Teaching Rhyming Words to Kindergarten the Easy Way

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Teaching rhyming words to kindergarten seems pretty straightforward.  But did you know there are actually correct and incorrect ways of doing it?  It’s true!!  

While rhyming words, with their playful melodies and rhythmic patterns, hold a special place in the learning process with kindergarteners, they lay a solid foundation for developing the important skill of phonological awareness and also literacy skills.

Therefore, we have to make sure we are engaging our students with games and activities designed to teach our kindergarten learners how to rhyme along with how to incorporate phonemic awareness activities into their daily routine. 

So let’s explore some of the most important things you need to know about rhyming words including…

  • what rhyming actually is and why it’s important, 
  • the three stages of learning,
  • engaging strategies for teaching rhyming words, and
  • how to help struggling students.

What is Rhyming and Why It’s Important

If you took a poll of random strangers, you might be surprised to discover that many people think of rhyming words as words that are spelled the same.  

And while it is true that basic CVC words that rhyme are spelled the same, different words with more complex rhyming patterns can be spelled completely differently.

In fact, Dictionary.com defines rhyming as “having or ending with an identical or corresponding sound to another.”  

So, the simple definition is rhyming refers to sound (not spelling) and even more specifically to the ending sound not the beginning sound. 

But why is that important?

In a fascinating study entitled the “Effect of Instruction on the Development of Rhyming Skills in Young Children” the authors stated…

“Phonological awareness is a strong predictor of success in learning to read. Rhyming ability is an early developing component of phonological awareness. Therefore, it is believed that strengthened early rhyming ability might facilitate the acquisition of reading.”

The results of their study revealed “rhyming abilities of children who received explicit instruction improved significantly more than did the rhyming abilities of children who did not receive this instruction.”

Therefore a young learner’s ability to recognize similar ending sounds helps them connect the sounds they hear to the letters they see.

This ultimately provides a critically important foundation for learning to read sight words and new words in general. 

Introducing Rhyming and the 3 Stages of Learning

Based on the research mentioned above, direct instruction of rhyming words is critical to success.  But what does direct instruction look like?

Stage 1 – Hearing Rhymes

The first step in the process beings with hearing rhymes. While this is an important concept, it certainly doesn’t have to be boring!  

You can easily make it engaging by reading traditional nursery rhymes, making your own rhymes, singing songs, or modeling how to use nonsense words to rhyme with children’s names in the class. 

In case you are familiar with the terminology, nonsense words are simply made-up words that have no true meaning like…

  • lom
  • cas
  • bup
  • rin
  • yab

It’s totally fine to use these because in the first stage, we are just trying to listen for words that sound the same.  We aren’t yet reading words. 

Stage 2 – Recognizing Rhymes

Once students have listened to lots of different rhymes and have shown the ability to repeat them back, they will move to the next step which is begin to recognizing rhyme.  This means they can point out two words that rhyme.  

At this point, teachers can start introducing word family charts and show the similarities in the CVC words (like hop, cop, mop, etc).

We want students to make the connection between the letter A and the short /a/ sound in words like cat, mat, hat.  

However we want the emphasis to be on the sounds as opposed to the spelling only. Reading rhyming picture books is a great way to practice this skill. 

Stage 3 – Producing Rhymes

The final stage of rhyme recognition is producing rhymes.  This is the deepest level of understanding where your child’s brain can actually think of words that rhyme with each other.

Once students reach this point, you can offer activities that encourage independent practice such as finding the missing word, magnetic letters, and worksheets.

9 Activities for Teaching Rhyming Words to Kindergarten 

Rhyming activities are such a fun way to get students engaged in their learning and these activities perfect for sharing with parents so they can support their students at home and practice this skill outside of the classroom.

Here are a few different ways to incorporate phonological awareness activities into your lesson plans that are interactive and so much fun! 

1. Read Rhyming Books

I could talk about children’s books for days, and tell you all about how they foster oral language skills, how they make learning fun, and how to incorporate them into your daily activities…but I won’t because I know you have other things you need to do today.  

So one of the best ways to ensure you are teaching rhyming words to kindergarten appropriately is to incorporate rhyme time daily.  This means you spend time reading any rhyming book you can find!  

Here are a few great options: 

In fact, I dedicated an entire post to 21 of the best rhyming books for kindergarten. This list above is just the beginning!!

2. Sing Songs

I have found several hilarious books written by Alan Katz that include poems written to correspond with familiar children’s songs.  But what makes these so unique is the new words the author has used.  

Some of my absolute favorites are…

Trust me when I tell you kids of all ages will adore the silly (and sometimes gross) poems.  They will immediately connect with the colorful and vivid illustrations that capture the essence of the absurd poems…in the best possible way.

3. Recount Nursery Rhymes

Many of the nursery rhymes we grew up reading and singing are still ideal for our current little learners.  

These classic nursery rhymes are a perfect way to incorporate music and also an excellent way to infuse fine motor skills at the same time by adding in finger plays and hand gestures.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Itsy Bitsy Spider
  • Down By the Bay
  • Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
  • One Two Buckle My Shoe
  • The Wheels on the Bus
  • Hickory Dickory Dock

4. Recite Fun Poems

Poetry not only help in learning rhyme for the emergent reader, but also help develop phonemic awareness skills.  

While older children would be able to read these independently, younger students will need these to be read aloud to them. 

My favorite children’s poet is Shel Silverstein.  He has several poetry books available, but a few of my favorites are…

My personal favorite collection of short poems is from Where the Sidewalk Ends.  I can remember going to the library in elementary school and checking out this particular book.

Honestly, it was my first encounter with poetry that interested me. And yes…I do have certain poems from this book that are favorites including…

  • Boa Constrictor
  • For Sale
  • Sick
  • The Crocodile’s Toothache
  • Warning
  • Peanut Butter Sandwich
  • Melinda Mae
  • My Beard

But if you are looking to add more than just one author to your poetry collection, consider adding the works of Jack Prelutsky and some of these amazing poets.

  • Homework Stew, by Kenn Nesbitt
  • The Goops: Table Manners by Gelett Burgess
  • Said The Toad by J. Patrick Lewis
  • The Caterpillar by Christina G. Rosetti

5. Leverage Picture Cards for Rhyming Games

Picture cards are an awesome way to start getting some insight into who is ready for the next level of rhyming words.  Here are several ways you can leverage picture cards to provide you with valuable data related to your students’ knowledge of rhyming words.

Activity #1

Provide pictures of objects that are easy for any student to identify.  Pick up two cards and ask students to tell you what is on each card (ie cat, hat).  This will allow you to see whether or not the image is clear to the student.

Once the students have named the image correctly, have everyone repeat the name of the image.  Then ask the students if those two words rhyme.  

If they do rhyme, the students can give a thumbs up.  If the images do not rhyme, they can show a thumbs down.

Using the nonverbal cues of thumbs up and thumb down allows you to get a quick idea as to which students understand and which ones do not.  

If you want to make it even easier for you to determine who is struggling and who is understanding, have students close their eyes before providing the nonverbal cues.

Activity #2

The best way to complete this activity would be in a small group format!  Put one rhyming picture (ex. cat) into a pocket chart or at least where all of the small group participants can see it.

Then place 2 additional cards on the table in front of them.  Have students name the image on each picture card and then have them choose which one rhymes with the one in the pocket chart!  

When they find the correct card, add it to the pocket chart to create and introduce the concept of word families.

6. Play Memory

This fun activity is simply the traditional “Memory” style game where matching picture cards are placed face down on the table.  Students take turns flipping cards to find matches.  

Of course, you need to make sure students are actually saying the words to encourage auditory recognition of rhymes.

As a more advanced variation, have students play the same game, but instead of matching identical pictures, they have to find the matching rhymes!

7. Mega Matching Game

Matching activities are always excellent to implement (regardless of the content area) because they combine so many different skills.  

So why not incorporate it into your lesson plans for teaching rhyming words to kindergarten students?

I already mentioned Memory in the activity before, but there are many matching games you could introduce including this one I like to call Mega Matching.

In this game, you will hand out 5 cards to each student.  You say a word and students will look at their cards to find a rhyming match.  

If they find an image that rhymes with the word you called out, they hold it up.  If it rhymes, they lay it face up on the table in front of them, but if it doesn’t rhyme, they have to put it back in their hand.

The first person to lay down all of their cards wins!

8. Rhyme Wall

Create a dedicated section on your classroom word wall for rhyming words.  Add new rhyming words regularly, and encourage students to contribute their own.

This visual display serves as a constant reminder and resource for practicing and exploring rhymes.

As an added activity, occasionally give students a word from the word wall and see if they can create a rhyming word!

9. Scavenger Hunt

Go on a rhyming word scavenger hunt around the classroom or school. Give students a list of rhyming pairs, and challenge them to find objects or signs that match each rhyme. 

Helping Struggling Students

As with any curriculum, students will learn at different times and some may not catch on to the skill as quickly as others.  

That’s why it’s important to offer different activities designed to meet the needs of each student and deepen his learning experience.

It’s also very important to start simple. If students are guessing in the beginning, chances are the lesson needs to be dialed back a little.

You also don’t want to add new rhyming words until they have learned the most basic ones including individual sounds and simple blends.

If you are unsure where your student is struggling, review the 3 stages I mentioned in the beginning of this post and see if you can determine which stage your student has mastered.

This is a good way to figure out where to start intervening and providing more assistance in an interactive way.

Beyond the joy and laughter rhymes bring to our classrooms, rhymes play a vital role in developing phonological awareness and laying a strong foundation for literacy skills.  

By hearing, recognizing, and producing rhymes, children gain a deeper understanding of the connection between sounds and letters.  

And even though teaching rhyming words to kindergarten may seem silly, phonological awareness skills are a key component of teaching young children how to read.  

Therefore, incorporating rhyming activities into lesson plans and encouraging practice at home will empower young learners to embark on an exciting adventure of language exploration and pave the way for reading, spelling, and vocabulary expansion.