Teaching Tuesday: Rhyming, Yo

Before I had kids, I used to talk to my mom about my students, as they were the closest thing I had to kids. Once when I was talking about my struggling reader group and I explained that one poor fifth grader was having such a rough time because he had no phonological awareness skills.

"What are phonological awareness skills?" asked my editor/writer/reading at 4 years old mother.

Which was funny because not only because of my own mother's reading skills, but because she and my dad had read me nursery rhymes and Dr. Seuss and had entertained me with "The Rhyming Game" (like I Spy, but with rhyming words as clues) throughout my early childhood. Basically, they were the ideal phonological awareness parents, even though they never called it that.

Phonological awareness is the understanding of and the ability to manipulate sounds in language, basically. That sentences are made of words, that words are made of syllables, that words can rhyme, that syllables are made of phonemes and that phonemes can be isolated, deleted and substituted. For example, the word "cat" has 3 sounds; /c/ /a/ and /t/. I've just isolated the sounds in "cat". If I delete the first sound, you've got "at". If I substitute the last sound, you could have "cap" or "cad".

Kids who struggle with the sounds of language have a hard time decoding words; if you can't hear that the sounds /p/ /i/ /n/ say "pin", then you're not going to be able to read/sound out/decode the word later on. The easiest way to teach your kid about phonological awareness is to read books that incorporate rhyme and/or play with language. Obviously, Dr. Seuss is the master, but you can try these as well:

As you read these books for the 120th time, start asking your kid to fill in some of the rhyming words in the text. Trust me, once your kids can rhyme the other phonological awareness skills will come along easily (and you can let their teachers do most of the work on those).

But let's say that your child is obsessed with the solar system and wants to read space books every night. This happened to us for about a month when my older kids were in preschool. I was terribly worried that they'd miss out on rhyming and subsequent phonological awareness skills. And that this would make them have trouble reading later on. So I started speaking in rhymes.

Not all the time, I am so not that clever. But every time that I had to repeat directions? I threw in a rhyme. "Please put on your shoes! Please put on your shoes-blues! Shoes-blues!" I tried to use a different rhyme each time, which had the added effect of distracting me from the fact that my kids weren't listening to me. I changed the rhymes all the time and before I knew it, they were joining in.

For some reason, rhymes make it easier to leave the playground. 

They weren't following directions any quicker, though. Which is why I'm not writing about a blog about discipline.

If you'd like to learn more, read what some women with ph.D's have to say.

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