Mother Goose's Nursery Rhymes

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Thirty-five cards from literature timeline. 3-part card material on foam core board. see Students bring language notebooks and a pencil. A Smartboard, LCD, white board, or black board.


Students need "Great Lesson: "The Birth of Literature"


1. Ask students to observe the timeline. "What was the first literary form in western culture? (The epic) What came first, traditional literature or genres? (Traditional literature). "Can anyone giive an example of a traditional form? example of a genre? Tell the person next to you the name of a traditional form. Tell the person next to you the name of a genre."

2. "What's a nursery rhyme? Can anyone give an example from memory?" (It's suprising how many nursery rhymes some children will remember.)

3. "Who can find where nursery rhymes come in on the timeline?" (Write the following information on the board for students to copy.) Someone reads the card, which says that John Newman first published Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes in 1787. They were illustrated by Charles Perrault, who originally came up with the drawing of Mother Goose. Ask students to tell you what the Newberry Award is, and to name a Newberry Award winner, such as Lois Lowry's, The Giver. "John Newberry was the first publisher of children's literature; that's why the award is named after him." Students record the above information in their language notebooks. 

4. "Who can find nursery rhymes on the 3-part card material? Will you take the picture, label, and definition card off the board? Will someone else collect all the green timeline cards and replace them in the box?" (This clears the presentation space.)

5. (Write the following information on the board for students to copy.) "Where do you think nursery rhymes came from?" (from mothers playing with their babies; from parents entertaining their children...) "Who will read the definition card for nursery rhymes? Where else do nursery rhymes come from?" (The definition card mentions, "political satire," and "old drinking songs," as well as the primary source, which is Mother Goose. In talking about political satire, children may know that "ring around the rosie" refers to the characteristic sore that serves as a diagnostic for the bubonic plague. Posies may have been held to one's face in the mistaken belief that the plague was communicated by bad smells. "Ashes, ashes refers to the cremation of dead bodies." Observe the picture card. Does anyone recognize the drawing?" (One little piggy went to market; two little piggies went home...)

6. "Let's read a few." Read from "My Very First Mother Goose," edited by Iona Opie, illustrated by Rosemary Wells. I also recommend, "Classic Nursery Rhymes: Enchanting rhymes and songs to share."

7. "What is the purpose of nursery rhymes? Discuss." (to teach children counting; to show that it's okay to fall down, to make mistakes, to make silly expressions and sounds that are easy to remember; to enjoy language; to teach children not to be afraid of certain things, such as going up to bed. Students make note of these observations in their notebooks.

8. Ask students what might be a good way to practice what they have learned.

Suggested Student Work: Students read a book of nursery rhymes. Students write out and illustrate a favorite nursery rhyme their mother or dad used to tell them.

Students use the website listed under "links" to investigate the historical origin of a nursery rhyme, such as "Ring a ring a Rosie..."

Control Of Error

Teacher checks student notebooks.

Points Of Interest

Nursery rhymes have a history as political satire. They are one of the forms free speech takes under oppressive political circumstances, and they are therefore indirect forerunners of the Bill of Rights.


Direct Aim: To place nursery rhymes in the context of the history of literature.

Indirect Aim: To prepare students to write nursery rhymes.


Begin the lesson by immersing the children in nursery rhymes. Read 15-20 nursery rhymes and then begin to place nursery rhymes in the history of literature.


Nursery Rhymes. 1996-2007 Website last consulted,
April 24, 2007