Thematic Sheet

Small forms

“A nursery rhyme shapes your bones and muscles, and it shapes your mind. They are powerful, immensely old rhymes, not toys, even if they are intended for children.”

Katherine Catmull, Summer and Bird.

Small forms are short stories that have an educational function. These include nursery rhymes, songs, tongue twisters, charades, proverbs, sayings… They have been engraved in our memory since childhood and have helped us to construct meaning, to play with language, to juggle with our emotions, to learn with pleasure.

Most of the time, these little forms are common and known to all people living in the same linguistic and cultural area.


Deeply rooted in our cultures, they are passed on from generation to generation. It is a huge repertoire that allows us to socialise with the people around us, but also to experience intense moments full of emotion. The word is musical, because it is above all sensory and rhythmic. We also have songs with gestures, such as “Dans sa maison, un grand cerf”, which can be illustrated with gestures.

In the French-speaking part of Belgium, there are nursery rhymes such as “Une souris verte” or “Pomme de reinette et pomme d’api”, and songs like “À la clairefontaine” or “Au clair de la lune”. There are also body rhymes with finger or hand games. Children will have to decode oral and sign language at the same time.

In English-speaking countries, nursery rhymes are sung, often humorous rhyming poems like “Baa, baa, black sheep” and “Twinkle, twinkle, little star”. Some of these songs are well known.


These are questions in the form of riddles to solve.

“A cotton belly, a coal back, a needle in front and scissors in back.” The Swallow.

“What can go around the world and stay in one place?” A stamp.

To find out, you have to explore several avenues. The answer will be found following the precise observations made on the swallow.


The tongue twister is characterised by its difficulty of pronunciation and sometimes of comprehension. They are mostly short sentences, or even songs.

She sells seashells by the seashore”

The main interest of tongue twisters is to practice pronunciation with a fun and challenging exercise. It is a very good example of learning linguistic elocution through games.

The lesser known but equally useful speech training sentences, ears twisters, is more difficult to understand because they give the impression of being in a foreign language.

“Magpie nests high, goose nests low, owl nests neither high nor low. Where does the owl nest? Owl nests there.”


The interest of these little forms lies in the way they make the child think about the double meanings of words, use logic and link elements together. Easy to memorise because of their brevity and playfulness, they allow children to acquire logical reasoning and to play with words. Their playfulness and mystery help children to develop their curiosity and to think while having fun.


The proverb is an expression of popular wisdom that has been passed down through oral tradition, as in the following example:

“You shouldn’t sell the bear’s skin before you’ve killed it.”

As for sayings, they are often linked to the weather and announce the weather to come (see the weather thematic sheet).


Twitterature, nanotexts, jingles, advertisements… many short forms are found around us in our daily lives. As with proverbs, we can quote jingles or slogans from advertisements from the end of the last century that are part of our common culture.


With all these small forms, one can imagine a great many activities of a playful nature:

– Create tongue twisters and have the children repeat them to develop their elocution.
– Using a theme, organise proverbial challenges.
– Play guessing games.
– Ask the children to create charades.
– And don’t forget the songs to sing together !