How to Write a Tongue Twister

Tongue twisters are one of the most fun forms of wordplay for kids. The more challenging they are to speak, the more fun they can be. Most tongue twisters take one of three forms:

  1. Phrases that are hard to repeat several times in a row, such as “toy boat” or “unique New York.”
  2. Phrases or sentences that are hard to say, such as “she sells sea shells by the seashore” or “rubber baby buggy bumpers.”
  3. Poems like “Betty Botter” by Carolyn Wells.

You can create your own tongue twisters too. All you need is a pencil and paper, and a little imagination. Let me show you how.

Alliteration Tongue Twisters

The simplest form of tongue twister is one that simply uses alliteration, where the words you use all have the same first consonant sound. A classic example of this is:

Round the rugged rock, the ragged rascal ran.

You’ll notice that most of the words in this sentence start with the letter “r.” However, what makes the sentence a tongue twister is not just that the words start with the same consonant sound, but that they have different vowel sounds as well: “ow” in round, “uh” in rugged, “ah” in rock, and a short “a” in ragged, rascal, and ran. Moreover, “rugged” and “ragged” are so similar, that it’s easy to get them mixed up.

“Betty Botter” uses a similar technique.

Betty Botter bought some butter;
“But,” said she, “this butter’s bitter!

As you can see, this tongue twister poem uses alliteration with the letter “b” and also uses similar words like Botter, butter, and bitter, as well as Betty, bought, and but.

You can create your own alliterative tongue twister by following these steps:

  1. Pick a consonant.
  2. Write down as many words as you can think of that start with that letter. The more alike they sound, the better.
  3. Make up a sentence that uses as many of your words as possible.

For example, let’s say we use the letter “p.” Here are some words that start with “p”:

  • Peter
  • Potter
  • Poodle
  • Peanut butter

You could string these together like this:

Peter Potter put a poodle in his peanut butter.

Now it’s your turn. Pick a letter and see if you can think of a bunch of similar sounding words that you can string together into a sentence. Try this with several different letters and see which one is the hardest to say.

More Advanced Tongue Twisters

If you want to write more challenging tongue twisters – ones that are harder to speak without tripping up – here are a couple of things you can do:

Almost Alliteration

Find consonant letter combinations that are almost alliterative, but not quite, such as “c,” “cl,” and “cr.” For example, you might write something like this:

Cam crammed creamed clams in clean clam cans.

Another example is using the letters “s,” “th,” and “f,” as in this famous tongue twister:

Theophilus Thistle, the thistle sifter,
Sifted a sieve of unsifted thistles.

You could even make your own version of this one by finding other words with similar sounds. How about something like this?

My sister sifted thistles by the fistful.

Reversing Similar Sounds

Find words that sound almost the same, but reverse the positions of the letter sounds. This is why “she sells seashells by the seashore” is one of the most famous tongue twisters. Reversing the positions of “s” and “sh” in “she sells” and “sea shells” makes it difficult to say. I used this particular tongue twister for the basis of my poem “Shelley Sellers” from my book My Hippo Has the Hiccups.

For example, I wrote  a poem called “Gabby Bought a Baby Beagle” for my book The Tighty-Whitey Spider. In this poem, the words “Gabby” and “Beagle” reverse the positions of the “g” and the “b,” and even throw in the word “baby” which has two b’s, making it especially difficult to say.

Tongue Twister Poems

Once you’ve practiced and can do all of this, at last comes the trickiest part of all: Creating a tongue twister poem. To turn your tongue twisters into poems, all you have to do is write several lines of tongue twisters, with rhyming words at the ends of the lines, and hopefully tell a little story. Betty Botter is a classic example, as is the famous poem, Ned Nott and Sam Shott.

Here’s an example of a tongue twister poem I wrote using all of the above techniques.

My Sister Sifted Thistles

My sister sifted thistles by the fistful.
My sister sifted thistles by the shore.
My sister whistled wistfully
while sifting thistles fistfully
until her fists were bristly and sore.

My sister sifted thistles by the fistful.
My sister sifted thistles by the shore.
Her thistle-sifting history
made sister’s fists all blistery,
so now she sifts no thistles anymore.

Are you ready to have fun writing your own tongue twisters? Start by writing short tongue twisters, with practice, you’ll get better and better at it, and eventually you’ll be amazing your friends with your own tongue twister poems.

More Tongue Twisters

If you would like to read even more, check out the world’s largest collection of tongue twisters in 118 different languages, including nearly 600 in English.

Kenn Nesbitt
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