Posted in Writing Ideas

Nursery Rhymes for Grown-Ups

Here is a great idea for you to try out with your class. It is taken from David Horner’s latest book, ‘Cracking Creative Writing’ from Brilliant Publications. The book contains 100+ tried and tested activities which will inspire Key Stage 2 children to write creatively.

Read this poem out to the children or have it on your whiteboard. Can they work out which traditional nursery rhyme is buried under all this language?

Silence, minute child on the highest branch.
When the air-flow makes a draught, the infant’s bed is going to wobble from side to side.
When the main branch separates, the infant’s bed is going to get lower and lower very quickly.
Vertically will descend minute child, infant’s bed and absolutely everything.

  • The traditional nursery rhyme is ‘Hush-a-bye, baby, on the treetop’. Have the two nursery rhymes side by side so that the children can see where the changes were made.
  • Tell the children that while the traditional version is fine for younger children, grown-ups need something a bit more grown-up.
  • Grown-ups like complicated sentences and long words. And now it’s their turn to write like grown-ups.
  • They will need some examples of nursery rhymes, a dictionary and a thesaurus.
  • For our example, we are going to choose the nursery rhyme, ‘Little Jack Horner’. (Did you know one of the first versions of this rhyme was recorded in a chapbook from 1764, titled “The History of Jack Horner, Containing the Witty Pranks he play’d, from his Youth to his Riper Years, Being pleasant for Winter Evenings”)
  • Here are the words from the traditional nursery rhyme:

Little Jack Horner
Sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said, ‘What a good boy am I’.

  • To write their own grown-up version, the children need to work carefully through the original. Tell them to focus on the important words and leave the unimportant ones alone. Look back at line 1 of Hush-a-bye, baby, on the treetop. Pony out what has not been changed? That’s right, the words, ‘on the’.
  • They will be looking for synonyms, so use a thesaurus to find them will be essential. Tell them that a word they have never used before is probably a good pick.
  • Remind them also to look up the words in a dictionary and sometimes use the dictionary’s definition of the word, as a synonym for the word in the original rhyme.
  • So, the first two lines of ‘Little Jack Horner’ might look like this:

Miniscule Jack Horner
Squatted in part of the room where two walls meet,

  • There is no need to worry about rhyme. Most poems for grown-ups don’t.
  • When they have finished they will undoubtedly have increased their word power and be ready to impress those grown-ups!

We hope you and your class have great fun with this – Mike and David from Goodeyedeers.

Nursery Rhyme clipart from Little Red’s Schoolhouse.


A writer of short stories.

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