The benefits of using nursery rhymes as a teaching tool are numerous. They are short, catchy, playful, and easy to remember. They have patterns. They can be used to discuss concepts such as ethics, culture, history, symbolism, aphorisms, math, and more. Most of all, they are a great aid in any language skill you are trying to teach. Studies have shown that nursery rhymes are instrumental in teaching children to read.
Image © Dave Arns of Arns Publishing and Design.
Because they're so simple, nursery rhymes allow children to practice oral language skills, to match spoken word to written word, to learn that sentences have spaces between words and are read from top to bottom and left to right, and to increase their vocabulary. Nursery rhymes are excellent for recognizing sounds, sentences, words, syllables, rhymes, onsets and rimes, beginning and ending sounds, individual phonemes, and sound-letter correspondence. And they are easy enough for children to learn to make letter sounds, syllables, and rhymes; to create sentence structures; to segment words into sounds and to blend sounds into words; and to create words by adding to, deleting from, or substituting sounds of other words. Once they know the sounds that letters make, children can join the sounds of a word together even if they've never seen the word before. That means they can decode (read) and encode (write and spell) without help and without memorization. The self-esteem of being proficient readers makes them fluent readers.
Before you start reading nursery rhymes and playing language games, teach your students to listen for sounds. This helps children develop an awareness of auditory nuances, and acquire the ability to isolate individual sounds in a sequence, to recognize the position of each sound in a sequence, to imitate the sounds heard, and to play with the mouth movements used to make them.
Do You Hear What I Hear?
Help your students identify familiar sounds. Have them cover their eyes and listen carefully as you make a noise. Familiar noises include clapping; blowing a whistle; ringing a bell; bouncing a ball; sharpening a pencil; cutting with scissors; writing on the board; opening or closing the door; and sneezing, coughing, or blowing your nose. Instruct them to remain silent until you ask the group or an individual to tell you what they heard. After doing this a few times, switch to two noises in sequence. Make sure they tell you the order in which they heard the sounds.
Once they are adept at this skill, you are ready for nursery rhymes!
Photo © Dave Kennard.
Wop! Goes the Peasel!
Familiarize your children with a nursery rhyme or poem, and then read it in a nonsense way. This will facilitate recognition of phonemic, word, grammar, and meaning changes in speech and language.
Noisier Rams in the Anguish Languish
In 1940, a French-language professor named Howard L. Chace rewrote the fairy tale "Little Red Riding Hood" by replacing every word with a similar-sounding one. The revised tale was called "Ladle Rat Rotten Hut," which he wrote, according to the Exploratorium, because he "wanted to show his students that intonation — that is, the melody of a language — is an integral part of its meaning." Later, in 1956, Chace published a whole book of popular fairy tales and "noisier rams" (nursery rhymes) adapted in the same way. The book was called Anguish Languish ("English Language"). Have fun reading some of these nursery rhymes to your class. Explain about intonation, and how they can understand what you are saying by the tone of your voice, even when the words are not the right ones.
Ram photo © JamesSheep.
Playing With Letter Sounds
Magnetic letters photo © Jeff Prieb.
While you obviously won't be teaching all the letters of the alphabet at once, you can still point to letters in a text and make their sounds. Use big books, or write rhymes and poems in large letters on a chalkboard, a white board, or chart paper. You're not teaching a lesson — it's just a fun and informal part of reading to your class. Help them associate the letter sounds with other familiar sounds. "Did you hear how that /s/ sounded like a snake?" "Look at this letter. It makes a sound like a crying baby." By doing this, not only will your young learners make connections naturally, they will also recognize that words are made up of individual sounds.
These are the sounds I use:
- /a/ (short a) — a crying baby
- /a/ (long a) — a request to repeat yourself
- /b/ — a bouncing basketball
- /d/ — a drumbeat
- /e/ (short e) — a sound of indifference
- /e/ (long e) — a shriek
- /g/ — a sound you make when gurgling
- /h/ — a sigh; a panting dog
- /i/ (short i) — a sound of disgust
- /i/ (long i) — myself
- /m/ — a sound of enjoyment
- /o/ (short o) — a scream; a sound you make at the doctor's office
- /o/ (long o) — a statement of understanding or surprise
- /p/ — a pop
- /r/ — a rooster; a siren; a growl
- /s/ — a snake; air being let out of a balloon or a tire
- /t/ — a ticking clock; a sound of irritation
- /u/ (short u) — "I don't know"; a sound of pain or strain
- /u/ (long u) — you
- /z/ — a buzzing bee
Monica Gryder, M.Ed., is the creator of an ABC Sound Clues product line. Get word wall cards, table strips, and more in English and Spanish on her Web site, ABC Sound Clues.
Tongue and Body Twisters
Read rhymes such as "Simple Simon," "Sing a Song of Sixpence," "Dickery Dickery Dare, and "Wee Willie Winkie," and show the children how the titles have repeating sounds.
Read the following tongue twisters (click to enlarge) and ask the children, "What is the sound you hear at the beginning of all those words?"
Play the game Twister with letter sounds!
Sound Stretching and Rapid Repetition
Teach stop consonants by iterating them (b-b-b-baa; b-b-b-black).
Use paper plates as cakes, and mark them with a "B" or any other letter. Put them in a circle on the floor, turn on the music, and have your students walk around the circle. When you turn the music off, have them make the sound of the letter they are standing by.
Let your little learners color a picture of the Old Woman in the Shoe and mail her a "letter." A free coloring page can be downloaded from Reading With Kids.
Rhymes and Rimes
Read rhymes like "Georgie Porgie" "Higglety, Pigglety" "Hokey Pokey" and "Humpty Dumpty" and show the children how the titles rhyme. When reading nursery rhymes, ask questions such as:
- "Which words sound the same?"
- "Diddle/Fiddle. Do these two words sound the same or different?"
- "Dee, bumblebee, she, fly. Which word doesn't sound the same?"
Have your students line up into two teams with five kids each (play the game more than once so everyone gets a chance, or play in small groups or centers). Give each team the letters from the word "water," one per child. When you give the signal, tell them to run, one at time, up the hill (or to the front of the room), hold up their letter, say the sound, put the letter in the pail, and run back. Whichever team finishes first wins.
Humpty Dumpty Is Segmented and Then Blended Together Again
Have two students stand together, each with half of Humpty Dumpty — one half the /f/ onset, and the other half the /all/ rime. Have the child with /all/ bump the child with /f/ off the "wall." What is left? Now have the child with /f/ slowly move closer and closer to the child with /all/, saying the sounds faster as he does so. Finally, when Humpty is back together, what is the word?
Jack Jump Over the Candlesticks
Place three candlesticks apart on the floor, just far enough to jump over. Think of a three-letter word (consonant-vowel-consonant), and label each candle with one of the letters, in order. Have the children jump over each candle, saying the sounds of the letters, at first slowly and then blending them faster and faster until the word becomes known.
Jack Sprat Could Eat No Fat, So His Wife Shared a Pie With Jack Horner
Read the two nursery rhymes "Jack Sprat" and "Little Jack Horner." Then prepare a table for a meal with Jack Sprat, Mrs. Sprat, and Jack Horner. Make a pie by stapling two styrofoam plates togther, coloring the top, cutting some kind of opening in the top, and putting the whole thing in a pie tin. Put plastic alphabet letters inside the pie. Get some more plates and write "____ at" on each one. Then have the kids pull letters out of the pie and put them on the plates to see if, by adding different letters to the rime /at/, they can make different words.
Simple Simon Says
Simple Simon says, "Say the word 'doghouse.'" Simple Simon says, "Say it again, without the 'dog.'" Use this game to practice deleting sounds from words, the hardest phonemic task for children.
Make copies of the rhyme "The House That Jack Built" to show your students how sentences are made out of words. I made a version with pictures that you can download and use. Because the sentences in this rhyme build on one another, the children will be better able to understand that by adding words, you get a longer sentence.
Nusery rhymes work for math, too. Using a ready-made clock rug or your own handmade numerals, have two students at a time walk around the clock when the music starts, one holding the short hand and one holding the long hand. When the music stops, have the kids tell you what time it is by the numbers they're standing on.
Either rhyme will work for this game. Have your students roll a die. Whatever number it lands on is the verse they have to recite. For instance, if they roll a two, they should say either "One, two, buckle my shoe," or "This old man, he played two, he played nick-nack on my shoe," depending on the rhyme they are using.
Fun With Letter-Sound Recognition
Wood blocks photo © Melissa Balkon.
Letter "A" photo © Vivek Chugh.
Children must eventually be able to connect a letter sound with its symbol. You should start by writing and showing pictures of the letters — but only use the sound when referring to them. Once your students can recognize a letter by its sound, then you can introduce the names of the letters.
Without knowing what sound a letter makes, knowing that the letter that looks like "w" is called "w" is less than useless. (W is one of the hardest letters to learn, since the name of the letter starts with the /d/ sound, but actually makes the /w/ sound.) That is why traditional alphabet cards, which use pictures of the initial sound to represent letter names and sounds, aren't really the best tools to use when teaching the alphabet.
Luckily, there are alternatives, which actually make learning to read fun. Again, self-esteem from proficiency in reading makes kids more frequent and more willing readers. Following are a few of the systems in use today that attempt to use cues as a means for a child to remember a letter sound and the way it looks simultaneously.
Once your students have some familiarity with letter names, have them play with making sentences composed only of letter names. These examples come from the book C D B! by William Steig:
- C D B! (See the bee!)
- I N-V U. (I envy you.)
- O, U Q-T. U R A B-U-T. (Oh, you cutie. You are a beauty.)
- I M B-4 U. (I am before you.)
- R U O-K? S, N Q. (Are you okay? Yes, thank you.)
- I C U. (I see you.)
- K-T S D-Z. I C Y. (Katie is dizzy. I see why.)
- E S D 1 4 U 2 C. (He is the one for you to see.)
- I M N D L-F-8-R. (I am in the elevator.)
- I O U A J. (I owe you a jay.)
I hope you enjoyed looking at my ideas of how to incoporate nursery rhymes into your curriculum. I have also created a nursery rhyme booklist. As you can see, nursery rhymes are useful for so many reasons. They tell short stories. They stimulate creativity and encourage children to play with words. They even help develop motor skills. The only thing left to say, really, is make it fun. That is the whole point of using nursery rhymes as a teaching tool. Make learning fun, interesting, and engaging — the way it should be!
Have a very merry weekend!