Literacy: A rhyme hunt

Judith Harries discusses how children can use the word play, onomatopoeia and rhyme found in Michael Rosen's much-loved children's books to develop their speaking skills and cooperative play.

Michael Rosen has written 140 books, served as Children's Laureate from 2007-2009, and works as a radio and TV presenter, and political pundit. His stories, poems and videos have been enjoyed by children of all ages and can be used to explore and develop literacy skills in EYFS settings. Here are some practical activities inspired by his work that will help to engage and excite children in your setting.

Playing and exploring

  • Children have fun recognising and joining in with repeated refrains.
  • Th ey enjoy acting out We're Going on a Bear Hunt.
  • Th ey play a game about their favourite food, building on what they are familiar with.

We're Going on a Bear Hunt

Read the book and watch the video of We're Going on a Bear Hunt. Encourage children to join in with the repeated refrain. Try acting out the rhyme by adding suitable actions for the different types of terrain and encourage the children to enjoy the sounds of the words – swishy, swashy; splash, splosh; squerch, squelch; stumble, trip, etc. Go outside or move around the room together reciting the words and enjoying the actions. How will the children react when they find the eponymous bear?

We're going on a rhyme hunt

Use one or more of Michael Rosen's poems to introduce rhyming words such as ‘mustard’ and ‘custard’, or ‘quick’ and ‘sick’! Explain to the children that they are going on a rhyme hunt. Give each pair of children a word card with a CVC (consonant vowel consonant) word written on it and invite them to find something in the room that rhymes with the word. Use simple rhymes such as cat/hat, man/pan, bag/rag, cap/map, bed/shed, hen/pen, dog/log, and box/fox. Hide items to rhyme with the cards in the room for children to discover.

Chocolate Cake Read

Chocolate Cake with the children. Talk about how Michael, as a young boy, really loved chocolate cake, so much that one night, he crept downstairs and ate the whole cake. Sit in a circle, pass around a paper plate and ask children to share the name of their favourite food using this game-rhyme – ‘Pass the plate’:

Pass the plate, pass the plate. Fill it up with chocolate cake? Tell us now, honestly, What would your favourite be?

Encourage children to name a variety of foods they like, including different cuisines, and flag up healthy choices, talking about why they are good for you.

Bananas in My Ears and A Great Big Cuddle

Th ese are more recent publications full of poems for younger children. Read ‘I am hungry’, ‘Let me do it’ and ‘Oh dear’ from A Great Big Cuddle. These all follow patterns with repeated refrains that the children can join in with. Can the children think of some new ideas to add to the list of things to eat in ‘I am hungry?

Engage with videos

Visit Michael Rosen's official YouTube channel – Kid's Poems and Stories with Michael Rosen, often recited by the author, and let children enjoy exploring some of the 400-plus videos of poems, stories, author videos and children's films. This is an important activity for child-directed learning as it gives children the chance to choose their own videos. If you play the videos on a smartboard for the whole group to enjoy, it will help children to develop sharing skills as they will have to wait their turn to pick a video.

The rhyme factory

Set up a rhyme factory in your setting. Provide children with lots of books of rhymes and poems to share. Let them listen to the Michael Rosen channel on YouTube and invite them to continue any of the rhyming activities included in this article in the rhyme factory. Set out lots of different writing materials to inspire children to record their rhymes and poems. Regularly visit the area to encourage children and extend their learning.

Active learning

  • Children explore sounds of words and onomatopoeia.
  • Th ey have a go at changing words by changing one letter.
  • Challenge children to fill in a writing frame with their own rhymes.

Nonsense words

Write down some of the words in We're Going on a Bear Hunt. Point out the onomatopoeia: words such as swishy, splash, squelch, etc. Show children how they can change the word by just changing one letter, i.e. splash changes to splosh, or even splish. Can the children make up some nonsense sound words of their own?

Fill in a writing frame

Let the children use a writing frame taken from ‘Oh Dear’ (A Great Big Cuddle) and challenge them to invent their own rhyming pairs. Point out that they need a ‘sensible’ word in the first line, followed by a silly rhyming substitute in line two to get a laugh.

‘I went to the shops to get me a _____ Oh dear, they gave me a _______’

Creating and thinking critically

  • Children make up rhyming lines and write down rhyming strings.
  • They make comparisons between books.
  • They create and recite their own new versions of poems.

Rhyming lines and strings

Line the children up and choose a word to start the string such as ‘bat’, ‘cot’, or ‘hen’. Move along the line asking children to add rhyming words. What is the longest line you can make? Ask children to extend their pairs of CVC rhyming words into rhyming strings. Can they write down their rhyming string on a white board to show the other children?

Making comparisons

Compare Chocolate Cake with some other books about chocolate cakes: Small Knight and George and the Royal Chocolate Cake by Ronda Armitage; The Elephants and the Chocolate Cake by Balachander Vijayakumar; Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake by Michael Kaplan; Crabby Crabs and Chocolate Cake by Stephanie Ballo; Matilda: The Chocolate Edition (Smells like chocolate) by Roald Dahl. Which is the group's favourite book? Show the results in a chocolate cake ‘pie chart’.

Without spoiling the fun remember to emphasise that chocolate is a treat, and should be eaten in moderation. You could also talk about different types of chocolate, including plain chocolate and vegan versions. You could discuss different types of cake, such as flourless cake, bearing in mind children's allergies.

Create new poems

Create and perform new versions of ‘After Dark’ from Bananas in My Ears using the children's own ideas. What sorts of things do they like to do ‘after dark’? Rewrite ‘Let me do it’ from A Great Big Cuddle by adding some things that the children would like to be able to do. Can they change the order of the words to create some crazy combinations?

EYFS Early Learning Goals

Listening and reciting rhymes will also develop speaking skills such as ‘children express themselves effectively, showing awareness of listeners' needs’ (CL). Children will need to work together cooperatively, ‘taking turns with others' to bake and pick videos to play on YouTube. Recording the results of the children's favourite chocolate cake books in a pie-chart will demonstrate mathematical skills, as will counting out and measuring ingredients for the chocolate cake (M).

Key learning points

  • Use phonics to decode regular and nonsense words
  • Help children to demonstrate understanding of what they are reading
  • Seek out rhyming words and create strings
  • Linking sounds to letters

Key words:

  • Repeat, refrain, sounds, rhymes, onomatopoeia, nonsense, line, string, cake.

Useful resources

Collection of Michael Rosen's books:

  • We're Going on a Bear Hunt (Walker Books)
  • Chocolate Cake (Puffin)
  • Bananas in My Ears: A Collection of Nonsense Stories (Candlewick Press)
  • A Great Big Cuddle: Poems for the Very Young (Walker Books)





  • Large area; word cards; rhyming objects; paper plate; access to YouTube; ingredients for chocolate cake; electric mixer; oven; paper; pencils; white boards; pens; books about chocolate cakes; a selection of writing materials.

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