the sentence that have the same sound and letter as the beginning of the word umbrella. They can frame the letter u in each word with their fingers, point to it, or circle it with a marker.

16. Invite students to search out words in this book and other books or print materials with the short /u/ sound.


  • Rereadings of this book are most appropriate, as it contains other phonics elements. For example, the rain makes the sound "bon polo, bon polo, ponpolo ponpolo . . ." on page 20. Both short and long /o/ sounds could be introduced and reinforced.

  • Students may be ready to extend learning through an interactive computer tool, such as Construct-a-Word. This word activity allows students to create many words that end with the /un/ letter combination.

  • Students can practice drawing Japanese symbols like those that appear in the book.

  • Student can share, orally or in writing, their experiences with special gifts, or the first time they walked without holding their mother's or father's hands.

  • The evolution from a sunny day to a rainy day correlates with a discussion of the water cycle in science. Students could use a drawing program to create slideshows to write and draw the water cycle.

  • Students can create a class book by creating silly sentences using as many words with the short /u/ sound as they can (e.g., "Uncle Bud is unusually funny"). In earlier grades, this should be a shared or interactive writing activity; as students become more fluent writers, they can write sentences independently.

Student Assessment / Reflections

Before reading

  • You may wish to use the Phonemic Awareness Assessment Tools or the Phonics Inventory before this lesson. It is important to note that moving into teaching of phonics before students have acquired phonemic awareness skills is counterproductive.

  • Observe students as they participate in the oral language activities to identify those who may require initial or further instruction in this phonic element.

During reading

  • Observe students as they participate in the oral language activities to identify those who may require initial or further instruction in this phonic element.

After reading

  • If using writing activities, such as those suggested in the Extensions section, check students' work for correct application of the skill.

  • Continue to evaluate students' invented spellings to ensure they are applying the short /u/ phonic element appropriately.

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