Rhyming – Not always child’s play

I would like to preface today’s post by saying that what I am about to suggest is based on my own observations of how different children develop phonological awareness and phonemic awareness and I am not professing to be in possession of peer reviewed evidence (but if anyone has some, please share it in the comments section below!)

While working with a teacher this week, I noticed that in many phonological and phonemic awareness resources and assessments, recognising rhyme and producing rhyme are often presented together.  The suggestion being that one will naturally lead to the other.  In my experience, this is not necessarily the case. 

Rhyming occurs when words have different onsets, but matching rimes (different from rhyme).  (Here are some sneak peaks of my upcoming Teach Along in Phonological and Phonemic Awareness. You can join here)

Sneak Peak From my Upcoming Teach Along
Sneak Peak From my Upcoming Teach Along

In recognizing which words rhyme, a child will develop a sense of ‘sameness’ between two words and be able to let you know if they rhyme or not.   If a child has participated in rhyming activities, including learning to recite nursery rhymes, then this general awareness will usually develop without too much trouble.

A word of caution – There are many nursery rhyme clips on YouTube and it is easy to take advantage of these easily available and engaging videos. However, in my experience it is common for children to be so mesmerised by the imagery on the screen, they are not really paying attention to the nursery rhyme itself. I no longer show YouTube clips when presenting nursery rhymes for young children, but require them to listen and participate orally.  You can still use YouTube, but just don’t present the video for the kids.  This forces them to actively listen and process the language presented.

So, while the first step of recognising rhyme is fairly intuitive, the next step of producing rhyme alludes many children until they are well into their reading journey.  In my experience, about half of my mainstream preschool students would develop this skill seemingly effortlessly and half wouldn’t.  When we consider what is actually required to develop this skill, this is not surprising. In order to produce a rhyming word a child needs to:

  1. Isolate the initial phoneme (onset)
  2. Delete the initial phoneme and swap it for another one (while holding the rime in their working memory)
  3. Retrieve the rime from working memory and then blend the onset and rime to make the new word
  4. Decide whether the new word they have created is a real word

Looking at it this way, rhyming is a complex process that requires advanced phonemic awareness, rather than a simple skill that all children develop in the foundation year.

My observations are that the children who are able to produce rhyme in preschool and early stages of foundation are those who go on to develop reading without too many troubles, while those who don’t, require a much more systematic and structured approach to reading. It is important to notice which children can produce rhyming words and which can’t. This will be an indicator of which children will need you to keep a close eye on their reading development and intervene if they present with any roadblocks.

The more you teach the whole group using evidence based practices, the less specialised intervention your students will need.

My view of rhyming fits with my understanding of the role of phonemic awareness in developing fluent reading.

Implications for Teaching

In order to fully support a wide range of learners in your classroom:   

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2 thoughts on “Rhyming – Not always child’s play”

    1. Hi Amy. Thanks for reading! As I teach I find that there are many things I have learned and forgotten and at some point say, “Oh, that’s right. I know that!” Enjoy your holidays. Jocelyn

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