Rhythm, Rhyme & Repetition – Part 2 of 2

phonological awareness development

As promised in my previous post, it’s time to delve further into the topic of rhyming. We learned last time that the onset is the first sound in a one syllable word and all that follows it is a rime. Nope, that’s not a typo.

Rimes are sometimes referred to as word families and are important patterns for kids to recognize when learning to read. A critical step prior to learning these patterns by sight, however, is to play with the sounds of language by manipulating these “word chunks” to verbally create rhyming words.

There are multiple skill levels for rhyme: rhyme recognition, rhyme judgment, rhyme oddity, rhyme completion and rhyme production. The ability to recognize rhymes, an auditory skill, has been successfully taught by initially involving a series of visual cues structured with the motivating medium of music.

The following video clip shows a 4 1/2 year old boy with autism spectrum disorder. Nine months prior to this video, Spencer started receiving individual music therapy twice a week. At that point, he was just starting to use language. In the initial assessment and early weeks of therapy, Spencer inconsistently spoke very quietly in one to two word phrases but only when cued.

Around the age of four, he demonstrated the ability to read. In the video clip, you will see him learning to recognize rhyming words. Initially, we rehearsed a series of rhyming words with the rime printed in red. rhyming visual


At the point of this video, the words are being shown to Spencer in black print and he is being asked to provide the rime. rhyming visual black




The music provides a focus and improves Spencer’s ability to attend to the task. The inherent rhythm of the melody and the guitar accompaniment provide a template for a response and the anticipatory nature of rhythm creates predictability.

Research has clearly established that entrainment can be utilized to improve gait and other gross motor skills. Evidence suggests that brain waves and oral motor skills can also be coordinated with an external rhythm due to the synchronized firing of neurons (LaGasse, 2013).

Another benefit to structuring learning through music is that more repetitions are possible without losing the child’s attention.

Imagine giving verbal directives for a child to touch 22 body parts in the span of approximately 30 seconds. It becomes a bit monotonous for the child and the teacher. Try this with a simple song like “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and you have an enjoyable context for repetition.

The more that a skill is repeated, the more dense the myelination of axons and the quicker the recall of information.

It is important for you to know that following the step shown in the video clip, we rehearsed all sixty rime sets without any visual cue.

With scaffolding and fading prompts, Spencer was able to tune in to the auditory sounds and not rely on the visual cue of the printed word. Soon after, his ability to spontaneously generate rhyming words started to develop.

If our little students learn to rhyme and manipulate the sounds of language in early childhood, they will experience more success in their ability to read and communicate throughout life. Teaching these skills through music and rhythm make them truly accessible for all learners.


 A slightly revised version of this article was recently published as a podcast in imagine, an online magazine with a mission to share “evidence-based information and trends related to early childhood music therapy.”  If you prefer to hear an audio version of this article, you can listen to it here.


learn rhyme recognition with musicClick here for a FREE Rhyming Song — “Spider On My Delbow” is a super fun and slightly spooky song that can be easily adapted for any time of the year.





References and Recommended Resources:

Gillon, G. T. (2004). Phonological Awareness: From Research to Practice. New York,
NY: The Guilford Press.

LaGasse, A. B. (2013). Influence of an external rhythm on oral motor control in children
and adults. Journal of Music Therapy, 50(1), 6-24.

Newman, T. M., Macomber, D., Naples, A., Babitz, T., Volkmar, F., & Grigorenko, E. L.
(2007). Hyperlexia in children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37, 760-774.

Phillips, B. M., Clancy-Menchetti, J. C., & Lonigan, C. J. (2008). Successful
phonological awareness instruction with preschool children. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 28(1), 3-17.

Schumacher, K. (2013). Alphabet Stew and Chocolate Too: Songs for Developing Phonological Awareness, Literacy, and Communication Skills. Available from www.TunefulTeaching.com

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