Rhyme – not the significant skill that we once thought! Print

Yes – Rhyme is a phonological awareness skill which is often included in early childhood curriculum.


Yes – Children will be 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 claims that rhyme awareness leads to the development of phoneme awareness and reading ability have limited evidence within current research.


Recent research suggests rhyming ability is not as accurate nor sensitive a measure in predicting reading development as other skills such as phoneme awareness, blending and segmenting (Mcmillan, 2002; Shanahan, 2015).

Phillips et al (2008) suggests that although rhyming 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). In fact 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).

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

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. This can be sourced from the PLD literature list: https://pld-literacy.org/about/references-and-useful-links/
  • Alternatively attend one of our Kindergarten or Pre-Primary Seminars: The details are listed below:
    • The Kindergarten seminar investigates 3 and 4 year old pre-literacy, oral language and motor skill development. 
    • The Pre-Primary (or Foundation) seminar explores 5 and 6 year old pre and early literacy as well as oral language and motor skill development.