Rhyme time at Cooper

For many, it was their first school performance, but for all it was an opportunity to learn about how sounds form words.

Cooper Elementary students Friday learned phonemic awareness by performing nursery rhymes for parents in the school’s gymnasium.

“Phonemic awareness is hearing the sounds and words, and kids really need to be able to hear the sounds in words before they can attach them together,” Maria Lynn Lehman, kindergarten teacher, said. “It’s one of our most important free reading skills.”

Students learn such skills as rhyming, blending words together, segmenting and separating the onset, or first, sound from a word, according to Lehman.

“We teach them while we’re reading stories, in small group instruction,” she said. “If they can do that, when it comes time to start reading, for instance, if they come to a word they don’t know, they can get their mouths ready to say the first sound. They have to be able to hear that sound and each sound they say and blend it together to come up with the word. They have to hear it first.”

Students also learned free reading skills through nursery rhymes, such as “Humpty Dumpty,” “Little Jack Horner” and “Mary, Mary Quite Contrary.”

“When they do learn it we practice fluency so they’re hearing what a good reader sounds like, if they’re being accurate, or if they have good rates, or they’re using good expressions,” Lehman said.

In preparing for the recital, the students also learned a required skill.

“It is in the Iowa Core now that they recite a familiar rhyme or poem,” Lehman said. “So once they’ve done this, they’ve met that skill.”

The students learned their rhymes quickly, Lehman said.

“I sent them home on a Friday and several kids had them learned by Monday,” she said. “They learn them quickly, partially because of the sing-songy verse and partially because they rhyme. Some of the kids are familiar with nursery rhymes, most of them aren’t. The songs really help them learn.”

The 24 students performing in the recital Friday were especially excited about wearing costumes.

“Some of them are more elaborate than others,” Lehman said, “But they like dressing up and being the character.”

Performing for an audience, though, was scary for some.

“This particular program is difficult because it’s the first one, and it’s probably the first time they’re on a little stage in front of a bunch of people,” Lehman said. “They might have done a little singing in preschool but other people are around so it’s a little scary. We do several of these during the year, they’re not all nursery rhymes, but they get better every time.”

Lehman said she sees the students grow as readers while learning these skills.

“Their expression gets so much better. Their accuracy is very good. And their fluency just gets better and better with each time they do it,” she said. “Nobody needed prompting this morning. They know all their lines. Their rate is really good. Sometimes if they get nervous, they’ll talk fast. But they did a great job.”