Rhyming Ability: Is It Important In Reading?

While more than 5 million students in the U.S. learn English as their first language, rhyming remains one of the last skills that these students acquire. Research regarding reading has supported the idea of rhyming as a building block for reading, but how true is this?

In the classroom, it often seems like we are successful when teaching students to decode, then have to go back and teach them how to produce and identify rhyming words. Does this not defeat the purpose of rhyming as a stepping stone for reading? Let’s discuss.

Rhyming Predicts Future Reading Achievement

In 2008, the National Early Literacy Panel was able to meta-analyze the importance of rhyming as the foundation for reading and concluded that rhyming ability is predictive of future reading ability. However, it had the weakest correlation of any of the skills in phonemic awareness. 

The ability to separate words into singular phonemes or combine phonemes to create words is far better at predicting decoding. When it comes to teaching, NELP determined that there were not many teaching interventions that made use of rhyming activities as the main approach for teaching, but that teaching sounds and letters had a significant influence on student learning. 

From this, we can conclude that the ability to rhyme is a predictor of future development in reading, but it is not as sensitive or accurate as other skills. Rhyming is likely not the path of action a teacher would take when developing a program to identify potential issues. 

Rhyming Is Not the Key To Reading

Because no studies prove that the teaching of rhyme improves reading ability, most teachers would not want to spend a lot of time teaching it. Several studies suggest that, as learners gain the ability to read, they also become more capable at rhyming.

Therefore, rather than improved rhyming resulting in improved reading, the knowledge of letters, words, and sounds allows learners to access rhyming as a somewhat separate skill. This might be why second language students perform better when rhyming after learning to read. 

A Closer Relation To Reading Comprehension

This is also why rhyming is more closely related to reading comprehension than other phonological skills. Said skills serve almost no functional purpose for reading comprehension, but they are useful markers for determining language sophistication or proficiency. 

The more proficient one is with language, the more proficient one is with comprehension. However, because rhyming does not play a significant role in decoding, it cannot effectively predict decoding skills. 

Concluding Thoughts

To summarize, you should not worry about placing too much emphasis on teaching your learners rhyme. Rhyme will come naturally to students who have a firm grasp of reading comprehension and language proficiency.

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