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Poetry Teaching Resources

Fun Poetry Lessons

Here are a few poetry lessons that I have developed that work super-well for me. Kids and teachers love ‘em. Give them a try!

1. Lesson Title: A Short List Poem – Quick, Fun and Great for Teaching Revision

Grades Appropriate for: K – 6

Overview of the Lesson: By the end of the lesson, students will have a strong understanding of the power of verbs, the simplicity of a list poem, and the importance of revision—the idea that even changing one word can make a poem (or any writing) stronger. This is a whole group lesson that can also be done by young writers on their own, using a topic of their own choosing.

Teaching Instructions and Resources:

List poems are wonderfully fun and easy to write.  They can fill a whole writing workshop lesson, or they can be really quick–even as a ‘filler’ during a 10-minute transition before you go to lunch.

My favorite list poem variation is to pick a topic, say a favorite sport, or a favorite season, and focus on just nouns and verbs to describe it.  It can be serious, or silly. And this particular list poem is also great at reinforcing the concept of getting a poem to have a bouncy, easy-to-read rhythm. It’s quick and extremely fun to write.

On a big blank easel paper, I’ll put “Spring is…” at the top, for example. Then I ask the children to think of nouns that they see, smell, hear, and feel during spring.  I make a list of 8-10 nouns down the left side of the easel paper in a column.  (“Birds, trees, worms, flowers, sun, rain…” At the bottom I’ll put a final line like, “I can’t wait!”

Then I’ll read the list to them (or we’ll read it together) and I’ll ask if it sounds like a poem.  Usually we agree it doesn’t, and that it feels incomplete.

So then I ask the kids to give me a verb ending in “ING” that describes what the noun is doing.  For example, “Birds cheering!”  If they give me an obvious, predictable verb like “flying” or “chirping,” I don’t accept it. I want verbs that are totally surprising, like “flowers painting,” or “sun smiling,” or “rain crying.”  I want them to make the poem unpredictable and alive.

We sometimes talk about the order of our words, and how we could very easily move them around to make the poem sound even better, or how easy it is to put in a better, stronger, more dramatic verb, or even make one up, like “birds flirping,” which, of course is when they fly and chirp at the same time!

At the end, we read the poem together, feeling the bounciness, and the beauty, and music of the words we chose.  This can all happen in ten minutes!

Student Writer Instructions:

If it’s a whole lesson, then, after we’ve modeled the group poem on the easel, I send the kids back to their desks for ten totally quiet minutes of writing a list poem themselves.  Then I’ll ask them to quietly read their poem out loud to themselves, listening to the rhythm of their words.  I’ll ask, “Did the poem get ‘flat’ anywhere?  Did your tongue get tangled along the way?”  If so, feel free to make some quick changes to your list, especially the verbs.

At the end, we share our list poems aloud.  They are amazing.

Standards Addressed: US Common Core – W.3.4 (Purpose) and W.3.5 (Revision)

2. Lesson Title:  Using Figurative Language in Poems  – “In the Mirror”

Grades Appropriate for: 2 – 6

Overview of the Lesson: By the end of the lesson student writers will know about similes, and how to strengthen their descriptions with figurative language. They’ll also have, hopefully, a stronger sense of themselves, and a cool poem that describes their beautiful face.

Teaching Instructions and Resources:

A delicious poem form is the free verse poem, where the language is more important than the rhythm, and there is usually no rhyme.  Some kids love these types of poems, and all kids should have a chance to write some.

My favorite free verse poem involves introducing the kids to simile and metaphor–even the youngest kids can get the concept of using your imagination to turn things into other things.

I start by reading a few poems that do it well–some of my own and some other famous ones.  Valerie Worth’s short poems do this really well: [Worth, Valerie, All the Small Poems and Fourteen More, Farrar, Strauss, NY, 1996. Delightful, small poems, rich with figurative language and imagery. Great for K-6.]

We define similes in terms of ourselves:  “Today at gym I ran like a cheetah,” or “At recess, I was as slow as a slug.”  I explain that metaphors are similes without the “like” or “as” or “than,” so suddenly it’s even more dramatic:  “I was a cheetah in gym today!” And “I was a slug at recess!”  It’s like an equals sign in math:  “Bobby = Cheetah.”

I’ll show them some poems on my easel that have similes hidden in them and we have to find them.

Then I ask them to touch the top of their heads and describe how their hair feels, and make a simile.  “My hair is spiky like a porcupine,”  or “it’s soft and swirly like a butterscotch tornado,” might come out.

Then I give them each a small hand mirror and ask them to really look carefully at their faces, and try to make as many delicious similes as they can.  I give them each a piece of paper and ask them to write a simple poem that might sound like this:

“In My Mirror  by Juanita

In my mirror

I see two eyes like chocolate drops on vanilla snow.

I see eyebrows like furry prickly caterpillars…”

I ask them to write 5-6 delicious sentences in a list poem, describing themselves as beautifully as they can.  Of course we don’t worry about spelling and handwriting–this is a rough draft. I say you can be a bit silly if you like, as long as the description of you is spectacular, and the words are chosen carefully.

A Variation:

A variation of this poem that doesn’t involve mirrors but is equally powerful is to have the kids describe themselves—how they move, what they are in the world—in terms of similes and metaphors.  I’ll start the lesson by making a group list on a blank easel with two columns.  One is “What I do”  the other column is “What I am.”  We make a list for each column.  “I run.  I sleep.  I giggle. I read…” And in the other column it’s “I’m smart.  I’m bouncy.  I’m quick.  I’m slow…”

Then I ask the kids to write a short list poem picking 6-10 qualities, and making a simile to describe themselves.  So their poem might sound like this:

“Me  by Freddie

I run like a rocket blasting into space.

I sleep like a bear hibernating.

I’m smart as an owl hunting for dinner.

I’m bouncy as a kickball on the playground.”

etc.

After ten minutes, we stop, and I ask them to indentify their favorite sentence/simile in their poem with a star.  I ask them to quietly read their poems out loud at the same time, so they can hear the ‘music’ of their words.  Then, we’ll share parts or all of our poems aloud, one by one.

It’s absolutely magical.

Standards Addressed: US Common Core – W.3.4 (Purpose) and W.3.5 (Revision)

 

3. Lesson Title: Haiku, Senryu, and Whyku – Small, Powerful Poems

Best Grades: 4-8, but can be done with 2nd & 3rd with help.

Haiku

I love to play with haiku, and I know that kids do too. Haiku, of course, is that nearly-1000-year-old Japanese poem form that focuses with elegant simplicity and laser-like intensity on nature and the seasons.  Haiku are always written in the present tense, and contain only seventeen syllables, in lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables.  Here’s an example of a famous one by Soseki, (1275-1351) the so-called Japanese Charles Dickens:

Over the wintry

forest, winds howl in rage

with no leaves to blow.

And a couple more:

Rain clouds hang heavy.

Lightning strikes while thunder roars.

Rain patters softly.

 

Gentle waterfall,

Tripping over rocks and stones

Creating beauty.

 

A lonely wolf howls

through the sad and frozen night

calling her lost mate.

 

The short form of three lines, and 5 -7-5 syllables on each of the lines, is an interesting puzzle to work out. Kids love ‘em because they are short and pack a punch. And teachers love ‘em because they gently emphasize the importance of careful word choice—including powerful verbs–and careful revision to get it just right. It’s a very manageable poem where every child succeeds.

For younger writers the emphasis on syllables is really wonderful. They can clap them out to see if they follow the pattern. I always start the lesson with ordinary school words like “cafeteria” and “chocolate” and “school” to establish what syllables are.

Do haiku have to strictly follow the 5-7-5 pattern? I don’t enforce it, but they have to be pretty close.

 

Senryu

And senryu?  What are they?  American poet and anthologist Paul Janezcko has called senryu (also a very old Japanese poem tradition) as “haiku with attitude.” Senryu also have lots of well-observed details, and they follow the same 5-7-5 syllable pattern as haiku, but unlike their cousin, senryu focus on human nature, rather than the natural world.  And senryu always try to have a surprising last line–like the punch line of a joke.

Here are a few Senryu that I wrote:

My nose is flowing

Like a mountain stream in spring.

Pass the tissues please.

 

I cannot stop it.

Like a wave the craving comes.

Must have chocolate!

 

My fingers tap dance

While brain and heart hold their breath.

The math test is here.


Whyku

What exactly are “whyku,” I hear you ask?

You might call whyku the questioning cousin of haiku.  Or, maybe they’d be better described as the kindred spirit of emotional senryu, but even more ‘wonder full.’

         Whyku (not an old Japanese poem form, but recently invented, by me) borrow traits from both senryu and haiku. But whyku are distingushed by a question that is always tucked carefully and neatly inside.  It could well be an inquiry without an answer, but it’s always a question about real life that’s important to the writer right now!

Speaking of questions, here’s an important one (in whyku form) as you start to write a whyku:

Can a heart express,

in seventeen syllables

its thickest questions?

 And here are a few more Whyku of mine:

Why are whyku hard?

Because I have a full heart,

and no room to share.

 

Is it bad to wish

that the jerk who bullies me

gets eaten by fleas?

 

Whistles blow. Fans cheer.

My game begins. I wonder.

Where are my parents?

 

How did an iceberg

squeeze itself inside my heart

when my best friend moved?

And one final comment:

Have a bunch of fun

And please let me know how it goes

Playing with these forms!

© 2012 Ted Scheu

Standards Addressed: US Common Core – W.3.4 (Purpose) and W.3.5 (Revision)