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Hey Diddle Diddle

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By Helen Bromley — Yellow Door

In the second of three articles, we explore the rich possibilities for playing with words in Hey Diddle Diddle

A repertoire of nursery rhymes is ideal for developing the awareness of rhythm, rhyme and alliteration, which underpins learning to read and write. This month we look at Hey Diddle Diddle and how its use of supposedly nonsensical language allows children to explore the structure in their own language and writing.

Illustration of Hey diddle diddle

Introducing the rhyme

Enjoy singing Hey Diddle Diddle together (the words are available as an online activity sheet). When the children are familiar with the rhyme, let them say it again – but with a variety of vocal expressions. For instance, they could say it as if they were really shocked by what had happened or as if it was a secret that no one else must know. Encourage the children to come up with their own ideas. How does the meaning of the rhyme change when it is said in a different voice?

Playing with words

Download the Hey Diddle Diddle Word play activity and display it on your interactive whiteboard. This cloze text activity is designed to encourage children to focus closely on print, and is also a valuable way to teach decoding skills. Play by dragging the boxes into the gaps in the nursery rhyme’s text. You can choose to use words or pictures, or a combination of the two. Talk to the children to help them find the correct word for each gap. For example, We need the word ‘cat’. Now, can anyone think of the letter that ‘cat’ begins with? This kind of approach is inclusive and will encourage the whole class to contribute.

If children are unsure of a word shown in a box, try saying, I wonder which word that is. Does anyone know? Allow the children to guess. Don’t worry if their guesses are wrong; it is just important that they feel they can have a go. When someone guesses correctly, ask how they knew the word. This will give you an insight into the strategies that they are using when they are engaging with the printed word.

Nonsense nursery rhymes

As well as dragging the correct answers into the boxes, the Word play activity also allows for incorrect answers. This means ordinary objects that are well known to the children can be used in a comical, nonsensical way. Why not invite the children to put the pictures in the wrong places and read through the new nonsense verse that they will have created?

This is also a great starting point for children to create their own nonsense nursery rhymes. Groups of more experienced readers can play and experiment with the words independently, while inexperienced readers will benefit from working with an adult.

These ideas and activities are tasters from one of the eight nursery rhymes featured in the Come Alive Nursery Rhymes: Games and activities pack and Interactive CD-ROM by Helen Bromley. They are reproduced here by kind permission of Yellow Door. For further information visit or call 0845 603 5309.

The fiddle family

Download the interactive Fiddle family activity. Play the four tunes in order (violin, viola, cello and double bass), and see if the children recognise the nursery rhyme. Talk about the instruments and their different sounds; why do the instruments sound different? Listen to a selection of other ‘fiddle’ music with the children or arrange for a visit from a local string player.