• phonemic awareness: the ability to recognize that spoken words are made up of separate sounds (phonemes, the smallest units of sound), and to manipulate those sounds in speech
  • phonics: the understanding that letters represent the sounds in words
  • phonemes: the smallest units of sound
  • phonological awareness: the ability to recognize that words are made up of a variety of sound units
  • nonsense words: made-up words, used for the phonemic principle being taught
  • sound matching: the ability to match words that begin or end with the same sound

Play with Rhymes

Before watching this video, read the text below. When instructed, watch the video from the beginning to end.

Rhyming is a helpful first step toward phonemic awareness. When children play with rhymes, they listen to the sounds within words and identify word parts. For example, the /at/ sound in the word mat is the same /at/ sound in cat, rat, sat, and splat. Children typically learn to recognize rhyming words first and generate their own rhymes later. It is important to recognize that these skills are not always learned on a schedule. For some children, recognizing rhyme can be difficult. You can use different methods to help develop children’s skills.

  • Have children listen to and identify rhymes in books. Before reading, ask children to listen for rhyming words and raise their hands when they hear them. Or, stop before you get to the rhyming word and have children supply it.
  • Prompt children to produce words that rhyme. Both real words and “nonsense words” are useful, such as Peggy and leggyturtle and Yertle.
  • Provide opportunities to recite rhymes in song. Music is a natural part of a child’s world. They can be active participants, clapping, snapping, and adding their own motions to songs. For example, “I’m a little lizard, my oh my! My skin has scales, it’s nice and dry.”

In this video, you’ll see educators use rhyming games, songs, and read-aloud books to teach phonemic awareness skills. As you watch, look for effective strategies used by the educators in the video and jot down answers to this viewing question in your Learning Log.

  • How do the educators use rhyme to develop children’s phonemic awareness skills?


What is phonemic awareness and why is it important?

  • Phonemic awareness is the ability to recognize that words are made up of separate sounds.
  • Phonemic awareness also includes the ability to manipulate sounds in speech.
  • Phonemic awareness lays the foundations for learning to read and write.
  • Research shows that children with good phonemic awareness skills are more successful in learning to read and write.
  • Phonemic awareness can be integrated into other learning areas. In the video, children learned about reptiles in “Rhyming Reptiles,” while also learning phonemic awareness by suggesting rhyming words (snake, take; lizard, blizzard).

Why is rhyming an important skill for children to learn?

  • Recognizing rhyming words is a basic level of phonemic awareness.
  • Rhyming requires that children listen closely for sounds within words.
  • Children who recognize rhyme learn that words are made up of separate parts.
  • An early goal is to have children listen to a pair of words and decide whether or not the words rhyme.
  • Eventually, the goal is to have children generate words that rhyme.

How can educators teach rhyming skills to children?

  • Use music and songs to teach rhyme. Sing active songs that invite children to use movement. Fingerplays such as “Itsy Bitsy Spider” invite active participation in a rhyming game.
  • Use books and read-aloud stories to teach rhyme. Rhyming texts, both fiction and nonfiction, support literacy in general and help children learn phonemic awareness skills.
    • Before reading, ask children to listen for words that rhyme.
    • Encourage children to raise their hands when they recognize a rhyming word.
    • Stop and have children supply a rhyming word in the text.
    • After you have read a poem or story aloud, ask for rhyming words. (What word rhymes with mittens?)
  • Use games to teach rhyme.
    • Toss a beanbag onto a picture grid. Have children think of a word that rhymes with the picture (fish, wish; goat, boat).
    • Play “I Say Night.” Teach children to respond with a rhyming word: I say night. You say (right.) Or I say bread. You say                         .
    • Play rhyming partners. As children “buddy up” for an activity, give one child a random word, for example, mitten. The first child to suggest a rhyming word becomes that child’s buddy.
  • Use nursery rhymes to teach rhyme. Traditional nursery rhymes are fun to teach. Children can learn them quickly and enjoy repeating them.
  • Make a chart of rhyming words. (If possible, connect the words to concepts being taught in the curriculum, such as colors, plants, weather, etc.) Add a word each day (pink, clink, wink, sink, blink). Once you have a bank of words, have children create their own silly rhymes. (Wink, wink, wink. Watch me blink.)
  • Have fun with rhymes. Children enjoy saying rhymes in different voices. Whisper them, shout them, sing them, and chant them.
  • Children need not suggest real words when supplying rhymes. Nonsense words (alligator, shmalligator) enable children to focus on the sound rather than the meaning. In time, children will develop the ability to generate real words that begin with the same sound, contain the same sound, or end with the same sound.


Think about the learning environment at your own program as you answer these reflection questions in your Learning Log.

  • What daily activities do you do with children to teach phonemic awareness?
  • What did you learn that you will take back to your learning environment and put into practice?
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