How to Write a “Fractured” Nursery Rhyme

Mother Goose

Messing with Mother Goose

If you want to write a poem, but you’re not sure where to start, try taking a poem you already know and changing it. While you can do this with any kind of poem, Mother Goose nursery rhymes are one of the easiest. It’s always fun to take a nursery rhyme and change a few words to make it funny.

First, you’ll need to choose a nursery rhyme or a well-known song such as “Row Your Boat.” There are hundreds to choose from, but here are some of the most popular ones to choose from:

  • Yankee Doodle
  • Humpty Dumpty
  • Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
  • Mary Had a Little Lamb
  • Hickory Dickory Dock
  • There Was an Old Woman
  • Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater

How to Fracture a Nursery Rhyme

After you’ve selected a poem, you’ll need to find the words that rhyme. They should be easy to find because the rhyming words are usually at the end of each line, or the end of every other line. For example, you may have heard the Mother Goose nursery rhyme about the old woman who lived in a shoe. If not, here it is:

There was an old woman,
Who lived in a shoe;
She had so many children,
She didn’t know what to do.

She gave them some broth,
Without any bread;
She whipped them all soundly,
And sent them to bed.

Notice that this poem rhymes on every other line. The word shoe rhymes with do and bread rhymes with bed.

Let’s change this poem starting with the first rhyme. Where else could this woman live? Should we put her in a hat? Perhaps on a boat? Maybe in a drawer? You see, if she could live in a shoe, she could live just about anywhere, so I’ve decided that for my poem, she will live in a box.

There was an old woman
who live in a box,

Now we need to find some words that rhyme with box. I like socks, fox, rocks, and locks, but I think locks will work best because houses usually have locks. So I’ll write two more lines, like this:

There was an old woman
who live in a box.
It didn’t have windows
or doorknobs or locks.

Now I’d also like to make this poem funny. I think the idea of a person living in a box is pretty funny by itself, but I wonder what a person might do if they lived in a box. How many things can you think of to do if your house was a box? Would you gift wrap your house for Christmas? Maybe you would be happy that you no longer lived in a shoe? Or how about something like this:

There was an old woman
who live in a box.
It didn’t have windows
or doorknobs or locks.

She wanted to travel
the world and so
she mailed her house
where she wanted to go.

Getting Started

Remember, once you’ve selected a poem, you want to change the word that rhymes. Here are some examples

  • Put Humpty Dumpty on something besides a wall
  • Change the color of Mary’s lamb
  • Feed “Peter, Peter” something besides pumpkin

And don’t forget about nursery songs. Here are a few you can choose from:

  • Row, Row, Row Your Boat – How about “Ride, Ride, Ride Your Bike,” or “Pet, Pet, Pet Your Cat?”
  • Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star – What else twinkles besides stars? A diamond ring? A traffic light?
  • Yankee Doodle – What could he ride besides a pony? Maybe a rhino? Or a monkey?
  • Baa, Baa, Black Sheep – What would you ask her for besides wool? How about cash?

Now it’s your turn to put your own ideas on paper and see what kinds of fractured nursery rhymes you can come up. Remember to follow these three steps:

  1. Pick a poem or song
  2. Find the words that rhyme
  3. Choose new rhyming words to make a new poem or song

And, most importantly, have fun!