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Should it rhyme?

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By Kevin McCann — freelance writer and former teacher

“If you’re going to rhyme… do it properly.” is the answer I always give to that frequently asked question, “Are you allowed to rhyme?”


In my experience, most children would rather rhyme than not. The first poems most of us were exposed to were nursery rhymes (Incy Wincy Spider, etc.) and rhyme provides us with recognisable structured patterns and the sense of security they bring. The problem is that large numbers of children are happy to rhyme but, sadly, most of them do it very badly. I’ve read more poems about ghosts eating toast, and dogs called Pog who had eyes like a frog, than I want to recall.

I have met some teachers who have solved the problem by simply banning rhyme. You might as well try to ban birdsong. Rhyme is natural and, when used properly – so that sound and sense coincide – can open up new and interesting creative possibilities. When I’m writing a rhyming poem, the search for the right rhyme can often lead to unexpected images.

Warming up

The best way to understand something is to experience it. Regularly reading rhyming poems aloud as a class is fun. It reinforces the need for both sound and sense. Think of rhyme as music – the more children practise, the more likely it is they’ll sing in tune.

Rhyme schemes

Most children seem to opt for rhyming couplets. Once they’ve got the hang of how they should work (as in the kennings game) it’s possible to introduce them to some more flexible forms. My two favourites are ABAB:

On Monday I was a garden gate, (A)

On Tuesday patchy fog, (B)

On Wednesday I was a Piece-of-eight (A)

And on Thursday a Yuletide Log (B)

and ABCB

There’s a dragon in our garden (A)

That hatched out under the shed, (B)

Her scales are shaped like teardrops©

And glow when she’s been fed. (B)

I frequently encourage children to go for the ABCB form first. They only have to rhyme two lines in every four BUT when the poem is read aloud, the impression that it rhymes perfectly is created. Again, this helps to build confidence.

Studying rhyming poems provides children with models to write rhyming poems of their own. When I first started writing poetry, I would read a rhymer aloud then write my own version of it or keep the rhythm in my head and use it to write a new poem. I’ve compared notes with other poets and found that a large number of them did the same thing.

“Between two rhymes is a road called Meaning. Your reader will travel this road, hoping to find something good at the end. Make sure they do.”

Máighréad Medbh

Think of rhythm as dancing. Most people begin with two left feet but once they’ve caught the music, the dance becomes instinctive. All it takes is regular practice.

A simple beginning is to write a List Poem with the class in which only the last two lines rhyme. Take the title:

From here I can see

and ask the class to imagine a view – at the beach, for example – then to suggest the things they can see. Using the whiteboard, write each suggestion on a new line.

Waves crashing on the beach,

Seagulls swoop and glide,

Waste bins full of chip wrappers,

Crowds along the promenade,

and so on. When I’m doing this, I pick out the lines that end in good rhyming words, and will often move a line from halfway though the poem to the end. This is not cheating, it’s the way I write. In this case, the view is one of the seaside. Line three ends in glide … the sea has a high and low tide … so I’d already be thinking of a possible last line – Above the turning tide – springs to mind.


Interactive poetry writing frames:

Sensational poetry Literacy Time PLUS Ages 7 to 9 Issue 57 (January 2008).

Conversation poems: Part 1 and Part 2 _Literacy Time PLUS Ages 9 to 11 Issues 53 (March 2008) and 54 (May 2008).

It doesn’t have to rhyme… to be a good poem by Kevin McCann _Literacy Time PLUS Ages 7 to 9 Issue 57 (January 2008) – Feature article on using poetry frames.

The Works Paul Cookson (Macmillan, 978 03304 81045) – features kennings, traditional and modern rhymes.

Kevin McCann Author Profile – downloadable from

So we’d end up with:

Waves crashing on the beach,

Waste bins full of chip wrappers,

Crowds along the promenade,

Seagulls swoop and glide

Above the turning tide.


The kenning is a literary device that was popular in Anglo-Saxon times. The object is to think of a noun (eg, river) and then come up with as many two-word descriptive phrases as you can think of to describe that noun. Each phrase consists of a noun and verb linked by a hyphen:





Each verb ends in -er, rhyming the poem all the way through. Once the children see how it works (and they tend to catch on quickly) you can challenge them with more titles and opening lines.

Cat is a


Dog is a


Make a game of it with the class. See how many lines (that stick to the form) each child can come up with.

Point out to them that Anglo-Saxon children played the ‘kennings game’. If your school is in a city, town or village whose name has ton in it, you can tell them that ‘on this very spot…, a thousand or so years ago, Anglo-Saxon children may have played the same game’.

At some point, one of the children will point out that these lines rhyme. Act surprised (it builds their confidence) and then move on to rhyme schemes.

Rhyming words

Put a word on the board, then ask the children to make a list of as many words that are full rhymes as they can think of. Begin with really simple ones like cat and frog and then gradually become more challenging.


Point out to the children that rhyme is popular because it makes it easier to learn something by heart. In the days before universal education it made sense to put important facts – eg, thirty days hath September – into rhyme. A poem doesn’t have to rhyme to be good – it just has to be interesting!



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