4 Using rhymes to teach English in the classroom

Rhymes are a fun way for your students to improve their English and for you to develop your confidence in using spoken English.

Activity 4: Using rhymes to teach English

Over the next few lessons, introduce a short rhyme or a poem in English – you can use the rhyme you prepared in Activity 3 or choose another rhyme or poem. Choose a rhyme that has simple action words. Recite the rhyme several times during the week. Students will need more than one hearing to learn it for themselves.

You could start or end the school day with a short rhyme. Try to introduce a short rhyme each week. You can use short rhymes and songs for classroom management, for example, when moving students from one activity to another, or to focus their attention on you.

Help students remember and use rhyming words. When it is appropriate in a language lesson, help students to identify words in the lesson that rhyme. You can reinforce the learning by writing and reading the rhyming words together on the board.

You can also put rhyming words on the bulletin board for students to read every day. Write the rhyming words in bold letters and in the same colour, to encourage students’ recognition of the same sounds and word endings.

When you evaluate students and build up their records of achievement, note those who can recognise words that sound alike and have similar sound patterns. This is an important pre-reading skill. There is a link between the ability to hear and recognise sounds and the ability to read later on. Students who recognise the sounds of letter patterns and words will begin to apply this knowledge to the printed page. Record your observations about which students can easily identify the rhyming words, and which students can make their own sentences using the words and patterns in the rhyme. Note when they attempt to link their oral knowledge to printed words.

Older students also enjoy rhymes and play with words, and this can help them build their English knowledge and skills. In the next case study the teacher encourages his students to create poems in English.

Case Study 2: Mr Dinesh’s class creates poems

Mr Dinesh’s Class III students are at many different levels of ability in English. He asked them to write poems on the theme of water.

I started by writing some new words on the board, which I called ‘help words’. As the class talked about the theme of ‘water’, more words were added to the list. These words were either noted down in students’ notebooks, kept in the class ‘word box’ or displayed on the bulletin board.

I asked the students to talk in their home language about the games that they play with water: jumping in water that collects on the roadside after rain; throwing water on each other; trying to hold water in their hands; slapping at spilled water with their palm; creating bubbles in water. I asked the students to make drawings of these activities. Then I asked them to describe their drawings in English.

The students came up with bits of sentences, mixing their home language and English, and using nonsense words for sounds, for instance:

‘Chup chup water’

‘Water jump’

‘Water hands’

‘Ravi pipe water’

‘Sapna, water bulbule soap.’

The sentences were not complete and accurate in English, and sometimes the students used nonsense words, but I accepted this because the words and sounds were meaningful and fun for them. I acknowledged the students’ efforts and helped them where necessary, rephrasing their sentences into complete English. Sometimes the students used nonsense words to convey sounds or environments, and they had to create spellings for these words. Together, the class created this poem on water:

Water says chup chup,

Let’s go jump jump.

Let’s play with water,

Come my friend, come come,

Without water, I am not happy.

I continued to do poems linked to other topics. On the theme of ‘transport’, the class created this poem using the sounds of the train:

Train at the station,

Koo chuk chuk chuk chuk,

Sapna takes a ride,

Ha ha ha, wah wah wah wah.

Sometimes I would start the class off with a short phrase or a word, such as ‘little red apple’. I asked students to continue this line, first by talking with each other and making drawings, and then presenting suggestions to create a whole poem:

Little red apple,

Hmm! So juicy,

See! See! See!

Little drop falling,

Drip drip drip.

My students created a number of poems in English. I compiled the poems and drawings in a folder, and bound them together to make a class book of poetry.

The students invited parents to come to school and read their poems. They also performed their poems to a school assembly.

(The poems were created by Class II and Class III of the CIE Experimental Basic School in Delhi, session 2011–12.)

Activity 5: Create a poem

Using the example of Mr Dinesh in Case Study 2, plan a poem exercise with your class.

What topic or theme would interest the students? Remember to begin with some ‘help words’.

When you implement your plan, remember to use what the students contribute. Ask students to talk about their ideas and draw them. You can incorporate local names and places into the poem.

Let them ‘have a go’, using nonsense words if they choose. Remember that it is not always necessary to have rhyming words at the end of each line. Accept errors in students’ spoken English so that they can gain confidence. Students can create spellings for words that represent sounds or noises.

Compile a folder of their poems so that they can re-read their work.

Is there an opportunity for students to perform the poems, at the end of the lesson, or to an assembly for the school or for parents? Providing an audience for your students’ poems will encourage them to practise their spoken English and to gain confidence in their English skills. Make sure that all the students in your class take part in the assembly or performance.