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Connecting rimes to meaningful contexts.

Helping young children become successful literacy learners requires deliberate effort from classroom teachers. Demonstrating appropriate literacy behaviors, providing opportunities for practice and application, and nurturing a love of reading and writing all help promote a positive foundation for literacy success. More specifically, children need to develop competence and confidence with the semantic (reading for meaning), syntactic (using word order), and graphophonic (connecting sounds and print) cueing systems. Although the act of reading is primarily a meaning-making process, budding readers benefit from developing ease and facility in recognizing words during reading. Quick recognition of words provides readers with more focused energy for fluency and comprehension, and this direction is important for all children, including those with special learning needs.

Children who struggle with reading usually have specific issues with word recognition and other reading skills and strategies. These individuals are sometimes reluctant to read and, therefore, can profit from instructional strategies that foster both word recognition and reading fluency (Salend, 2008). The professional literature provides a plethora of such strategies, including integrated processing for reading unknown words (Pemberton, 2003), syllable-based learning for breaking challenging words into syllables (Bhattacharya, 2006), varied prompting and cueing for grasping unfamiliar words (Gipe, 2006), and using lyrics and words from songs and poems to teach phonological awareness (Salend, 2008). These and other strategies are particularly helpful when children have opportunities to use them in the context of interesting and meaningful books and are supported in their efforts by caring and effective teachers who know how to differentiate instruction.

The Importance of High-Frequency Rimes

A complementary way of supporting word recognition growth is using high-frequency rimes, which is an interesting approach to word recognition and word study that children can learn (Adams, 1990; Cunningham & Hall, 1994; Fry, 1998; Moustafa, 1993; Stahl, 1992; Stewart, 2004). An awareness of rimes helps children divide words into their onset (letters preceding the vowel) and their rime (the vowel and letters succeeding the onset) (Johns & Lenski, 2005; Treiman, 1985; Wheatley, 2005). Thus, knowing the -an rime and its onset r helps children unlock the word ran. This type of processing is easier than attempting to divide the word ran as ra-n or r-a-n (Cunningham, 2000). Rimes are sometimes referred to as phonograms and word families (Ellery, 2005; Gunning, 2008; McCormick, 2007; Richek, Caldwell, Jennings, & Lerner, 2002), and they are highly predictable. Developing facility in identifying rimes helps children to decode and encode words. Rime patterns also tend to be more regular than many phonics generalizations (Richek et al., 2002), and even certain syllabication rules are complex and not likely to be effective (Shefelbine, Lipscomb, & Hern, 1989).

Rimes, however, are not intended to replace instruction in individual graphemes and phonemes, because "some students may have to process individual sounds before being able to group them into rimes. They may have to learn a = /a/ and t = /t/ before learning the rime -at" (Gunning, 2008, p. 160). Additionally, as some children begin to recognize word parts and sight words and to use this knowledge to identify unfamiliar words, they benefit initially from learning the graphemes and phonemes that make up the word parts and sight words. According to Ehri (1998, p. 13), "Sight word reading must involve remembering letters in the words. These are the distinctive cues that make one word different from all the others." Ehri (1991, 1994) suggests there are phases of word recognition growth, involving logographic (visual cue), partial alphabetic (phonetic cue), full alphabetic (consolidated), and sight word reading (automatic word recognition). Knowing the phases helps teachers to guide children with reading difficulties to move toward mature reading development (Richek et al., 2002).

Of course, what children need during literacy instruction is predicated on what they bring to school. Some children have high levels of oral language development, some are already reading, some played with alphabetic games at home, some attended quality preschools, some came from impoverished homes and neighborhoods, and some have learning difficulties or disabilities. Thus, to mandate a singular approach to teaching reading suggests a one-size-fits-all stance rather than a broader view of word study in classroom settings (e.g., Bond & Dykstra, 1997; Cunningham & Cunningham, 1992; Cunningham & Hall, 1994; Haycock, 1998; Stewart, 2004). In fact, all students do not need the same skills instruction and the same skills intensity. In retrospect, responding to children's early literacy needs requires differentiated instruction with a focus on children as whole people, and learning rimes is simply another source of support for building word recognition skills, which, in turn, may lead to better reading fluency and meaning making.

Possessing a repertoire of letters, letter units, rimes, and words in which they are found can help children use some of these words to identify new words (Ehri, 1998; Ehri & Robbins, 1992; Goswami & Bryant, 1990; Strickland, 1998). In this spelling by analogy, knowing the words bump and jump might help children, including those with special learning needs, recognize dump and clump. The analogy strategy, however,

is limited by the knowledge of onsets and rimes learners have stored in their memory. For example, a learner who does not have the word can stored in his or her memory will be unable to use the analogy strategy to identify pan. Obviously, the greater the number of words with varied rimes learners have in their reading vocabularies, the more useful the analogy strategy. (Strickland, 1998, p. 63)

Although many rimes exist, 40 years ago Wylie and Durrell (1970) identified 37 high-frequency phonograms, or rimes, that are found in about 500 primary-level words. Because young children encounter these words often in their reading and writing and because many of these words are learned more easily through rimes and onsets, common sense would suggest that they should be incorporated into children's early literacy experiences. Moreover, children who struggle with reading would benefit from increased exposure to these rimes and their application to word study and actual reading of different types of text, including narrative, expository, and poetic. Table 1 presents high-frequency rimes and examples of words in which they are found. Additional examples of onsets and rimes are found in Start-to-Finish (2004), Stewart (2004), Wylie and Durrell (1970), and other print and online sources. Although this approach is a positive support for learning to read and write, it should not be used excessively or exclusively. Children's success with literacy obviously depends on other rimes, skills, and strategies, and on their connections to interesting and meaningful contexts.

Instructional Activities That Highlight Rimes in Their Meaningful Context

All students need opportunities to read every day (Allington, 2006; Salend, 2008; Sanacore, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006), and readers are more likely to understand the value of rimes when they see and use them in books and in other meaningful contexts. Teaching rimes "in combination with a book helps youngsters realize that phonics helps us gain meaning from text" (Richek et al., 2002, p. 141).

Language Games. Among the supportive activities that children enjoy are games that focus on language. For example, after sharing Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat (Geisel, 1957), the teacher might engage children in playing a simple consonant-substitution game that begins with a familiar word from the Dr. Seuss book. The teacher uses the chalkboard or whiteboard while demonstrating how the word cat changes when the initial consonant c in cat is replaced with other consonants. Also helpful is using a chant in a sing-song manner, similar to the following one adapted from Strickland (1998):

You take the c away from cat, put in h and you get hat.

You take the h away from hat, put inland you get fat. (p. 63)

In addition to this consonant-substitution game, McCormick (2007) suggests other activities and games for phonogram or rime presentation and practice, including tic-tac-toe. Teachers are encouraged to create many tic-tac-toe boards, with each board featuring a different rime. The rime appears on every square of the oak tag board, and the board is then laminated. Children are organized in pairs, and they play tic-tac-toe with different-colored, erasable markers. Each child attempts to make a word by writing an onset or initial part of a word. When three words of the same color appear in a row, a winner is declared. Tic-tac-toe and other games are effective in supporting growth in rimes when children are appropriately paired, when competition is more cooperative than competitive, and when rimes are connected to a text that children have experienced.

FISH Strategy. Children also can learn and apply the FISH strategy to help them use their knowledge of onsets and rimes to read unknown words. Briefly described, FISH involves the following steps:

Fish the rime (the first vowel and the rest of the word)

Identify the rime or a word you know that ends like that

Say the rime (the word you know without the first sound)

Hook the new onset (beginning sound) to the rime. (Whitaker, Harvey, Hassell, Linder, & Tutterrow, 2006, p. 15)

Recently, a 1st-grade teacher was sharing the story Corduroy (Freeman, 1976) with a small group of children. After introducing the FISH strategy, she helped the children apply it to the word take, which was unfamiliar to them. Because the children were previously taught such words as bake, cake, and make, they were able to fish the -ake rime. Then, the teacher guided the children to identify not only the -ake rime but also the words they remember that end with ake. Next, she asked them to say the rime in these words, chorally and individually. Finally, the teacher said, "Let's hook the letter t to ake." The children were delighted to have discovered a new word, which the teacher placed on the Word Wall.

Whole-to-Part or Part-to-Whole. Another way of helping children study rimes is to develop instructional lessons that focus on meaningful reading and writing, with good connections to pertinent skills and strategies. This approach can be carried out as whole-to-part or part-to-whole instruction. In the whole-to-part scenario, the teacher initially shares a storybook, informational book, or poem with the children. Afterward, the teacher presents a short, focused lesson of a skill or strategy that is connected to the text. For example, after sharing Eric Carle's (1987) The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the teacher might guide children to talk about how the -ay pattern is used in lay, stayed, and every day of the week; how -ill is used in still; and how -ight is used in light and night. Depending on their experience with other letter patterns, the children might enjoy working with a partner as word detectives or rime time detectives (Ellery, 2005) and searching for other examples of rimes, including -op in pop and lollipop, -ate in ate, -ake in cake, -ore in more, -at in fat, and -ide in inside. Some children who have limited experience with letter patterns or who struggle with word recognition and spelling might benefit initially from focusing on words with the same rime (e.g., -ay). After this focused lesson, students can read another book or write a response with words consisting of similar rimes.

This whole-to-part approach is in contrast to a part-to-whole method, in which the teacher provides children with letter patterns to build and activate their prior knowledge before reading. Based on the intent of the lesson, both approaches have merit, because they are connected to authentic literature rather than presented as isolated skill activities. Both approaches also prepare children for an upcoming selection (Gunning, 2008). The whole-to-part method, however, has the added advantage of helping children connect the letter patterns to a reading selection they already have experienced. This approach, therefore, builds on what students know and increases the chances that they will learn more (Moustafa & Maldonado-Colon, 1999).

Modified Cloze. Another way of reinforcing rimes in the context of a text is to immerse students in a modified cloze passage. After sharing a text with children, the teacher selects a rime (e.g., -ake) from the text and lists words on index cards that are formed from the rime (e.g., bake, cake, brake, shake). Then, the teacher records sentences in which the words are used in context and omits the rime word from the sentences. Children are encouraged to read each sentence and decide which word card completes the sentence. During this activity, the teacher engages children in a discussion about how changing the onset changes the word meaning. The teacher might say, "If you take the first letter away and add this beginning sound, what new word would you have now?" (Ellery, 2005, p. 62).

Rhythmic Poems. Poetry is another important venue for stimulating an awareness of how language is used in creative and unique ways and how rhymes and rimes add to this enriching context. According to John Ciardi (cited in Cullinan & Galda, 1998, p. 136), "Poetry and learning are both fun, and children are full of an enormous relish for both. My poetry is just a bubbling up of a natural foolishness, and the idea that maybe you can make language dance a bit." Poetry comes in many forms, including lyric, narrative, ballad, limerick, concrete, and haiku. The rhythm of Robert Lewis Stevenson's (1885/1996) "From a Railway Carriage" is often appreciated by children because it "suggests the dash and rattle of a train as it crosses the country; you can easily imagine yourself peering out the window as the scenery rushes by" (Norton & Norton, 2007, p. 320). After enjoying this rhythmic poem, children have the opportunity to appreciate its rhymes and high-frequency rimes. Among the possibilities for discussion are -ain (plain, rain), -an (than, stands, man), -ight (sights), -ick (thick), -ink (wink), and -ump (lumping). Because individuals with special learning needs might be unable to handle all these possibilities, the special education teacher might highlight a few of the rimes and help individuals practice them in the context of "From a Railway Carriage."

Rhythm Walks. Not surprisingly, rhythmic poems suggest movement and provide motivation for developing reading fluency. One way of supporting both movement and fluency is to guide children through Rhythm Walks. According to Peebles (2007), "The purpose of Rhythm Walks is to draw attention to the natural breaks and phrasing of text through purposeful 'steps' or movements, while the repetition through the Rhythm Walk helps build both fluency and comprehension" (p. 579). Rhythm Walks also provide opportunities to reinforce automatic decoding of words that either rhyme or have rimes. For example, after reading and discussing a rhythmic poem, the children and teacher can organize a Rhythm Walk to encourage movement and chunking of lines into meaningful phrases and to recognize some of the rhyme schemes and words with rimes. To increase the chances of having a successful Rhythm Walk, the text should be short, engaging, and matched with children's appropriate reading levels. Then, the teacher and children chunk the text into meaningful phrases, write the phrases in big letters on strips of card stock, and place the strips on the floor. Next, the teacher demonstrates the Rhythm Walk by reading aloud the text on the first strip, taking a step to the next strip and reading that one, and repeating this process until the text and walk are completed. After demonstrating the process, the teacher encourages children to enjoy this activity 3 to 10 times, or until they demonstrate fluency with the passage. During the last few walks, children can focus on rhyme schemes and words with rimes as they read meaningful phrases fluently and accent certain rhymes and rimes by stressing them orally and by jumping (instead of walking) over the strips of card stock that contain them. The teacher might need to demonstrate this aspect of the Rhythm Walk and then guide children to emulate this behavior. Finally, children return to the original passage and use it to practice their fluency skills. This variation of a Rhythm Walk, as well as others, can be used effectively with different types of text, including poems, storybooks, and informational books (Peebles, 2007).

Positive Reinforcement. After studying high-frequency rimes and other rimes in their meaningful contexts, budding readers and children with special needs benefit from positive reinforcement of the rimes and the words in which they are found. Writing, in general, and journal writing, in particular, are positive ways of supporting newly learned words and related rimes. Personal dictionaries, or word banks, provide additional support, especially for words that students have difficulty spelling (Gipe, 2006). Personal dictionaries give students a sense of ownership, because these dictionaries represent words that students either discovered in their reading or used in their writing. Rotary file cards are useful as a personal dictionary because they are easily alphabetized and accessible to students. On each card, children could include a rime, words in which it is found, and a related sentence and drawing (or illustration) to depict meaningful activity. As these selected rimes and words become part of a personal dictionary, children can visit them often and, thus, demonstrate ownership of them. Whenever the opportunity presents itself, classroom teachers and special educators should place words, their rimes, and other related letter patterns on Word Walls so that all children can refer to them during reading and writing activities.

Onset-Rime in Practice

The act of reading is a meaning-making process, and understanding the graphophonic cueing system (including its rime component) is simply a vehicle for promoting better fluency and comprehension. Effective classroom teachers and special educators usually read children's books and use these resources to promote an awareness of high-utility strategies and skills, such as rimes. Easily accessible print resources and websites also provide instructional activities and children's literature that support the use of rimes. Some of these websites are First Grade Spelling: Rimes and Rhymes (n.d.), ReadWriteThink (2009), and Start-to-Finish (2004). Although virtually all children's literature (with text) has rimes, teachers should share books and other materials with children that reflect authentic writing. That is, they are not written with contrived language. Authentic materials that are written with engaging language demonstrate respect for content, process, and the reader. As important, the materials are written with the intent of generating interest and meaning, and effective teachers can increase their instructional worth by guiding readers to appreciate words with rimes and other pertinent skills within the context of the materials. What follows is an example in which elementary school teachers use rimes in meaningful contexts.

Rime Usage in an Elementary School

Elementary school educators at a Long Island (New York) school district have been securing funds for continuous curriculum development. Every summer, grade-level teachers, special educators, reading teachers, and school library media specialists explore authentic literature and ways of connecting important skills and strategies with children's books. These materials are replacing basal readers and most textbooks, with a rationale that supports "real" books as the core materials for the language arts and literacy program. The teachers and administrators believe strongly that children's books--fiction, nonfiction, poetry--are excellent resources for promoting skill development and for encouraging the lifetime reading habit. In support of this perspective, a teacher commented, "I have never seen a child or adult cuddling up to a basal reader or textbook." An important part of the school district's efforts is to select books related to grade-level thematic learning and to determine their efficacy for curricular content and skill and strategy development. These carefully selected books accommodate children's independent and instructional reading levels, which vary widely in inclusive classrooms. The books are used as an interesting and meaningful context for supporting literacy-rich classrooms, involving such worthwhile activities as read-alouds, shared reading, oral reading, silent reading, and discussions about content, vocabulary, writing, spelling, and rimes. Of the several hundred materials selected for curriculum development each summer, Table 2 shows one of the narrative books, Table 3 shows one of the informational books, and Table 4 shows one of the poems, along with their high-frequency rimes and the different words in which the rimes are presented.

Specifically, the elementary school teachers engage their students in shared reading experiences or interactive read-alouds every day, because these vitally important activities can have a major impact on students' growth and development with the semantic, syntactic, and graphophonic cueing systems. Daily read-alouds also provide young readers and students who have special needs with exposure to narrative, expository, and poetic texts and, therefore, create a foundation for reading these texts with greater fluency and meaning-making.

As with any instructional activity or strategy, the teachers are aware that read-alouds can be carried out in either a mediocre or an effective way. To increase the effectiveness of read-alouds, the teachers adapted important aspects of dialogic reading, text talk, and print referencing (Lane & Wright, 2007). Print referencing, in particular, was adapted easily to rime usage because it focuses children's attention on elements of text, including functions, forms, and features. By referring to these and other aspects of text before, during, and after read-alouds, the teachers helped their children, including those with special literacy needs, to increase their interest in print, their awareness of metalinguistics, and their development of alphabetic knowledge, print concepts, and concept of word (Justice & Ezell, 2002, 2004; Lane & Wright, 2007).

To illustrate, when reading aloud The Napping House (Wood & Wood, 1984), a classroom teacher referred to the word napping, which is not only introduced in the title but also repeated nine times within a lively incremental refrain. Because most of the children already experienced the -ap rime in such words as cap, tap, and clap, they had sufficient memory for applying this knowledge to nap and napping. Three "included" children, however, were unaware of words containing the -ap rime, so the push-in special education teacher placed them in a short-term skill group that focused on developing and activating their knowledge of the -ap rime and words in which it is found. Then, these individuals benefited from applying their newly gained knowledge of the -ap rime to words in The Napping House. Although print referencing should be used routinely, the teachers were careful not to overdo this process, because read-alouds are intended to demonstrate love of reading, fluency in reading, and exposure to a variety of texts and related grammar and vocabulary.

In retrospect, this elementary school has demonstrated strong support for placing skills instruction in meaningful contexts. The classroom teacher was able to identify and respond to children's learning strengths and needs, and the special educator was able to provide congruent support to students with special needs.


Connecting rimes to authentic literature makes sense. When budding readers use rimes and other skills and strategies automatically, they bring more focused energy to reading comprehension. Especially helpful to classroom teachers, reading teachers, special educators, and library media specialists are curriculum development projects, in which the key players work collaboratively to select instructional themes that benefit children's literacy growth. These themes serve as a structure for selecting narrative, expository, poetic, and other materials that not only support curricular content, but also have the potential for incorporating rimes and other important skills and strategies. This vitally important connection between authentic literature and skill development provides a good foundation for helping all children read with better fluency and comprehension.


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Literature Cited

Carle, E. (1987). The very hungry caterpillar. New York: Scholastic.

Freeman, D. (1976). Corduroy. New York: Puffin.

Geisel, T. (1957). The cat in the hat. New York: Random House.

Schmidt, K. (1985). The gingerbread man. New York: Scholastic.

Stevenson, R. L. (1996). From a railway carriage. A child's garden of verses. New York: Simon and Schuster. (Original work published 1885)

Taylor, B. (2000). Rudy: A bobcat. Logan, IA: Perfection Learning.

Wood, A., & Wood, D. (1984). The napping house. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace.

Zolotow, C. (1978). Change (poem). River winding. New York: Crowell/HarperCollins.

Joseph Sanacore is Professor of Education, Long Island University/ C.W. Post Campus, Brookville, New York.
Table 1
High-Frequency Rimes and Examples of Words in Which They Are Found

Rimes   Examples

-ack    pack, rack, black, crack
-ail    fail, mail, frail, trail
-ain    pain, rain, chain, train
-ake    bake, cake, brake, shake
-ale    pale, sale, stale, whale
-ame    name, game, blame, flame
-an     fan, ran, plan, than
-ank    bank, tank, blank, thank
-ap     cap, nap, clap, strap
-ash    cash, dash, crash, splash
-at     bat, sat, flat, splat
-ate    late, Nate, crate, plate
-aw     jaw, paw, claw, draw
-ay     day, Jay, clay, pray
-eat    beat, neat, cheat, wheat
-ell    sell, tell, smell, swell
-est    nest, rest, chest, crest
-ice    ice, mice, slice, twice
-ick    kick, sick, brick, quick
-ide    hide, ride, glide, slide
-ight   night, sight, bright, fright
-ill    fill, hill, chill, spill
-in     fin, win, chin, spin
-ine    line, nine, shine, twine
-ing    king, sing, cling, string
-ink    sink, wink, blink, drink
-ip     dip, rip, drip, flip
-it     fit, hit, quit, spit
-ock    lock, rock, block, clock
-oke    joke, woke, broke, choke
-op     hop, top, drop, stop
-ore    tore, wore, snore, store
-ot     dot, hot, shot, spot
-uck    duck, yuck, stuck, truck
-ug     bug, tug, plug, snug
-ump    lump, pump, stump, thump
-unk    junk, sunk, plunk, stunk

Table 2
A Narrative Book With High-Frequency
Rimes and Different Words in Which
the Rimes Are Found

The Ginge   Rimes and Related
by Karen    Words

-ake        (bake, rakes)
-ame        (came)
-an         (an, began, can, man,
             pan, ran)
-ap         (snap)
-at         (sat)
-ay         (away, day)
-ell        (smell)
-in         (in, gingerbread)
-ip         (snip)
-it         (kitchen, sit)
-op         (dropped, hopped,

Table 3
An Informational Book With High
Frequency Rimes and Different Words
in Which the Rimes Are Found

Chapter 1 of Rudy:        Rimes and Related
A Bobcat by Bonnie        Words
Highsmith Taylor (2000)

-ake                      (make)
-ale                      (female)
-an                       (than)
-at                       (at, bobcat, that)
-ay                       (away, days, gray,
                           May, stay, ways)
-ine                      (nine)
-ing                      (spring, thing)
-ug                       (snug)

Table 4
A Poem With High-Frequency Rimes
and Different Words in Which the
Rimes Are Found

Change by Charlotte   Rimes and Related
Zolotow (1978)        Words

-ight                 (night, sunlight)
-ill                  (still)
-ing                  (spring, sting)
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Author:Sanacore, Joseph
Publication:Childhood Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2010
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