Poetry, rhyming, and music are excellent ways to develop children’s literacy skills, particularly in phonological awareness when they are learning to read. “Phonological awareness is the ability to attend to and manipulate units of sound in speech (syllables, onsets and rimes, and phonemes) independent of meaning” (H. Yopp & R. Yopp, 2009, p. 13).
Why is phonological awareness important? A preponderance of research supports the finding that phonological awareness is critical for developing word recognition skills. It is foundational for both reading and spelling success. “Noticing and being able to manipulate the sounds of spoken language—phonological awareness—is highly related to later success in reading and spelling” (H. Yopp & R. Yopp, 2009, p. 15). According to Kilpatrick (2016), “Poor phonological awareness is the most common cause of poor reading” (p. 13).
Using Poetry and Songs with Young Children or Emergent Readers
Children who have not yet developed independent reading skills can listen and participate in the recitation of poems and the singing of songs. Oral language is the foundation for literacy. Literacy begins with listening and speaking, and “oral language development facilitates print literacy” (Fisher & Frey, 2014, para. 1). According to Elster (2010), “Poetry contains highly patterned, predictable language that has the unique potential to promote memorable and pleasurable experiences in preschool, kindergarten, and primary classrooms” (p. 48).
Teachers can intentionally select poems and songs to focus on a particular phonological awareness skill. For example, a poem with alliteration can provide practice hearing and identifying an initial sound repeated across multiple words. This is the phonemic awareness skill of identifying the initial phoneme (i.e., sound) in a word. A poem or song incorporating rhyming words allows children to focus on a particular string of sounds and identify rhyming patterns.
These types of phonological awareness activities that draw students’ attention to sounds in words help build foundational understandings necessary for later mapping letters to sounds for reading and spelling.
When learning to read, other literacy skills can be incorporated with poems and songs as well. As children begin to interact with print, teachers can utilize a large copy of a printed poem to demonstrate tracking and one-to-one correspondence while reading. Students’ understanding of the phonological awareness skill of concept of word helps facilitate this relationship of the spoken word to the printed word—another example of how phonological awareness is foundational to reading.
As letters are being learned, teachers or students can highlight letters or words in the poem (e.g., highlight ‘b’ words when working on the letter ‘b’). Echo reading, choral reading, and repeated reading can be used as the teacher and students “read” the poem together. Some poems also serve as appropriate texts for vocabulary and comprehension instruction.
Other Ways to Practice Rhyming
As mentioned previously, poems and music provide excellent avenues for practicing the phonological awareness skill of rhyming when learning to read. Rhyming can be practiced through other activities as well. Listed below are some quick and easy ways to incorporate rhyming games with children:
- When lining up to leave the classroom, call students by a rhyming name. When the name is called, a student whose name rhymes with what was called lines up. For example, the teacher calls, “Breve.” Steve lines up. When the teacher calls, “Lamantha,” Samantha lines up.
- The teacher generates two words that rhyme (e.g., “glad,” “sad”). Students provide additional words that rhyme with the given pair. The game is repeated with a new rhyming pair generated by the teacher.
- The teacher tells students she is going to give them directions in a funny way. Instead of saying the real words, she’s going to give them rhyming words, and they must guess what she really means. For example, “Boys and girls, please get out your stencil.” Students say, “Get out your pencil.”
Additional sources for phonological awareness activities, including rhyming, are listed below:
- Equipped for Reading Success: A Comprehensive, Step-by-Step Program for Developing Phonemic Awareness and Fluent Word Recognition by David Kilpatrick
- Interventions for All: Phonological Awareness by Yvette Zgonc (This book is included in participants’ training materials for IMSE’s Comprehensive Orton-Gillingham Training.)
- Phonemic Awareness in Young Children: A Classroom Curriculum by Marilyn Adams, Barbara Foorman, Ingvar Lundberg, & Terri Beeler
Use of Poetry for Independent Readers
For children who are already reading independently, poems are often excellent texts for practicing reading with prosody because of their natural rhythmic nature. In addition, because children’s poems are often fairly short texts, they lend themselves well to repeated reading opportunities. Research shows that guided, repeated reading improves reading fluency. Using poems or musical lyrics when learning to read is a fun and engaging way to provide this practice for students.
Other recommended poetry materials include the following:
- Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
- A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
- A Pizza the Size of the Sun by Jack Prelutsky
- Phonics Through Poetry: Teaching Phonemic Awareness Using Poetry by Babs Bell Hajdusiewicz
- More! Phonics Through Poetry: Teaching Phonemic Awareness Using Poetry by Babs Bell Hajdusiewicz
When learning to read, poems and music encourage attention to prosody, rhythm, and rhyme. They are engaging texts for students, both from an oral and written language perspective. Because they provide such enjoyable practice, poems can initially be used orally with younger children who are just beginning to learn to read or those still developing basic phonological skills. Poems continue to be excellent texts when students move into learning the essential skills related to print awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. (with the help of multi-sensory Orton-Gillingham instruction)
Elster, C.A. (2010). Snow on my eyelashes: Language awareness through age-appropriate poetry experiences. Young Children, 65(5), 48-55.
Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2014). Speaking and listening in content area learning. The Reading Teacher, 68(1), 64-69. Retrieved from http://www.readingrockets.org/article/speaking-and-listening-content-area-learning.
Kilpatrick, D. A. (2016). Equipped for reading success: A comprehensive, step-by-step program for developing phonemic awareness and fluent word recognition. Syracuse, NY: Casey & Kirsch Publishers.
Yopp, H. K., & Yopp, R. H. (2009). Phonological awareness is child’s play! Young Children, 64(1), 12-21.
About the Author
Kim Collins has been working in the field of education for more than 25 years. She has a Master of Education in Literacy and a Structured Literacy Teacher certification from the International Dyslexia Association. Her experience in education includes working as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, and state implementation specialist. As a Level 4 IMSE OG Master Instructor, Kim currently works to train teachers across the country in IMSE’s OG methodology.
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The IMSE approach allows teachers to incorporate the five components essential to an effective reading program into their daily lessons: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension.
The approach is based on the Orton-Gillingham methodology and focuses on explicit, direct instruction that is sequential, structured, and multi-sensory.
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