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Back at School? Don't Forget to Hinky-Pinky!


What do you call a simple, fun, creative, useful multidisciplinary back-to-school icebreaker activity for all grade levels? A hinky-pinky!

Stuck for ideas for creating quality work in the first weeks of school? Try hinky-pinkies. They help students feel comfortable in a new classroom. They're fun. And they make a great display for Parent Open House!

Students of all ages, and with very little prior poetry-writing experience, can produce super hinky-pinkies. Hinky-pinkies, also called terse verse or compact language, are very short poetry forms. Using two rhyming words to define something or answer a question, they can be written in either of two ways:

  • Definition form --- A sneaky insect: sly fly
  • Question/answer form --- What did the fish say to the bait? Squirm worm!

Though it may be different for your students, mine seem to prefer the second form.


When I first introduce hinky-pinkies, I read several samples so the students understand the final product I expect. Then I write several rhyming pairs on the board like jelly belly, cool fool, fat cat, and bug hug, inviting students to contribute others. After compiling a list, I ask my students to brainstorm all the definitions or questions they can think of for each pair, allowing ten to fifteen minutes for the activity. I permit students to do their brainstorming either individually or in a dyad.

Then it's time to ask my students to read what they've written, pointing out when they demonstrate excellence in fluency or originality, when they have a large quantity of unique ones that no one else has thought of, or when they think of ones that are especially humorous or timely. Students love to see the variance in the ways their peers approach a rhyming pair. After each student has read his list, and the class comments on the kinds they like, it's time for the students to create their own.

For those students who need additional help writing hinky-pinkies, I invite them to open a rhyming dictionary to any page. They can scan the page for two rhyming words that when put together spark an idea in their minds. If an idea does not come to mind from the words on that page, they turn to another page. Students look for two words that go together so well that the question or definition, the hinky-pinky, almost writes itself. Because I find students often need some practice before being able to produce an excellent product, I ask each to write three to five hinky-pinkies before showing me what they have written. If a student's hinky-pinky still needs work, I send him back to his desk and rhyming dictionary, but if there is at least one that's special, the student can proceed to the next stage -- the art project.


I provide each student with half of an 8x10 inch piece of black construction paper. I fold this section in half again so that it looks like a card that opens from top to bottom. I add two rectangles that I have cut out of white paper. The student glues one rectangle to the front of the card and the other to the inside of the card. Using a thin dark-colored magic marker, the student writes the question or definition on the front white piece of paper and the answer on the inside white paper. When finished, the student has a card with the question or definition on the outside and the answer on the inside seen only when the card is opened. The student can then decorate the card as he wishes.

Next, I place a selection of the best hinky-pinkies on the board and have my students guess the two rhyming words that answer that question or definition. After hearing the guesses, the author reads what he has written. Finally, I place the students' hinky-pinkies around the room attached to colorful yarn or in the hall for others to see.

Teachers are aware of how important it is not only for students to see their own work on display, but also for parents to see that their children are producing work of such a quality that it can be put up on display. However, when Open House occurs very early in the school year, as it does in my school district, it certainly can be a struggle to get students to produce quality work in time for it. Since students of all ability levels with very little prior poetry-writing experience can produce super hinky-pinkies, and since they make great room decorations, I introduce them as one of my first writing activities of the school year.

Through this activity students have the opportunity to analyze rhyming elements in words, sharpen dictionary skills while verifying word choices, improve vocabulary, and examine techniques of writing appropriate questions or definitions.

As an added bonus, I find that hinky-pinkies placed up so early in the school year help my students get more comfortable with their new classroom; they help them to feel that this new classroom is really theirs!


Here are some of my students' samples:

What do you call a poodle caught in a thunderstorm?
A soggy doggy
by Becca Woodham

What do you call a bad haircut?
A vile style
by Jenny Wagner

What do you get when you take a taxi and leave a small tip?
A crabby-cabby
by Ashley Marroy

What do you call a baby cow?
A new moo
by Cara Cavicchia

What do you call a burning florists' shop?
A bouquet flamb
by Chris Morris

What do you call an underwater plant?
Deep-sea algae
by Kristen Armand

What do you call a bird flying upside down and backwards?
An absurd bird
by Erin Radigan

What do you call it when a candidate loses the vote?
An election rejection
by Rachel Rendeiro

What do you call a clock with only the numbers 1,2,5, and 7?
Prime time
by Jaime Guillory

Editor's note: Many teachers refer to one-syllable "hinky-pinky" examples (ie., vile style) as hink pinks; two-syllable examples (ie., soggy doggy) as hinky-pinkies; and three-syllable examples (ie., election rejection) as hinkety-pinketies.]

Article by Glori Chaika
Education World®
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Updated 07/20/2010