Nursery Rhymes and Details in Writing

I have been working with my students on adding detail to their writing.  I don't know about you, but I find that when my kids write, they tend to leave out big chunks of the action either because a) they ran out of space on their paper or b) they see the mind movie but just don't think to translate that onto the paper for other people to "see".    So, in an effort to get the kids to add the details that are missing from their writing pieces, I have broken out some nursery rhymes to help.

Nursery rhymes are high in fun rhyme, but low in details.  This makes sense though, since the purpose of nursery rhymes are to have small children remember them rather quickly.  However, because they don't have many details, each orator can create their own images of what is actually happening behind the scenes in the nursery rhyme, giving way to lots and lots of interpretations.  One of the more well known rhymes, that has some random interpretations, is Humpty Dumpty (hello, an egg magically appeared in this one!!)

So I took the four parts of Humpty Dumpty and asked the kids to tell me the actual tale that was taking place.  We know that Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.  But why?  How did he get there?  What was the purpose?  The time?  The actual place?  I pointed out that good writers usually tell the reader the who, what, when, where, why, and how of a story and that is what is missing in this nursery rhyme.  I modeled these questions and brainstorming the answers (just in bullet form) for my students.  I then had the students fill in their own ideas about why Humpty was sitting on that wall.

I continued modeling adding details to each verse, one by one.  When we got to the "And all the King's horses and all the King's men", suddenly we were faced with the fact that some sort of royal element was introduced.  Some students wanted to just add that a king *happened* to walk by.  Others went back into their brainstorms for the first verse and added that Humpty Dumpty was really a prince out on a walk, so that it made sense that the king's men would try to help him.  Already, before any real writing took place, the kids were seeing that this needed to be a cohesive story.  That elements found near the end would have to match those at the beginning.

The second day, once all of the details were brainstormed, the students started to turn those ideas into sentences.  I modeled using my own brainstorm how to pick pieces up to construct sentences.  Sometimes I combined two or three ideas from my brainstorm to write a sentence that helped my reader to see just what was going on.  I wanted to make sure that a few of the who, what, when, where, why, and hows got into one complete sentence.  After I modeled a few different sentences for the kids (using the first verse), I let them try.

By the time the kids got to the third verse, they were really seeing how creating sentences that contained several of the "W"s were more interesting and clear.

(Are you interested in the posters I used on my class charts?  Click here to download!)

On the third day, I had my students create a cohesive paragraph that combined the sentences written on day two into a full story.  Again, this took a lot of modeling, but the students were able to do this with relative ease.

So there you have it.  Using nursery rhymes was an easy way for my students to really connect the idea of details driving the story.  They were able to be creative, yet clear and concise in their writing.  It really worked out well for us all! you like my actual lesson plans and organizers to recreate this in your classroom?  You can find them here in my store (though, you probably can do it based on my description here....I know...what a sales pitch ;))   


  1. I love this idea. I bet this series of lessons transfers well to other writing assignments.

  2. What a great idea. I will be using it.

  3. This is awesome! Thank you for sharing your pages! I have been working with adding detail to my students writing and this will be a fun way to do that!

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  5. I absolutely love this idea, and I will be using it and adapting it for first graders. Thank you!

  6. Have you ever heard of anyone using this with middle school students? I am working with an eighth-grade student who has dyslexia, and I am wondering if it might be a good way to help him with elaboration. Any thoughts? Thanks!


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