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. 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 for kids lists: sometimes words may be trickier or more obscure than expected, simply because only so many words start with U. Follow useful lists of U words for kids from preschool through to the 5th grade.
Our U words for kids will challenge your preschool-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 that can easily be recognized by pictures can help preschoolers start to recognize the letter U.
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!
Kindergarteners are starting their early alphabet and reading journey. Therefore, you want to include Dolch sight words like under and us. Additionally, it can be helpful to include simple words that are easy for kindergarteners to remember like uncle and up. Use this list of words that start with U for kids to get your kindergarteners on the road to reading.
- Uncle: Your parent's brother or brother-in-law
- Under: Beneath, placed lower than
- Undo: To reverse something you've done
- Unfair: Unjust, unreasonable, wrong
- Unit: One thing, one instance out of many
- Up: Toward the sky, the direction opposite the pull of gravity
- Upon: On, on top of
- Upper: The part of something that is highest
- Upset: An unexpected outcome
- Urge: Desire to do something in particular
- Us: You and me; first-person plural pronoun
- Use: To employ a thing, to utilize an object
Since kindergartners are just getting the hang of the letter U and the sound it makes in reading, you can challenge them with a worksheet. Have them match the word to the picture.
U words for kids matching activityClick to View & Download
As of first and 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. This list for first and second 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. They also get to start playing with the different long vowel sound like union and the short vowel sound like unreal.
- Udder: Part of a cow that produces milk
- Umber: Dark yellow-brown or red-brown color
- Umpire: Person who oversees a baseball game
- Unarmed: Having no weapons
- Underground: Beneath the surface of the Earth
- Undergrowth: The lowest level of plants in a forest
- Underline: Line under a word
- Unite: To join multiple things into one
- Unknown: Not known, not aware of
- Unlike: Having no similarities
- Unlikely: Having no chance of happening
- Unreal: Very odd or unusual
- Urban: Having to do with a city
- Usage: Way something is used
- Useful: Full of use, helpful
- Utter: Speak, say out loud
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. Give students a group of words and allow them to explore how adding un- makes them the opposite like happy and unhappy.
Third, fourth and fifth 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. Students begin to engage more with text, developing more contextualized thoughts and feelings about words and their usage.
- Usual: Expected, something common or regularly used
- Umbra: Shadow, dark area
- Umbrage: Objection, grudge, anger about something
- Unaware: Having no knowledge of, not knowing about
- Unconscious: Having no awareness, knocked out, comatose
- Unctuous: Literally oily or figuratively slippery, having polished mannerisms
- Underdog: Person or team least likely to win
- Unfailing: Having no failure, successful, reliable
- Unfeeling: Having no feeling, cold, harsh
- Unify: To turn many things into one
- Unique: To be one-of-a-kind
- Unison: Something done by multiple people or things at once
- Universe: Everything that exists everywhere
- Unusual: Having less likelihood, unexpected
- Unyielding: Not giving way to pressure, stubborn, inflexible
- Upbringing: Way someone was raised, how a person grew up
- Uplifting: Positive, inspiring
- Uprising: Rebellion, revolution
- Uptick: Rise in something
The late elementary word list presents students with 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. Provide students with this list of words and have them dive into the etymology of the word and connections these words might have to each other. They can do this as an individual or group activity.
U has an odd, liminal position in the English language, making it both tricky and exciting as a source of vocabulary. The above lists of vocabulary words should be enough to get you started. When you're ready to add more to your vocabulary or spelling lists, check out WordFinder's list of words that start with the letter U. You can even sort your search results by word length to best fit your students' needs.
Learning about the letter U 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 X, Y and Z!