In our Ear for Reading webinar this week we have been talking about embedding auditory approaches into everyday teaching of reading. One of the things we highlighted was the importance of rhythm for the development of reading fluency and in particular the vital connection with music. Ozernove- Palchik and Patel (2018) write:

There is mounting evidence for links between musical rhythm processing and reading-related cognitive skills, such as phonological awareness. This may be because music and speech are rhythmic: both involve processing complex sound sequences with systematic patterns of timing, accent, and grouping. (p1)

In their research paper, ‘Musical Rythm and Reading Development: does beat processing matter?’, Ozernove- Palchik and Patel point to the benefits of being able to identify and respond to beats. This is not an intuitive finding as the English language is not beat-based. While there is still further research needed to unpick exactly what the connections are between rhythms, beats and reading, there strong indications pointing to the benefits of developing sensitivity to rhythm. Music is an important subject in its own right, we are learning more all the time about its value to learning across the board.

Ideas for Teaching Rhythm

There are some useful online resources for teaching rhythm and you might start by taking a look at the BBC’s programme for Key Stage One Bring the noise. or for KS2 BBC Bitesize’s resource for distinguishing between pulse (beat) and rhythm. Rhythmically Speaking has some ideas for tuning children into rhythm, using a popular drama clapping and naming game as you can see in the video below.

Movement lessons are essential and are a good opportunity for you to assess whether children find it hard to identify and move in time to a beat or rhythm. Look for ways to build this into your teaching sequences. For instance, in our Take One Book sequence for Hans Christian Andersen’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier, we have built-in opportunities for marching to a beat. For a light, quick march, try the ‘March’ from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. You could contrast with the slow sombre pace and mood of Purcells’s ‘March for the Funeral of Queen Mary.’ Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk has a strong beat.

A simple way to introduce the distinction between pulse (beat) and rhythm is to use well-known nursery rhymes. Try this one:

Hick-ory, dick-ory, dock.

The mouse ran up the clock.

The clock struck one,

The mouse ran down.

Hick-ory, dick-ory, dock

To find the beat, clap a steady tick-tock, tock-tock as you read the poem. Now to find the rhythm clap the syllables.

For older children progress from rhymes and songs with clear beats to syncopated rhythms, like Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer.

Copy Cat rhythms can be developed in conjunction with rhythmic books. For example, if you are reading Steve Webb’s Tanka Tanka Skunk, read a page and then have the children either echo read the page emphasising the same rhythm or perhaps clap the rhythm back to you. Try it yourself with this page to get the idea.

For a collaborative reading of Kes Grey’s The Diddle That Dummed, divide the class into five groups and assign each group a line of diddles to read and clap as they share the reading with you. Group five needs to remember to end with a dum.

Great Books with Rhythm

Poetry and stories with a strong rhythm are important too. If a book has a regular rhythm, then it is essential that the text scans. You should be able to read it without haltering. If you baulk because the rhythm doesn’t work, or you have to work hard by forcing stresses then the text doesn’t scan. For younger children read books with a strong regular rhythm like Bill Martin Jnr’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear or Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s Each Peach Pear Plum. You don’t have to overemphasise the rhythm as you read; focus instead on an expressive reading to communicate meaning. The rhythm is the heartbeat that underpins the text and the rhythm will be maintained without you hammering it home. For older readers try books with less regular rhythms. The texts in Julie Fogliano’s A House That Once Was and Joanne Schwarz’s Town is by the Sea provide a lift and lilt that suits the subtly melancholic tones in each book. Here’s a selection of some of our favourites to get you rockin’:

Allan and Janet Ahlberg Each Peach Pear Plum

Stella Blackstone My Granny Went to Market

Bill Martin Jnr Brown Bear Brown Bear

James Carter Once Upon a Rhythm

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler The Snail and the Whale

Julie Fogliano and Lane Smith A House that Once Was

Kes Grey and Fred Blunt The Diddle that Dummed

Anne Vittur Kennedy The Farmer’s Away Baa! Neigh!

Lloyd Moss Zin! Zin! Zin A Violin

Todd Tuell and Tad Carpenter Ninja, Ninja, Never Stop!

Steve Webb Tanka Tanka Skunk

Find your rhythm book collection

We have put together a collection of ten great books that feature strong rhythms. Visit our bookshop to find out more.

Webinar: Ear for Reading

For further ideas and to hear about some of the research underpinning this approach and further ideas for integrating auditory approaches into your teaching, view our webinar. We look forward to seeing you online soon.

Other resources that might be of interest

Herts for Learning Fluency Project

Rhythm for Reading: a reading intervention