HOW TO TEACH POETRY TO PRIMARY / ELEMENTARY STUDENTS

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Poetry is a broad area of literature offering teachers and students the opportunity to both dip their toe or completely dive into creative writing.

With over fifty acknowledged styles of poetry there is plenty on offer to students of all ages and ability.  We are going to look at eight different styles of poetry and strategies for teaching it in the classroom.  These styles of poetry are most commonly taught in elementary / primary classrooms.

This content has been kindly provided from the Poetry Power Pack by Innovative Teaching Ideas.  This pack includes nineteen styles of poetry, printable, templates, lesson plans and multimedia to share on your digital classroom display.  You can find out more here.

Basic Poetry key terms

How to teach Poetry
  • Cadence - The patterning of rhythm in natural speech, or in poetry without a distinct meter.

  • Meter - The rhythmical pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in verse.

  • Refrain - A phrase or line repeated at intervals within a poem, especially at the end of a stanza.

  • Rhyme - The repetition of syllables, typically at the end of a verse line. Rhymed words conventionally share all sounds following the word’s last stressed syllable.

  • Stanza - a group of lines forming the basic recurring metrical unit in a poem; a verse

  • Tone - The poet’s attitude toward the poem’s speaker, reader, and subject matter, as interpreted by the reader.

  • writing arranged with a metrical rhythm, typically having a rhyme

  • Verse - writing arranged with a metrical rhythm, typically having a rhyme


Structuring your poetry writing time in the classroom

Above all else writing poetry must be fun in it’s infancy. Be sure to get some quick wins with acrostic poetry and shape poetry before exploring more complex poetry such as sonnets and palindromes.

Limericks are a great starting point for rhyming poetry as it requires only a moderate vocabulary for students.

Be sure to share your poetry with students. Have some fun with the fact they may have used some crazy rhyming words that didn’t make a great deal of sense in the context of the poem. As long as they are understanding the rhyming sound pattern such as AA BB A found in a limerick is of far greater importance than if the limerick makes sense. They are supposed to be nonsensical.

My final point on teaching poetry is mix it up. An hour of limerick’s can get tired quickly. Maybe throw in some shape poetry to mix it up and bounce between the two areas.

TO RHYME OR NOT TO RHYME? THAT IS THE QUESTION…

A rapper who can’t rhyme ain’t worth a dime

A rapper who can’t rhyme ain’t worth a dime

When the concept of poetry is introduced to students their first thoughts are usually around beautiful rhyming language that is catchy, emotional, friendly to the ear and easy to remember.

Whilst rhyming poetry should be part of your poetry teaching toolkit it is essential that students understand RHYME SCHEMES beforehand.

A rhyme scheme dictates the tempo, flow and and accentuates the key points of poetry. It achieves this by reinforcing sounds and key terms through repetition.

For all our examples outlined below you will see we have use letters to illustrate the rhyming pattern. For example AA BB A

  • Each letter represents a single line of poetry.

  • When the letters vary it determines a change in rhyming pattern at any point which could be an internal rhyme or end rhyme.

  • When the final word in a line of poetry rhymes with the last word in another line, this is called an end rhyme. Many common poetry forms use end rhymes.

  • When words in the middle of a line of poetry rhyme with each other, this is called an internal rhyme, and is less common.

If rhyming poetry seems like a bridge too far for some of your students make sure you have other non rhyming poetry options such as Haiku and acrostic forms to keep them engaged.


Acrostic Poetry

Acrostic poetry is considered on of the simpler forms of poetry and is commonly taught to younger students.  Acrostic poems are generally quick and easy to write and open students minds to the understanding that poetry is a non conventional style of writing which doesn't always have to make perfect sense.  

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TOP Tips for writing an Acrostic Poem

  • Write your word or words down vertically when planning

  • Brainstorm words or phrases that describe your idea.

  • Place your brainstormed words or phrases on the lines that begin with the same letters.

  • Fill in the rest of the lines to create a poem.

  • Horizontal words do not always have to start with the first letter of the vertical word you can use any letter from the word.


Epitaph

In it's original form an epitaph are the defining words written on a tombstone that future generations will know us by.  The limited space and complexity of chiseling a stone tablet did not allow for complexity so short, sweet and direct to the point was the order of the day.  

Today true epitaph's are rarely seen, and in a poetic sense have become an opportunity to have a bit of fun reflecting on the misfortune or good humor of others.  

Epitaph's are very easy for younger writers to pick up due to the simplicity of the rhyming pattern, length and above all else they are fun to write.

If you are looking for a starting point for rhyming poetry Epitaph's are a great option.

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TOP TIPS FOR WRITING A GREAT EPITAPH

Epitaphs are an ancient form of writing that remains popular today. As long as we honor our dead, epitaphs will always be an important way to celebrate their lives. When writing your epitaph, keep in mind that:

  • Epitaphs are short and concise, don’t over complicate them.

  • They emphasize strong feelings.

  • Often, someone is speaking in the first person (a relative, a friend; the deceased.)

  • The writer should think about their audience. When, and where will they see it?


The Clerihew

The Clerihew is a very similar style of poetry to the epitaph.  It uses the exact same rhyming pattern and length as an epitaph but is more of a mock piece targeted at famous people.

Both the Epitaph and Clerihew style of poetry can be introduced in the same session to reinforce rhyming poetry and writing for a specific purpose and audience.

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TIPS FOR WRITING A GREAT CLERIHEW

A Clerihew is supposed to be funny first and foremost, so keep in that spirit when writing one.

Clerihews have just a few simple rules to follow:

  • They are only four lines long.

  • The first and second lines rhyme with each other, and the third and fourth lines rhyme with each other.

  • The first line names a person, and the second line ends with something that rhymes with the name of the person.


Irish Limerick

A limerick is another fun type of poetry continuing concepts learnt from epitaphs' which steps it up slightly in complexity due to a different rhyming pattern and increased length.  

When teaching limerick's be sure to emphasize the concept of fun and humor which is the essence of writing a limerick in the classroom.  Your students will both love writing and reading these aloud for this reason.

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TIPS FOR WRITING A GREAT LIMERICK

  • Being only five lines long, limerick poems have an AABBA rhyme scheme, which means the first, second, and last lines rhyme while the third and fourth lines rhyme.  Pretty straight forward really.

  • There are two common elements you will notice when you read limericks:

    1. The first line usually ends with a person’s first name or the name of a place.

    2. The last line is usually funny.


Shape or Concrete Poetry

These styles of poetry rely on a strong relationship between visuals and words.  There is no preferred style or guidelines for shape and concrete poetry so long as the audience can clearly make the connection between the words and visuals.

You will know if you have succeeded at these forms of poetry if it is clearly understood without a title.  

Refer to the images below for further clarification.

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TIPS FOR GREAT SHAPE POETRY

  • Start by writing out your whole poem without putting it into a shape and then add then let the words make up the shape later.

  • There are no rules when it comes to a concrete poem, so you’re free to let your imagination run wild

  • Don’t stress about the length of your poem, but remember that the more words you have, the bigger your shape will be.


Quatrains

A Quatrain is an ancient french style of poetry with one hard rule.  It must be no more or less than four lines in length.

Most quatrains rhyme following one of the patterns as demonstrated below.

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TIPS FOR WRITING A GREAT QUATRAIN

Quatrain poetry is constructed by four lines that alternate in rhyme. So, the first and third lines have a word rhyming with each other at the end, as do the second and fourth lines. The quatrain poem can also be written with two different rhythms, either A,B,A,B or as A,A,B,B.

The quatrain would not be your first introduction to poetry. Ensure your students understand rhyming poetry by trying some of the other styles above.


The Palindrome

A palindrome is a phrase that can be read forwards and backwards with the same outcome.  "A man, a plan, a canal -- Panama," is a commonly used example.  Read it backwards for yourself...

A palindromic poem follows this concept in a structured model as demonstrated below.  The only word which is not repeated  is found on the fourth (or center) line.  This word provides the opportunity to reverse the words we have been presented in the first half.

Palindromes are easy to write once your students clearly understand the why and what they are expected to do.

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TIPS FOR WRITING A GREAT PALINDROME

  • Try reading a few things backwards to get your mind in the palindromic head space.

  • Don’t let perfect stop productivity. Try to make sense with your palindrome but don’t over complicate it in the strive for perfection.

  • Do some research. There are plenty of famous palindromes that can be found and read on the web. Read a few of them before beginning.


Shakespearean Sonnet

A poem containing both emotion and rhyme is considered a lyric and as such has strong connections to drama and music.  The great William Shakespeare's preferred style of poetry was the sonnet and he would frequently include them into nearly all of his plays to convey a greater sense of emotion.

The Shakespearean Sonnet is a strict 14 line model as demonstrated below and should be aimed at older and more accomplished writers who already have a sense of rhyming poetry and emotive language.

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TIPS FOR WRITING A SHAKESPEAREAN SONNET

  • Try writing your sonnet about something you deeply love… It could be a person, but if that was a little awkward it might be easier to start with a sport, food or something else you are passionate about.

  • Write your lines in iambic pentameter (duh-DUH-duh-DUH-duh-DUH-duh-DUH-duh-DUH.

  • Structure your sonnet as an argument that builds as it moves from one metaphor to the next.