Using simple nursery rhymes is appropriate throughout the primary grades in elementary school. Nursery rhymes are known to be " … short, fun-filled, dramatic, pleasing to the ear, easy to remember – and oh, so hard to forget" (Hopkins 1998, 206). These qualities are what make them particularly useful in motivating beginning and emergent readers in the classroom. I have found that my students, who at first were reluctant to even pick up a book, love to "read" nursery rhymes when incorporated into our center activity time and skills practice in the classroom. "Children are in love with the easy rhymes, the alliteration, the quick action, and the humor that Mother Goose conveys." (Hopkins 1998, 20). Whether a teacher utilizes a poem in its entirety or just a few lines of a familiar rhyme, students become confident in reciting the simple lines. Nursery rhymes are also great to have available in book form, for children to utilize during independent reading time in the classroom. While reluctant readers may not be able to master a text full of sight words, they can confidently "read" a few familiar nursery rhymes and not feel defeated as a reader.
After reciting a familiar nursery rhyme, you can have students practice one to one correspondence by pointing to each word as they read. This may be done as part of small group instruction or set up as a center activity during literacy instruction. In New Haven we monitor student progress on Concepts About Print, where our familiar nursery rhymes can aid in the practice of the basic skill of one to one correspondence, or matching. Students love to practice this skill, especially when a few added "tools" are thrown in to use as pointers. Many young students would love to decorate and use a craft stick or use a magic wand to point to words as they read and recite. These simple modifications to regular reading are what make learning fun and engaging.
A familiar nursery rhyme is also a great device to utilize when introducing rhyming pairs. While students are adept at identifying rhymes when listening to the teacher recite a poem, they can use a familiar nursery rhyme to identify a pair of rhyming words on their own. Providing a reluctant reader with a familiar nursery rhyme to work with is as much an ego boost as it is a fantastic teaching tool. There are endless possibilities when it comes to using nursery rhymes in the first grade. While I would not limit poetry exposure to only nursery rhymes, I most definitely recommend utilizing them, especially with a reluctant individual or group of readers.
Whole group instruction
Students will utilize their five senses to illustrate a poem.
Students will build fluency by independently reading the poem.
After a shared reading with the whole class provide each student with a copy of a relevant nursery rhyme. Allow students time to illustrate their copy of the poem based on how the poem made them feel or what they imagined happening in the poem. You may focus on having students use one (or all) of their five senses to describe the poem. Have students practice re-reading the poem in the journal to help build fluency.
For example: Little Boy Blue
First, the teacher will read and share a copy of
Little Boy Blue
. Before you read, ask students to close their eyes. Tell the students to focus on their senses and to think about how the poem makes them feel. Read the poem to the class two times. The first time you read have students keep their eyes shut.
After reading the poem twice have students turn and talk to a buddy for two minutes and discuss what they imagined when they listened to the poem. You may prompt students with questions such as: what did you see, what did you hear, what did you taste and smell when you heard the words? After two minutes, ask for pairs of students to share what they imagined in the poem. As students share their thoughts, the teacher may follow along and quickly illustrate her copy of the poem with what students describe.
Next, provide each student with a copy of Little Boy Blue to illustrate and paste into their poetry journal at their seat. After students have illustrated the poem, they may practice reading the poem out loud at their seat (this may be done independently or buddy reading with a neighbor).
Small group instruction:
For small group instruction you can utilize poems that have been previously introduced to students and are already a part of their poetry journal. Your focus within small groups will be more specific and targeted to meet the needs of individual learners.
Once the students have been exposed to the poem as part of whole group instruction, you can continue to utilize the poem to help develop literacy skills at any level. Since my goal is to facilitate instruction focused on reluctant readers, most of my suggestions will be geared more towards lower level readers.
Literacy Skill Development using
Little Boy Blue
Utilize the poem
Little Boy Blue
to have students identify words in the poem that begin with the letter B. Have students practice saying the /b/ sound and then use a colored pencil or crayon to identify words that begin with the /b/ sound. Then, take turns reading and writing words on paper or a white board.
You can also have students read familiar sight words within the poem (ie: the, in, little). This would also be a good opportunity to introduce students to a new sight word (ie: that, under) and have them find the word in the poem. You may want to utilize crayons, colored pencils, markers or highlighting tape to have students identify familiar or new sight words on their copy of the poem.
You can work with students to reinforce their ability to rhyme by identifying the rhyming pairs in the poem (ie: horn & corn). You can discuss the placement of rhyming words (in this poem, at the end of a line). You may also extend the lesson by creating a list of words that rhyme with other words in the poem (ie: add on to sheep & asleep).
1. Students will identify three types of punctuation within the poem: periods, questions marks and exclamation points.
2. Students will change their vocal tone and inflection in reading the poem aloud to correlate with proper punctuation.
You may have students practice reading different lines of the poem with proper tone and inflection by taking notice of the punctuation at the end of the line. This would be a great introduction for lower level students to play with tone and inflection with a familiar text since the lines of the poem include a period, question mark and exclamation points. While I have suggested this activity as part of small group instruction, it is also great to use with the whole class.