Introduction | Words & Syllables | Onset-rime and Phoneme

Instructional Activities to Develop Phonological Awareness:
Rhyme and Alliteration

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photoPhonological awareness is a broad term referring to the ability to attend to the sound structure of language. It encompasses general aspects of sound, such as rhyming and alliteration, as well as identifying and manipulating parts of spoken language: words, syllables, onsets and rimes, and phonemes.

While achieving phonemic awareness is the ultimate goal, the starting point for phonological awareness instruction will begin with the needs of the child. Emergent readers will be working on rhyme, alliteration, and word and syllable awareness. Beginning readers may be working on onset-rime and/or phonemic awareness. Instructional readers have achieved phonemic awareness and therefore do not require instruction in this area. Certain tasks on the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS) outlined in the previous section of this guide can assist you in determining how to group your students and where to begin instruction.

Stage of Literacy Development

Characteristics of This Stage

Phonological Focus Areas


  • Has incomplete alphabet knowledge
  • Lacks voice to print match (concept of word)
  • Spellings bear no sound-symbol correspondence (late in this stage, may represent salient or beginning sounds)
  • Instructed in Readiness-PP1 text, nursery rhymes
  • Rhyme
  • Beginning

  • Word
  • Syllable

The instructional activities in this section will help to develop the broader areas of phonological awareness - specifically, rhyme and alliteration. They are designed for emergent readers who need more practice developing sensitivity to sound. Emergent readers also need practice breaking language into chunks, beginning with words and syllables. pyramidThese activities are described in the next section of the guide. Once students are able to complete these types of tasks, they are ready to work with intra-syllabic units - onsets, rimes, and eventually, individual phonemes. Activities to develop these narrower areas of phonological awareness will be the focus of the last section of this guide.

Rhyme and alliteration both involve words that share a common feature or sound. Hearing rhyme requires attention to the ending sound in words, while alliteration requires attention to the beginning. Activities that develop rhyming and alliteration help children develop an ear for sounds. They enable them to begin thinking about the sound properties of words as separate from the word’s meaning. For example, a pig is not only a farm animal, it is also a word that rhymes with wig and dig. With both rhyme and alliteration activities, children learn to first recognize, and then produce, words that end or begin the same way.

Rhyme Activities

A fun, easy way to provide your students with opportunities to hear and identify rhymes is by regularly reciting nursery rhymes and other simple poems. Introducing a new rhyme at the beginning of each week, and providing practice with it throughout the week, will help develop children’s understanding of rhyme. When you are teaching the children a new nursery rhyme, it is helpful to stick to the rhythm and exaggerate the rhyme. After hearing the rhyme once in its entirety, the children should echo each line of the rhyme after you say it. Throughout the week, there are many variations to a traditional choral reading of the poem that you can use. You could recite the poem in a call-response mode, with half of the class or group reciting every other line. One day, you might omit the final rhyming word and have the students supply it. Another day, you could recite the poem in whispers but say the rhyming words aloud, or conversely, recite the poem in loud voices but whisper the rhyming words. Using motions, pictures, or acting out the rhyme can help the children learn it. Once the students are familiar with the rhyme, they can also practice tracking it on charts, on sentence strips in a pocket chart, in books, or on paper copies. This will help develop their concept of word as well as their understanding of rhyme. A great on-line source of nursery rhymes is the Webbing into Literacy site developed by Dr. Laura Smolkin. Please click here to visit this website.

photo Aside from rhyming poetry, there are many wonderful rhyming books to read and songs to sing. Books such as Is Your Mama a Llama and Where's My Teddy?, and songs like "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and "Down by the Bay" are fun for everyone to sing and hear, but they are particularly beneficial for students who need additional experiences hearing rhyming words.

photo Rhyming picture cards are very useful for providing children with practice identifying rhymes. They can be used for a host of games, such as Concentration, Bingo, Go Fish, and I Spy. They can also be used for categorization tasks such as odd man out and rhyming sorts. Once these activities have been introduced during small group work, they can easily be incorporated into independent work and literacy centers. Rhyming picture cards are versatile and, once made, require minimal preparation. You can use commercially available sets of picture cards, cards you make yourself using clip-art, or blackline masters of rhyming picture pairs found in books such as Phonemic Awareness: Playing with Sounds to Strengthen Beginning Reading Skills and A Sound Start. To find out more about these and other resource books for teaching phonological awareness, please click here.

In addition to traditional rhyming songs and jingles, children enjoy inventing new rhymes and singing them to familiar tunes. Doing so gives them a chance to generate their own rhymes - a skill that is more difficult than identifying rhyming pairs. One song, described in Phonemic Awareness in Young Children, is sung to the tune of: "If You're Happy and You Know It:"

  Did you ever see a (bear) in a (chair)?
  Did you ever see a (bear) in a (chair)?
  No, I never, no, I never, no, I never, no, I never,
  No, I never saw a (bear) in a (chair).

If students are having difficulty supplying a rhyme for the first word in the pair, you can use rhyming pictures to help them. For example, with the first song, you might have pictures of a chair, ball, and book available, and the student would choose the picture that rhymes with "bear."

Rhyming couplets also give children practice generating rhyming words. The couplets may be in the form of rhyming sentences or riddles, and are found in resource books such as Phonemic Awareness: Playing with Sounds to Strengthen Beginning Reading Skills. This book describes a fun variation of a rhyming couplet that requires children to use their knowledge of rhyme to draw (or erase) a picture in response to a series of couplets read aloud. After each couplet is read, children think of the rhyming word that makes sense in the context and draw a picture of it on their paper. Each of these words (e.g., nose, eyes) is part of a larger picture that becomes evident at the end. To see an example draw-a-rhyme activity, please click here. If students are having difficulty thinking of the rhyme, you can support them by giving them the first sound in the word. For example, let's say that students could not think of the rhyming word in the following example, taken from a draw-a-rhyme activity:

  "When you draw a monster, it is said,
  you always begin with his ________."

In this case, you could reread the sentence for the children and say /h/ to prompt them to say "head."

Additional rhyming activities can be found in the instructional resources section of the PALS website.

Alliteration Activities

photo As with rhyming, one of the best ways to develop the concept of alliteration is by reading aloud stories. Alphabet books like The Book of Shadowboxes by Laura Seeley feature numerous examples of words that begin with each letter of the alphabet. In the picture above, Alicia is pointing to a house - one of the many objects beginning with the /h/ sound. photoAfter reading an alphabet book such as A, My Name is Alice or ABC Yummy, students can compose their own alliterative lines using their names. When doing activities like this, try to avoid using initial blends--they are more difficult than a single consonant. Also be sure to focus on only one sound of a letter (e.g., the hard /c/ and /g/, and short vowel sounds).

Tongue twisters are another way to expose children to repeated examples of the same sound. Besides old favorites like "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers," there are many other sources of alliterative rhymes that reinforce specific initial sounds. In addition, little books like the Alphakids series by Sundance and Alphabet Starters by Rigby--produced to teach letter-recognition and letter-sound association--have alliterative rhymes in the back for teachers to read to the students. To see an example from the Alphakids series, please click here. One word of caution in using alliterative stories and rhymes: while it is tempting to have students track them to also develop their concept of word, since alliterations are often difficult to say, they can also be difficult for students to memorize. The harder the rhyme or jingle is to learn, the harder it will be to track. Alliterations that have many examples of a sound are best reserved for you to read aloud to children - simply to expose them to many repetitions of the same sound.

photo Like rhyming picture cards, picture cards with the same beginning sounds are useful for a variety of activities. They can be used for games such as Concentration, Bingo, Go Fish, and I Spy, or categorization tasks such as odd man out and beginning sound sorts. Again, once these activities have been introduced during small group work, they can easily be incorporated into independent work and literacy centers. You can find beginning sound pictures in the resources listed in the rhyming section as well as in Words Their Way.

Additional alliteration activities are described in the beginning sounds section of the PALS website

Pictorial Case Study: Phonemic Awareness

Please feel free to download and use any of the activities and information that we have provided. You may contact the Reading First office at the University of Virginia if you have any questions.

Introduction | Words & Syllables | Onset-rime and Phoneme

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