The letter U is an interesting beast. Both of English's main parent languages, Latin and German, use it differently than English does. Latin turns V into a vowel that's almost but not quite U. German does strange things to the sound with an umlaut. English keeps things simple, yet U is by far the rarest of the English vowels, 13th in overall frequency. That may be clear in the following U word lists: sometimes words may be trickier or more obscure than expected, simply because only so many words start with U.
Don't despair! Here follow useful lists of U words for kids from preschool through to the 4th grade.
Our U words will likely challenge your preschool and kindergarten-level students. That being the case, this list represents an important opportunity. For pre-literate kids, word lists serve the all-important goal of linking a sound, heard and spoken, with a shape on a page. These words will help.
Linking the U sound, which in its pure form is as old as a baby's first coo, with the U letter is a vital moment in linguistic development. We've developed a trace-the-letter letter U activity with that in mind. Practice makes perfect!
First grade is often the beginning of literacy. As with our preschool words, our list for first graders may challenge beginning readers. At the same time, they're all words your early readers will encounter, and they present an opportunity for children to start noticing linguistic trends.
We recommend some letter U activities to help your students with these challenging words. For instance, bringing in a magazine or newspaper with one or more vocabulary words in it can be an excellent activity. Have students read until they find one of the words and point it out to you. Define it for them.
As of second grade, your students should be catching up to this challenging U vocabulary. This is an opportunity to engage them with the real-world significance of the words they're learning. Exploring the official uniforms of different countries, or reading about the rich life in a forest's undergrowth, are activities tailormade for excited new learners. Besides, who doesn't love a unicorn?
Again, we've provided words that can be taken as sets. Unicorns, uniforms and the verb "unite" all share the same Latin root: "unus," meaning "one." Usage and useful are also both based on the verb "use." Talk with your students about how words can take multiple forms and, if you're lucky, get them interested in how words came to be.
You can also discuss the subset of the words above that begin with "un-." Discuss how the "un-" prefix turns a word into its opposite.
Third graders may be familiar with at least a few of these words. Context is key. Linking unaware and unconscious with the same prefix, or connecting the less-than-obvious unify and unique, will give your students reason to take an interest in their vocabulary.
Once again, we've given you sets to talk about with your students. The relationships between these words will help your kids connect to the greater universe (see what we did there?) of spoken and written language, even if some words may seem unusual to them at first.
As of fourth grade, deeper reading starts to become more common. Students begin to engage more with text, developing more contextualized thoughts and feelings about words and their usage.
We've provided sets to talk about again, but more than that, we've provided concepts and origins to explore. "Umbra" and "umbrage" both come from the Latin word for shadow, as does "umbrella." "Uplifting" and "uprising" look like they should be synonyms, but in fact aren't even the same part of speech.
This list is an opportunity to introduce your students to the glorious oddness of the English language and, hopefully, inspire a lifelong love of literacy.
U has an odd, liminal position in the English language, making it both tricky and exciting as a source of vocabulary. It requires lessons that move beyond memorizing lists to identifying trends and common qualities among sets of words. That kind of deeper understanding is what makes lifelong readers and learners.
For more enriching vocabulary and etymology, head on over and hunt through some words starting with H!