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How to Use Nursery Rhymes to Meet the Standards

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With all the material teachers have to cover, it is essential to be highly efficient in our teaching. One of the most powerful tools for efficient teaching is nursery rhymes and folk songs.



I use nursery rhymes and folk songs to teach rhyming, fluency, one-to-one correspondence in reading, sight words, directionality, phonics, decoding skills, encoding skills, sequencing, visualization, steady beat, self control, and vocabulary. 

Some kids already know the nursery rhyme, but many do not know nursery rhymes. I think teaching them also helps children from other countries develop cultural understanding. Later in school, they will encounter more complex texts. Authors make references to common songs and rhymes. Learning these common songs and rhymes will prepare them to comprehend these cultural references later on. 

When I introduce a nursery rhyme I begin by teaching it orally. As I teach them the words to the rhyme, I also have them keep a steady beat in their lap. Later we march to the beat. The ability to keep a steady beat is associated wit reading development. When we learn a rhyme orally, I ask students to listen for the rhyming words. Rhyming is an important pre-requisite skill for reading. When students begin decoding, they look for word chunks. They learn to identify a word chunk, relate the new word to a known word, and substitute the different sounds to figure out the new word. If they are unable to generate rhyming words quickly, this strategy is not effective.

 To help solidify the rhyme in their heads and practice self-control, I play a fun game. I hold a stop sign while we recite the rhyme. When I put up the stop sign, they stop saying the words out loud and switch to "magic lips." Magic lips are when we say the words with our lips, but no sound comes out. Students have to hear the words in their head. When I put the stop sign down, we switch back to saying the rhyme out loud.


Once students have learned a rhyme orally, I introduce the written words. This gives me the opportunity to model directionality and one-to-one correspondence. After watching, students have the opportunity to point to the words themselves as they engage in shared reading.

Using a class copy or individual copies of the rhyme, we start to analyze the words. Simply asking the students what they notice will almost always elicit wonderful teaching points. If you aren’t getting many responses, you could ask if they see any words that are the same. Students point out that words are repeated, so we can figure out what those words are by pointing to the words as we recite the rhyme. Once the words are figured out, they can be used to establish connections to other words. When students begin to make connections between the words in the poem, they can start to generate lists of similar words.




To transition to comprehension skills I ask students questions about the sequence of the story. Discussing sequence with a very familiar text helps them get a firm grasp on the concept before they try to understand the sequence of an unfamiliar text. Often times students have difficulty with this skill because they don’t understand the meaning of words like first and last. Using a very familiar text helps them develop this understanding.


Giving students their own personal copy of the text to read and reread will help them develop fluency, and giving them the opportunity to illustrate their own copy will develop their visualization skills. This is why I prefer to teach the rhymes without picture support.

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Deb Maxwell is a 1st grade teacher in an urban district. She earned her undergraduate degree at Drake University and her graduate degree at Viterbo University. She's passionate about arts integration, children's literature, early childhood, research-based instruction.
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Guest Friday, 15 February 2019