Using Poetry, Rhyming, and Music in Orton-Gillingham Instruction

Poetry, rhymes, and music can provide an enriched and holistic learning experience for students.

Developing children’s literacy skills, particularly in phonological awareness, can be achieved through poetry, rhyming, and music when learning to read.  “Phonological awareness is the ability to attend to and manipulate units of sound in speech (syllables, onsets and rimes, and phonemes) independent of meaning” (H. Yopp & R. Yopp, 2009, p. 13).

Why does phonological awareness hold such importance? Extensive research provides overwhelming evidence of its crucial role in fostering word recognition skills and forming the foundation for success in reading and spelling. “Noticing and being able to manipulate the sounds of spoken language—phonological awareness—is highly related to later success in reading and spelling” (H. Yopp & R. Yopp, 2009, p. 15). According to Kilpatrick (2016), “Poor phonological awareness is the most common cause of poor reading” (p. 13).

Using Poetry and Songs in Orton-Gillingham Instruction

For students who are beginning to or still developing independent reading skills, active engagement in listening to and participating in reciting poems and singing songs is beneficial. Recognizing that oral language is the fundamental basis for literacy is important. Literacy, starting with listening and speaking, and “oral language development facilitates print literacy” (Fisher & Frey, 2014, para. 1). Elster (2010) asserts, “Poetry contains highly patterned, predictable language that has the unique potential to promote memorable and pleasurable experiences in preschool, kindergarten, and primary classrooms” (p. 48).

Poems and songs can be used in Orton-Gillingham instruction to target specific phonological awareness skills. A poem featuring alliteration can be utilized while learning how to recognize the initial phoneme (i.e., sound) in a word. Poems or songs that incorporate rhyming words enable students to focus on specific sound patterns and identify rhymes.

Engaging in these types of phonological awareness activities, which draw students’ attention to sounds within words, aids in establishing the foundational knowledge necessary for later mapping letters to sounds in spelling and reading.

Poems and songs can also be integrated with other literacy skills, especially as students begin to interact with printed text. Teachers can use enlarged copies of poems to demonstrate tracking and one-to-one correspondence during Orton-Gillingham-based reading instuction. Students’ understanding of the concept of words, a phonological awareness skill, facilitates the connection between spoken and printed words, illustrating yet another example of the foundational role of phonological awareness in reading.

As students learn about letters, teachers or students can emphasize specific letters or words in the poem (e.g., acknowledge words with ‘t’ when focusing on the letter ‘t’). Echo reading, choral reading, and repeated reading can be employed as both the teacher and students collectively engage in “reading” the poem. Some poems also lend themselves well to vocabulary and comprehension instruction.

Other Ways to Practice Rhyming Using the Orton-Gillingham Approach

Poems and music serve as exceptional methods for honing the phonological awareness skill of rhyming. However, there are additional activities available to foster rhyming proficiency. Listed below are some simple and convenient ways to incorporate rhyming games with students, embracing the principles of the Orton-Gillingham Approach:

Rhyming Song Hunt

Select a familiar tune or melody, such as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” or “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” Create new lyrics for the song that focus on specific rhyming patterns or word families. For example, if you’re working on the “-at” word family, you might sing, “Cat, bat, sat, that, where’s the word that rhymes with ‘mat’?” Sing the modified song together, emphasizing the rhyming words and patterns. After singing, encourage your students to identify other words that rhyme with the target word family or pattern. Repeat the activity with different rhyming patterns or word families.

Rhyme Sorting Game

Prepare a deck of word cards with rhyming pairs or word families. For example, you might have cards with words like “cat,” “bat,” “hat,” “sat,” etc. Spread the word cards face down on a table or the floor. Play instrumental music or a simple rhyming song in the background. Encourage your students to pick two cards at a time, flipping them over to reveal the words. If the two words rhyme, the student keeps the pair. If they don’t rhyme, the cards are flipped back over, and the next player takes a turn. Continue playing until all the rhyming pairs have been matched. Discuss the rhyming patterns and word families as you play.

Rhyme Relay Race

Divide the class into two teams. Create a series of rhyming word cards or flashcards and spread them out in a line across the room. Play a rhythmic tune or drumbeat as the background music. When the music starts, the first player from each team races to the word cards, picks up a card, and identifies a word that rhymes with the one on the card. Once a correct rhyme is provided, the player runs back to their team and hands the card to the next player. The game continues until all the word cards have been used. The team that finishes first with the most correct rhymes wins the relay race.

Utilizing Poetry in Orton-Gillingham Instruction

When it comes to students who are already reading independently, poems are great materials for honing reading skills, particularly with regard to prosody, owing to their inherent rhythmic nature. Furthermore, children’s poems are often short, making them ideal candidates for repeated reading exercises. Extensive research demonstrates that guided, repeated reading enhances reading fluency. Incorporating poems or musical lyrics into the learning process when advancing reading skills provides students with a delightful and captivating means of practice.

Poems and music play a pivotal role in fostering an appreciation for prosody, rhythm, and rhyme. They engage students and enhance their oral and written language abilities. Particularly for younger students or those in the early stages of phonological skill development, poems serve as enjoyable resources that can be initially explored orally. Poems continue to serve as exceptional texts as students move into skills related to print awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. By incorporating the multi-sensory techniques of the Orton-Gillingham Approach, poems can provide an enriched and holistic learning experience for students.