Teach Rhyming To Struggling Students – The 7 Step Plan


Rhyming is a very hard concept, and a lot of children take a long time to understand it. In ten years of teaching young children, I have seen many children learn to read fluently, and still not be able to complete a rhyming string.

However, there are some steps you can put in place, to help children maximize their potential in this area at least.

Follow these in order, and you are much more likely to see success.

To teach rhyming to struggling students you should begin with simple chants, songs and books. Move on to games involving joining in. Then extend to games where they are starting to think of their own rhymes with support.

An important thing to remember is that rhyming is not the be-all-and-end-all. It is mainly one of many tools to help children begin to read.

So try not to get stressed! Teachers and parents around the world have issues with rhyming, and they always will, so you are definitely not alone.

But if you start as easy as you possibly can with rhyme, and follow the following steps in order, then your chances of success become much greater!

Success breeds success in rhyme! So begin with activities that they literally cannot get wrong, and expand from there.

OK, let’s dive into the seven step plan.

Step 1 – Know The Pitfalls

There are a few things that you want to avoid to help the process of teaching rhyme to go more smoothly, and be much quicker.

The thing to avoid at all costs is children guessing.

This happens when children are set a rhyming challenge that is too difficult for them, and so they just make up the answer. This is a key pitfall in other areas of phonics as well, particularly in blending (find out what blending is and how to teach it here).

Asking a child to complete a rhyming string is an example of this (hint – don’t start with this!). You might say, ‘What’s a rhyme of cat?’ Children will often say something like, ‘Dog’. Or ‘Whiskers’, or some other strange word association idea like that.

When children don’t know how to do something, a lot of them will guess. This is a bad place to be, and a tricky habit to get out of.

So start easy (as I’ll show you in Step 2 onwards).

The other major pitfall is to get stressed!

There is no point in either the adult or child becoming stressed about rhyming! This is really counter-productive. I understand it can be frustrating, as so many children are able to learn many other skills in early reading before rhyme. There is some research that points to the difficulty in learning rhyme for many children (Source).

But please relax! Many children will learn to read whole books independently before they can complete a rhyming string. So, please don’t worry too much.

Right – onwards to building a foundation…

Step 2 – Build A Foundation For Rhyme

Start as easy as you possibly can when teaching rhyme. It is important for children to have a foundation of repetitive songs and rhymes to build on later.

So, some essential things to try are:

Nursery Rhymes That Rhyme

These are songs like Twinkle Twinkle, Wind The Bobbin Up, and all that kind of thing. Check out some fantastic songs to play with a parachute here.

Rhyming Books

I particularly like ones where the rhymes repeat a lot. A good example is Hairy Maclary, or The Smartest Giant In Town.

The more children are able to repeat rhymes, the better they will internalize them.

These two things – rhymes and books – are certainly not rocket science, but are crucial in giving children a platform onto which they can later build.

Step 3 – Extend the Foundation With Chants

When children have a platform of rhymes and songs, the next stage that I have found really successful is fun rhyming chants.

One way to do this is to get the children to stand up, and put some pumping music on! Something without words is best so they don’t get confused.

Then start chanting rhyming words to the beat of the music!

For example, go ‘Dog, dog, dog, dog, frog, frog, frog, frog…’

hThe children will hopefully join in. I like to make up actions at the same time as you say each word, just to make it more multisensory and fun.

For example, for the word ‘dog’ you could do ‘dog’s ears’.

Chanting games like this have the advantage of children not needing to guess. As long as they join in, they can’t go wrong.

You can also try chants with:

  1. Making spells
  2. Jumping and chanting at the same time
  3. Using silly voices

Step 4 – Play Games Involving Rhyming

Next step is to play fun games where rhyming is involved.

Again, it is good if these are games where they don’t need to think of their own rhyming words (that comes much later in the process).

A great example of a fun game involving rhyming words is the ‘Robber Game’.

Have three or four objects that all rhyme. For example, have a toy ‘cat’, ‘bat’, ‘hat’, and ‘rat’.

The children sit in a circle, and show them the objects.

Have a go at chanting them all together. I like to point at each in turn, and go ‘cat cat cat…’ etc!

Tell the children to try and remember where they all are.

A cat, a hat and a bat

Then cover them with a sheet.

Now it is a memory game. One child is the ‘robber’. All the other children will close their eyes, whilst the robber comes up and ‘robs’ one from under the sheet.

They hide it behind their backs.

Then the others open their eyes. Take the sheet off and try and guess what has been stolen.

Simple games like this take the stress out of rhyming, and just expose children to lots of rhyming as a side-product of the game.

Take a look at some other examples of games like this in my guide ‘The Ultimate 18 Rhyming Games For Children.’

Step 5 – Play Repetitive Games

Next step is to get the children thinking about rhyming pairs of words, and getting them to connect them independently.

A great game for this is ‘Cross The River’.

You need some kind of blue sheet (or something similar) for this. This is the pretend ‘river’.

Get the children to sit in a circle, and place the sheet in a long snake shape down the middle.

You’ll need three volunteers to stand on one side of the river.

Now you will need a bag of three rhyming pairs of objects. For example, you could have:

  1. A toy ‘cat’ and a toy ‘bat’
  2. A ‘log’ and a ‘dog’
  3. A ‘tin’ and a ‘bin’

First, show the children what the rhyming pairs of objects are, and I would try chanting the rhyme together. E.g. ‘log dog log dog’ etc

Give out one of each of the pairs of objects to the children (e.g. give out a ‘cat’, ‘log’ and a ‘tin’).

Then sing the song. This goes to music of ‘She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain’, and the words are:

You’ll be crossing the river when it rhymes!

You’ll be crossing the river when it rhymes!

You’ll be crossing the river, crossing the river!

Crossing the river when it rhymes!

Then take an object out of the bag, for example, the ‘bin’. Whoever thinks they are holding the object that rhymes with ‘bin’ is going to jump over the river (hopefully the ‘tin’ person).

Repeat this for other words.

Step 6 – Supported Rhyming Games

Next step after those sorts of games, is to play activities where the children are starting to think of their own rhyme.

One good game for this is the ‘magic rhyming stone.’ Stones can be used for all sorts of early learning (check out some fantastic ideas here).

Have some kind of stone that looks ‘magical’. I have painted a small pebble with magical swirls and stars!

Tell the children that this pebble will help everyone rhyme! When you hold it, you know how to rhyme.

Sit the children in a circle, and pick a word that has lots of rhymes, such as ‘cat.’

Tell the children that you are going to all pass the stone round, and it is their turn to hold it they are going to say a rhyme of the word ‘cat’.

The easy version is to give them lots of ideas before you start.

All try chanting some rhymes of cat together – ‘Cat cat bat bat hat hat mat mat rat rat…’ etc

Then pass the stone around. All they need to do is say one of the words that you have just said.

This stops it going random!

The harder version of the game, is to let them all just make up a rhyme, but I’d only try this when the children are good at rhyming.

Step 7 – Support Them Inventing Their Own Rhymes

Step 7 is the one to take on when children are good at rhyming, and now you are practising the skill.

Step 7 is all about finishing rhyming strings.

There are lots of classic games to practice this skill.

A good one is ‘I Spy’. You say something like, ‘I spy something that sounds like ‘frog.’’ (It was a ‘dog.’)

Another one is the puppet game. Get some sort of puppet that will make up rhymes, but leave one word out.

For example, Max the Monkey might say:

‘Rebbit says the frog!

Woof says the…’ (dog)

‘Crack goes the twig!

Oink says the…’ (pig)

Another game to try (which is about the trickiest of the lot), is just asking the children to complete a rhyming string.

So you might say, ‘What words rhyme with box?’

If they can do this, then your work here is done!

Final Thoughts

To sum up, the important thing really is not to be stressed – either you or the children!

Rhyming is definitely not easy. It is quite an abstract concept that just takes some children a lot longer to get their heads around.

So relax, and follow these steps in order, and you will at least give yourself every chance of teaching rhyme to the vast majority of children.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, then you definitely don’t want to miss this article about the ultimate ten terrific alliteration games.

Martin Williams

Hi, I'm Martin Williams, creator of the Early Impact Learning blog. I'm a preschool and early years teacher of ten years experience, and I also run practical training courses for nurseries and schools.

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