Playing with rhymes

Nabanita Deshmukh

The following article was written after returning from a teacher training session in the tribal schools of western Odisha. It is important to mention here that the schools we visited were very remote and lacked regular teachers and basic amenities. The students were mostly adivasis and did not have enough knowledge of a world beyond their own.

nabanita-deshmukh Across generations, children have sung ‘Jack and Jill went up the hill…’ but in a remote village in western Odisha, this rhyme has been discarded by teachers.

“Our children do not like the English rhymes in the textbooks. They cannot connect with them so why teach rhymes at all?” asked Shantilata, a teacher in a village school of Bolangir district. The teacher’s question made us reflect on the importance of rhymes and whether we, as teacher trainers, could come up with novel methods of teaching nursery rhymes to village students based on the local knowledge of the area.

Importance of rhymes
Pre-school children all over the world are first exposed to nursery rhymes in their native language. These rhymes are simple forms of poetry that help children learn new vocabulary and also distinguish between different sound patterns. These skills can help them remember words or phrases.

The use of English nursery rhymes from textbooks would seem a logical follow up to teaching English to young students. That this method was not effective was pointed out by the young teacher of the village school. The vocabulary and the cultural context of English nursery rhymes are so far removed from the vernacular reality that children in small village schools often lose interest in rhymes and cannot learn them by heart. The psychological and the cultural connect is very often missing so English rhymes become irrelevant.

Rhymes are particularly important in ESL (English as a second language) classrooms because children are often shy to communicate in English with their teachers either in spoken or written form. Poetry gives these ESL learners a different way to express themselves that seems less threatening than the use of prose. This is because poetry takes away the stress of correct punctuation and structure from the language and children break out of their shells and communicate by using rhyming words and songs.

The author is a teacher and writer of children’s stories and rhymes. She is a consultant at Azim Premji Foundation, Puducherry and conducts workshops for teachers. She can be reached at

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