Using Rebus in Singing Time


Okay, here’s something I never knew as a new Primary Music Leader …  rebus!  What is it and how does it pertain to this calling?  Is it something to use in singing time or to avoid?  Check out more about using rebus in singing time below!

Camille's Primary Ideas: Using Rebus in Singing Time

Notice all the pictures above represent a word.  But also notice that those same images can possibly represent different versions of the same word.  For instance:

The number 4 can be substituted for the word “for.”  The “eye” can be substituted for “I,” etc.  So not all images are created alike.

What Is Rebus?

So let’s cut to the chase.  What is rebus?  In a nutshell, it’s pictures substituted for words.  If you want the technical definition, it is:

A puzzle in which words are represented by combinations of pictures and individual letters.

See if you can decode this example:

Using Rebus in Singing Time

Did you figure it out?  Well, of course you did!  You are a smart adult!  But did you notice that the images don’t actually mean what they are representing?  If you take the sentence at face value (ie: eye bee leaf in bee-ing honest) it makes absolutely no sense.  Good thing you know that the images are representing more than what you actually see.

But what about that brand new reader?  They are most likely totally confused.  They easily recognize the pictures.  But they have no idea those pictures create a sentence having nothing to do with eyes, bees and leaves.  Let alone understand that there is spiritual implication in this sentence.

Kind of confusing, right?

“It takes longer to process a rebus than to read the actual word, and until age nine or ten children are not usually able to grasp the hidden meaning.  A rebus may save space on a chart, but a picture of the real item would be more efficient for teaching the message” A Children’s Songbook Companion p. 27.

When I attended Pat Graham’s workshop several years ago, she noted a few items to consider about using rebus:

  • Children don’t understand it
  • It’s confusing and misleading
  • Teaches incorrect principles and doctrine

How about this rebus image?  We all know what it represents:

It’s the peace sign.  But not necessarily the kind of peace we typically discuss in a gospel setting like:

  • listening to the Holy Ghost
  • keeping the commandments
  • bringing Christ in our lives

When to Use Rebus in Singing Time

Obviously, if you are using images in place of words, just make sure they are representing the word correctly.  Like having a picture of the earth for the word “world.”

That said, rebus using incorrect images does have a place in Primary.  If your goal is to create a puzzle, or have children figure out phrases, then by all means, use it!  It’s challenging and fun to figure out what a picture is representing.

But choosing the seemingly incorrect images should be used sparingly.  And remember that this type of rebus is best used for older children.

Younger children will most likely not grasp the meaning behind the pictures.  And that’s the entire purpose of singing time, right?  To understand the meaning of the gospel through song.

Where I wouldn’t use confusing rebus images is in flip charts.  Flip charts aren’t meant to be a puzzle but an aid in enhancing the learning of the song.  I personally use flip charts sparingly (if at all) just on their own.  And if I do, I find ones that don’t use rebus incorrectly.

If I use a flip chart, it’s always in conjunction with another activity.  My preference is to simply post the words using this flip chart format.

Camille's Primary Ideas: posting words for singing time, singing time flip charts

I’d love to hear your thoughts on using rebus in singing time.  Is this a new concept or something you’ve been aware of?  I know I had absolutely no idea about it when I first started this calling and have tried to be more conscientious about not using it incorrectly.

More Help for Primary Music Leaders

Make sure to check out more helps for Primary Music Leaders.

Camille's Primary Ideas: Maintaining Reverence in singing time

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4 thoughts on “Using Rebus in Singing Time”

  1. I completely agree. I think it can be a fun puzzle but shouldn’t be used as a way to help the kids remember the words. I would be especially concerned with children getting the wrong message or being confused about doctrine that should be clear and simple. The church magazines have so many great images that I’m usually able to find a picture to illustrate the meaning of the words for my non-readers. Plus after doing teaching singing time for 5+ years, I’ve found the most effective way to help kids learn words is lots and lots of repetition with a few visual clues and movements.

    1. Hi JA!

      Thank you for your comment! I LOVE incorporating the Friend into singing time any way I can! And yes, repetition is key – they learn songs the same way adults do, by hearing it over and over again.


  2. Hi Camille,
    I am new in this calling, I feel inadequate because I have no knowledge about music, notes, etc., etc. I am learning as well as the children…maybe at a slower pace! Anyways, I want to thank you for all your ideas, I really really appreciate it! 🙂 My niece told me about your website, so here I am searching for your primary ideas 🙂 God blessed you for sharing your talent!

    1. Hi Rosa!

      I’m glad you are here and are finding my content useful! Thank you for your kind words. There is always a learning curve with any calling but especially so with Primary Music Leader! I have no doubt you’ll be wonderful! Let me know if I can do anything for you.


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