Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Rhyming Activities

When I was getting my masters degree back in the late 90's, one of the things researchers were noticing was that children who were "good" readers were very good with rhyming and had lots of exposure to nursery rhymes as young children.  I'll talk more about nursery rhymes in another post.  Since then, lots of research has been done and the term phonological awareness has become more prevalent.  Rhyming is one segment of phonological awareness.

There are two levels of rhyming skills for children.  The first level is being able to identify words that rhyme. The second is being able to produce words that rhyme with each other.

For the first skill, I like to ask children questions like, "Do cat and bat rhyme?"  "Do shirt and flower rhyme?"  Remember that they don't have to be spelled the same to rhyme, because this is all being done auditorily.

For the second skill, one of my favorite games to play with children is  our old standby, "I Spy" again.  Look around the room and find something, like a door.  What I would say to a child is, "I spy  with my little eye, something that rhymes with more."  And then the child guesses and hopefully comes up with door.

In the Montessori classroom, I have a basket of objects on the shelf for rhyming work.  For example, we might have a dog, lock, house, rock, rice, mouse, log, ice in a basket.  When we're laying them out on the rug to do the work, we'll name the objects so that the child knows what the name of each is.  Then, the child will choose an object (a mouse) and we'll play I spy again.  "I spy with my little eye something that rhymes with mouse."  Hopefully the child will choose the house.   If the child isn't able to choose the correct rhyme, we eliminate some of the objects to make it easier for him/her.

Another way we do this activity is with rhyming pictures.  It's the same as the objects, but it's a little bit more difficult since the pictures are two dimensional instead of using three dimensional objects.

Another auditory game you can play is "Can you think of a word that rhymes with ____________?"  See how many your child can come up with.

If your child needs something to anchor their thinking, look around the room you're in and do the same.  "Let's think of all of the things in this room that rhyme with ____________."

Sing songs that rhyme and play with words:

  • Down by the Bay
  • "The Elephant Song" aka Willoughby Wallaby Weth, an elephant sat on Beth.  Substitute your child's name or anything you'd like.  The sillier the better!
  • "The Banana Song" aka Beth, Beth, bo Beth, Banana, fana fo feth, me my mo meth, Beth.  Kids LOVE this one.  
Remember that no matter what you do with your child, always make it fun and exciting.  If it seems too much like work, they'll dread it and it more than likely won't improve their skills.  Have fun, keep it light, and follow your child's lead.  Let me know how these games work out for you.

Phonological Awareness-Why is it Important?

This is a huge question. Some reading researchers think that phonological awareness in kindergarten is a very strong indicator of future reading success.  They also believe that the most common barrier to early word reading is an inability to process language phonetically. Even children for whom their parents have done extensive reading with them at a young age, 25% can end up with a problem with phonological awareness.

What to do?  The good news is that phonological awareness skills CAN be taught, and they're actually quite fun for most children.  For older children, specific phonics instruction can actually strengthen their phonological awareness skills. Most children like phonological awareness games because they're typically done purely auditorily, which means you can play them in the car, at the grocery store, while you're waiting for the doctor....anywhere!

There are different levels of phonological awareness:

  • Rhyme awareness (cat, fat, bat, sat, etc.)
  • Phonemic awareness (an awareness of the phonemes, or different sounds in words)
  • Segmenting
  • Blending
  • Manipulating sounds
In the next week or so I'll list some specific activities and games you can do with your children for these particular skills.

Phonological Awareness vs. Phonemic Awareness

One of the things some dyslexic children have difficulty with is playing with the words in sounds.

Phonological awareness is the umbrella term for playing with words and parts of words, for example, rhyming words like cat, fat, bat, sat, etc.  It involves being able to separate sentences into words, words into syllables, and syllables into their individual sounds.  

Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate those individual sounds in syllables and words.  For example, being able to hear the first sound in the word hat as /h/.  It is an understanding that words are made up of individual sounds and the ability to manipulate those sounds.

Why is this important?  A child who can manipulate the sounds in a word can easily read the word bat, if she can also read the word hat.  Her brain can make those substitutions easily and form the new word by drawing upon what she already knows.

The typical progression for phonemic awareness is that children are able to pick out the first sound in a word first, then the final sound, and lastly the medial or middle sound.  Conversely, when children begin writing, their very early writing will be a string of consonants that may include only the first sound in the word, and then progress to the first and last sounds in some words.  Hopefully I'll have some samples of children's work to show you as the year progresses.

One of the games we play in a Montessori environment is called "I Spy" and it's purpose is phonemic awareness.  We have a basket of objects that we lay out on the table or rug and we name them as we lay them out.  Initially we'll start with 2 or 3 objects only.   There might be a hat, a ball, and a mouse.  Then we'll say, "I spy with my little eye, something that starts with the sound /m/."  It would be the child's work to pick the mouse.

I'm often told by parents that their child "knows all of the letters" and indeed that child does.  But, what that child is lacking typically is the abilitiy to play with the sounds associated with the letters or even to know the sounds associated with those letters.  If we can start children when they're young and help them get some solid phonemic and phonolgical awareness skills, we'll be helping them become much better readers in the long run.


My name is Beth and I am a Montessori Teacher in the process of becoming a Reading Specialist.  I am also an Orton Gillingham tutor, which is a method for dyslexic children to learn how to read, write and spell.

In my work with dyslexic children, I've discovered ways that work well for typically developing children to increase their reading skills as well.  I love, love, love working with children who are learning to read and who are having difficulties learning to read.  It's what gets me going in the morning.

As I progress through this year, I'll be posting more about my classroom, the children, and their journey as 5 and 6 yr olds into reading, as well as my own journey towards discovering what it really means to be a "reading specialist".