Classroom Solutions > Allie Magnuson > A Diller, A Dollar, A Nursery Rhyme Scholar

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A Diller, A Dollar, A Nursery Rhyme Scholar

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?

Child'sEarSmall 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.

Weasel photo © Wikipedia.

Noisier Rams in the Anguish Languish

RamIn 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.

To learn more about Anguish Languish, visit Douglas Crockford's Wrrrld Wide Web. To hear "Ladle Rat Rotten Hut" spoken aloud, visit the Exploratorium.

Singing Syllables 

TeddyBearTeddyBear  TwinkleTwinkle Chant or sing nursery rhymes while clapping the syllables.





Playing With Letter Sounds

  LetterSoundsMissBindergarten LearningYourABCs   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.  SoundCluesGet 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?"

PeterPiper BettyBotter (4) Flute Swans

Play the game Twister with letter sounds!


Sound Stretching and Rapid Repetition


 BaaBaaTeach continuant sounds by holding on to them (lllllittle llllllamb). 

Teach stop consonants by iterating them (b-b-b-baa; b-b-b-black).



Pat-a-Cake Walk

PatACake  CakeWalk02

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.

Mailing Letters


OldWomanInAShoe 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?"

   FuzzyWuzzy    HeyDiddleDiddleFiddleDeeDee 

Up the Hill With Jack and Jill

JackAndJill JackAndJill01JackAndJill02JackAndJill03   

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

HumptyDumptyRhyme HumptyDumpty02 HumptyDumpty01 HumptyDumpty02

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

JackBeNimbleRhyme JackBeNimble

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

JackSprat JackHornerTwoJacks02 TwoJacks       

AtWordsRead 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
SimpleSimon 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.

TheHouseThatJackBuilt Building Sentences With "The House That Jack Built"

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.

HickoryDickoryDock01 Hickory Dickory Dock Clock Walk

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.

This Old Man Counting With "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe" and "This Old Man"

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

WoodBlocks A 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.

1. Itchy's Alphabet



2. Mnephonics

A-ZMnephonics BreakSoundsUpMnephonics

3. ReadingDoctor




CDB Fun With Letter Names

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.)


Final Thoughts

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!

~ Allie



  • #1 Allie Magnuson

    Saturday, April 02, 2011 at 12:57 PM

    Hi Dorothy ~ Thank you for reading. I too have English as Second Language students and I find that rhyme and repetition does indeed help them learn. I understand what you are saying but nonsense words do help with phonemic awareness and recognizing when it doesn't make sense. I appreciate you commenting and hope to hear from you again.


  • #2 Allie Magnuson

    Saturday, April 02, 2011 at 12:52 PM

    Hi Rebecca ~ I have heard of Zoophonics. I think whatever kids can relate too is a great for them. Thanks for reading and commenting and I hope to hear from you again.


  • #3 Dorothy Fonow

    Saturday, April 02, 2011 at 04:28 AM

    I am teaching in China and avoid nonsense rhymes because they confuse the children. There are some Dr. Seuse books that I avoid too. When it is a second langauge I do not want to have to have the children un-learn something.

  • #4 Rebecca Griffith

    Friday, April 01, 2011 at 11:01 PM

    I use a program to teach my class. It's similar to Itchys Alphabet. It's called Zoo Phonics. The children associate each letter with an animal and movement. Try

  • #5 Allie Magnuson

    Sunday, January 30, 2011 at 02:25 AM

    Hi Cami - thank you for sharing that special story with me - it really put a smile on my face. I hope I can hear CJ say his rhyme one day. :-)

  • #6 Cami

    Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 11:40 PM

    For some reason, I was thinking about this tonight and thought I'd come back and share this cute story with you. We have a book of nursery rhymes that was given to my older son when he was born. We love to read together and sometimes read that whole book more than once in one sitting. CJ loves those rhymes! I've even overheard him playing in his room or in his carseat singing some of them to himself! (He's three now) His favorite is "Diddle Diddle Dumpling." Although he says, "Diddle diddle dumplin nice n jom, went to bed with his trousers on, one shoe on and one shoe on, diddle diddle dumpling nice n jom!" One day when he was a baby I was being goofy and made a rhyme up for him. I still sing it to him to this day and everytime he hears "Georgie Porgie" he will say, "Hey, that's like my song! Sing my song!" So I do and he loves it!

  • #7 Allie Magnuson

    Saturday, January 22, 2011 at 12:13 AM

    Hi Cami,
    It really is a shame isn't it. Nursery Rhymes are a lost art. I am amazed every year when fewer and fewer kids don't know even the simplest rhymes like Mary had a Little Lamb. So sad.

  • #8 Cami

    Friday, January 21, 2011 at 11:47 PM

    I am glad you posted this! It seems more and more kids don't know nursery rhymes. Such a shame.

  • #9 Allie Magnuson

    Saturday, September 25, 2010 at 11:44 PM

    Letha - I have worked with migrant students myself. Some things that help are to ...

    - Speak slowly and clearly

    - Use simple language

    - Repeat words

    - Use extensional meanings like pointing to pictures or objects, drawing, or using real-world descriptions to clarify what you're talking about

    - Use facial expressions and body language

    - Put a lot of predictable print around your classroom, and record rhymes and songs for your students to listen to over and over. Rhyme, rhythm, and repetition are great for english language learners.

    What is your students' primary language? If you'd like to know more, send me your email address. (It will not be published.)

    Thanks for reading!


  • #10 Letha Simmons

    Saturday, September 25, 2010 at 09:08 PM

    HI! Thank you for your tips! I am beginning a Migrant Pre-K classroom. Do you have any suggestions for working with students who have a strong language barrier?

  • #11 Allie Magnuson

    Saturday, September 11, 2010 at 08:59 PM

    Learning to Read, Thank you so much for your comment. I try to make activities that are hands on and developmentally appropriate for young children. Thank you for reading and I hope to see you again.


  • #12 Learning to Read

    Thursday, September 09, 2010 at 07:21 AM

    Great post for the child development resources. This type of work more beneficiary for the child development.

  • #13 Allie Magnuson

    Monday, September 06, 2010 at 02:25 PM

    Nancy - Thank you for your kind words. It would be interesting to see the data. I work hard to ensure that all my children have a good solid background before moving them on.


  • #14 Nancy Barile

    Monday, September 06, 2010 at 01:15 PM

    I want to go back in time and be in your classroom. I am wondering if you have any data on the powerful impact you must have on your students! I bet they are far more proficient readers - and students - than the average kindergardener!

  • #15 Allie Magnuson

    Monday, September 06, 2010 at 12:03 AM

    Jeanell - Thanks for reading. I appreciate your support. Next week I will be talking about guided reading. See you then.

    ~ Allie

  • #16 Jeanell

    Sunday, September 05, 2010 at 02:40 PM

    Great ideas and resource links!! Thanks for sharing! I look forward to your future posts.

  • #17 Allie Magnuson

    Saturday, September 04, 2010 at 07:32 PM

    Joy - Thank you for your kind comments. It's amazing how you can take something as simple as a nursery rhyme and do so many things with it. I appreciate you reading.


  • #18 Joy Ruby

    Saturday, September 04, 2010 at 03:46 PM

    This has to one of your best blogs. There is so much great information. I really liked Fun with Letter Names. Never thought of those. There is so much to do with Nursery Rhymes and as Mary said there are references to them all the way up the education ladder. You are building the background knowledge in kindergarten.

  • #19 Allie Magnuson

    Friday, September 03, 2010 at 09:56 PM

    Mary - I love how you are able to adapt my lesson ideas to your own students' age group. I remember only too well that it's especially important to make middle school fun!
    You, too, are preparing them, and giving them a reason to love learning.


  • #20 Mary Blow

    Friday, September 03, 2010 at 10:24 AM

    Allie, Nursery rhymes are very important at secondary level as well. Students need the background knowledge because there are so many allusions to them in literature. You do a fabulous job preparing children for the future.

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Allie Magnuson
Allie Magnuson
Las Vegas, NV
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