Hilary Jenkins Lewis

How To Integrate Nursery Rhymes Into Your Classroom Lessons

Traditional nursery rhymes like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and Humpty Dumpty have been around for hundreds of years. These childhood rhymes have not only lasted the test of time, but they are forefront in the role of literacy in early childhood education.

"Nursery rhyme experiences and knowledge are considered important precursors and determinants of later literacy abilities." (Sadler-Oxford, 2000; Zuralski, 2005)

Being a music teacher and a trained classroom teacher, I'm forever using music as an educational tool. Nursery rhymes, in particular, are a really versatile tool that you can use to incorporate musical elements to everyday classroom lessons.

One of the most common ways I have seen teachers, including myself, use nursery rhymes everyday in their classroom is by taking these well known songs and changing their words to apply to learning concepts or classroom tasks. These type of songs, called piggyback songs, are easy to teach and easy to remember. Pinterest is brimming with piggyback songs of all varieties for every topic under the sun, from life cycles to math shortcuts to seasonal tunes. Here's a simple, yet effective little piggyback song I made to teach adding doubles that is a good example of how you can take a well known nursery rhyme and adapt it to teach a tricky concept for your students.

Adding Doubles by Tweet Music
In my classroom, I've been integrating nursery rhymes into my math and literacy lessons for as long as I can remember in ways such as this. I wanted to highlight how simple it is to take a well known song or tune, and turn it into an opportunity to extend and consolidate your math or literacy program.

As an another example, I've taken one of my very favorite nursery rhymes "1, 2, 3, 4, 5" and created some engaging activities for your students to work on basic math skills, such as counting.


When I teach this rhyme in my classroom I always begin by first demonstrating the actions. I believe the actions are an integral part of the lesson because they not only help to lock the lyrics into the students memory, but they help students to learn or practice counting on their fingers for math activities.

My actions for this rhyme are as follows:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5: Pop each finger up one at a time as each number is sung until all five fingers are up.

Once I caught a fish alive: Push the open palm of your counting hand forwards to the beat, as you would if you were showing someone the sign for stop.

6, 7, 8, 9, 10: Pop each finger of the other hand up now as each number is sung until all 10 fingers are up.

Then I let it go again: Again, push the open palm of your counting hands forwards to the beat.

Why did I let it go?: Turn your palms of both hands upwards so that they are facing the ceiling (as if you were carrying a serving platter) and bob from side to side.

Because it bit my finger so: Wiggle your finger on your right hand.

Which finger did it bite? This little finger on my right: Repeat the last two actions to complete.

Included in the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Freebie are some math worksheets with a fish theme so that students can go from an action song about fish to an activity that uses fish for problem solving.

So I have shown you a few simple ways that I use nursery rhymes in my classroom, and hopefully inspired a few ideas that may suit your classroom. I've always felt that if you can take a concept and add a song it can help make the concept a little more memorable (and fun!).

Happy singing,

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