1. Using songs and rhymes

Learning to read and write is hard work! Because you want pupils to look forward to reading and writing lessons, it is very important that you make your classroom – and the activities that support learning to read and write – as stimulating as possible.

Resource 1: What successful readers and writers need to know explains that pupils need to learn how to connect sounds and letters, letters and words, words and sentences. Songs and rhymes that pupils know well – and to which they can perform actions – help them to make these connections. So does shared reading, in which you read a big print storybook, with pictures, to your pupils. While you are reading, stop to show them each picture and to ask what they think will happen next. When you have finished, use the book for letter and word recognition activities in which you ask individual pupils to point to and read particular letters and words. Remember to give pupils plenty of opportunities to talk about the story – the characters, what happened, how they feel about the story, etc.

Case Study 1: Introducing pupils to reading

Mrs Nomsa Dlamini teaches pupils to read and write in isiZulu in her Grade 1 class in Nkandla, South Africa. Nomsa reads storybooks to them, including some that she has written and illustrated herself because there are few books available in isiZulu.

At the beginning of the year, she makes sure that all pupils understand how a book works – cover, title, illustrations, development of the story – because she knows that some of them have never held a book before starting school. She has found that prediction activities, in which pupils suggest what will happen next in the story, are useful and stimulating for her pupils.

Nomsa realises that pupils need a lot of practice to give them confidence in reading. She makes big print copies of Zulu rhymes or songs that they know well and also ones that she knows are particularly useful for teaching letter-sound recognition. Pupils say or sing them and perform actions to them (see Resource 2: Examples of songs and rhymes). Most importantly, she asks individual pupils to point out and read letters and words. Some pupils find this difficult so she notes their names and the letters or words they have trouble with. She prepares cards with pictures, letters and words to use in different ways with these pupils, either individually or in small groups, while the rest of the class are doing other activities. Nomsa is pleased to find that this helps the confidence and progress of these pupils.

Activity 1: Using songs and rhymes to teach reading

Ask pupils to:

  • choose a favourite song/rhyme;
  • sing/say it;
  • watch carefully, while you say the words as you write them on your chalkboard (or a big piece of paper/cardboard so you can use it again);
  • read the song/rhyme with you (do this several times);
  • point out (individually) particular letters or words or punctuation (capital letters, full stops, question marks);
  • decide on actions to do while singing the song/saying the rhyme;
  • perform these actions while singing the song/saying the rhyme again;
  • sit in groups of four and take turns reading the song/rhyme to each other.

Move round the class, noting pupils who find reading difficult.

End by asking the whole class to sing the song/say the rhyme, with actions, again.

Section 1: Supporting and assessing reading and writing

2. Using packaging to help reading