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Rhyme – Not the Significant Skill That We Once Thought!

Rhyme has historically always played a large part in children’s early literacy experiences.  Rhyming ability is a phonological awareness skill that is often included in early childhood curriculum. Children are regularly exposed to songs and books that incorporate rhyme and the exposure to such books and songs will likely focus them on the semantics (or meaning) and the sound structure of words.

But beyond that we need to be careful about linking rhyming ability with reading and spelling progress.  In particular, there is limited evidence within current research that rhyme awareness will lead to the development of phoneme awareness and reading ability.

In fact, recent research suggests rhyming ability is neither an accurate or sensitive measure when it comes to predicting reading development when compared to other skills such as phoneme awareness, blending and segmenting (Mcmillan, 2002; Shanahan, 2015).

Does Rhyming Ability Help Reading?

In their 2008 report Successful Phonological Awareness Instruction with Pre-School Children. Phillips et al (2008) suggests that although rhyming ability is a part of phonological awareness, “evidence shows that rhyming is not necessarily the most evidence-based of the pedagogical choices or the simplest phonological awareness skill to master” (p.7).

Dorr and Lonigan (cited in Phillips et al, 2008, p.7) have suggested “evidence from some developmental and intervention samples indicates that contrary to popular belief, competence at these types of rhyme matching, oddity, and production tasks arrives on average at an older age than does the capacity to manipulate segments of compound words, syllables, and perhaps even some phoneme-level skills.”

Phillips et al (2008) go on to suggest that when compared with “phonological awareness instruction focused on alternative tasks and activities, children exposed to rhyming interventions made less progress” (p.8).

Rhyme or Structured Synthetic Phonics?

Because rhyming tasks involve quite complex metalinguistic skills (ability to think about sounds and words), it is recommended that rhyming instruction is taught in a specific onset-rime format, rather than as a stand-alone task. Most importantly, to improve the linguistic and literacy skills of students, teaching phonological awareness through word, syllable, onset-rime and phoneme level tasks, rather than more traditional rhyming activities, will be more effective.

Synthetic phonics is the most evidence-based approach to early literacy instruction. What underpins this approach is the awareness of phonemes (individual sound units) and how phonemes relate to letters. Children are taught to segment and blend the sounds (or phonemes) with words, focusing on one sound at a time.

What needs to be kept in perspective is that ‘rhyme’ typically consists of more than one phoneme and therefore rhyming ability is not necessarily the simplest of skills, nor is it the best evidence-based choice for building phonological awareness skills within a synthetic phonics approach to literacy instruction.

Evidence Base Recommends Structured Synthetic Phonics

Teaching practice is evolving and our understanding of how children learn is evolving. Synthetic phonics is the established best practice for teaching literacy and is supported extensively by research,  it gives children the best opportunity to learn by focusing on the essential skills of segmenting and blending of individual phonemes (or sounds).  

However, there is often a lag between research entering the classroom. The On-Entry screening and the Early Years curriculum is not as tight with Structured Synthetic Phonics as it should be.  At PLD we aim to be leaders in the application of research, therefore our programs follow a Structured Synthetic Phonics approach to teaching literacy.

We recommend investigating the PLD SSP programs and screening to see how to integrate it into your classroom.  If you have questions about how you can make the move towards an evidenced-based literacy scope contact us at mail@pld-literacy.org. The Early Years Pre-Literacy Screen is available to download through the Early Years Screening & Tracking Manual.

For Further Information:

  • Phillips, B. M., Clancy-Menchetti, J. & Lonigan, C. J. (2008) Successful Phonological Awareness Instruction with Pre-School Children. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 28(1), 3-17.
  • MacMillan, B. M. (2002) Rhyme and Reading: A Critical Review of the Research Methodology. Journal of Research in Reading, 25(1), 4-42.
  • Shanahan, T. (2015) Is Rhyming Ability Important in Reading? The Center for Development and Learning.

This blog was first published on the 4th of July 2014.

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