Monday, February 14, 2011


by Mary Quattlebaum

My fellow bloggers are a wellspring of great ideas!  Pam recently wrote about writing humor, Laura about crafting fairy tales with kids, and Joan about using props to create characters.  My writing exercise uses pieces of all these ideas.

I’ve done Nutty Nursery Rhymes with kindergarteners, third through fifth graders, college poets, and MFA writing students.  This exercise is a helpful way to loosen students up, encourage wordplay, and prompt thinking about and revising for plot and setting. It can be done as a group or individual exercise.

Added Bonus:  Creating a Language-Rich Environment:  One of the best ways to create a rich pre-literacy environment is to read poetry aloud to children, say literacy experts.  The rhythms, rhymes, repetition, onomatopoeia, and language patterns of nursery rhymes help children to become familiar with language and interact with texts/books in a playful way.

Exercise for All Ages:  Read aloud some well-known nursery rhymes:  “Little Boy Blue,” “Jack and Jill,” “Hickory Dickory Dock,” and “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.”  Have class delight in and talk about the poems’ rhymes, refrains, onomatopoeia, and plot/what’s happening.

For Pre-K, Kindergarteners, and First Graders:  Talk about the unfinished nature of “Hickory, Dickory Dock.”  The clock only struck one!  Have kids as a group brainstorm what the mouse might do when the clock strikes two, three, four and so on, up to ten.  Write down the kids’ ideas/rhyming words, have kids draw pictures of their favorite rhyme/number, and post these on bulletin board.  This class nursery rhyme will be lots of fun to recite over and over again—and to share with visiting parents.

With “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep,” brainstorm sounds, colors, and functions of other animals.  For example, Moo, Moo Brown Cow/Have you any milk?  Or Cluck, Cluck, Red Hen/Have you any eggs?

For Older Kids, College Students, and Poets:  Work with “Hickory, Dickory, Dock” and “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” (as above) to help sharpen their poetry writing, wordplay, and rhythmical skills.  Have them create a contemporary version of Little Boy Blue.  (Might he be at a zoo?  A city park?  A swamp?  What animals would he find?)  Or a goofy version of Jack and Jill.  (What different things might they fetch?)

Added Bonus for Older Kids, College Students, Poets:  They’re often interested in the derivation and age of many nursery rhymes.  The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, edited by Iona and Peter Opie is a wonderful resource.

Books to Share:  My favorite nursery rhyme compediums are A Child’s Treasury of Nursery Rhymes, selected and illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton, and Tail Feathers from Mother Goose, selected by Peter and Iona Opie, with pictures by such distinguished children’s illustrators as Maurice Sendak, Shirley Hughes, and Quentin Blake.  Delightful picture-book take-offs on nursery rhymes include Spinster Goose: Twisted Rhymes for Naughty Children by Lisa Wheeler, and The Neighborhood Mother Goose by Nina Crews.

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