Ideas for Teaching Poetry: Ways to Create Wordsmiths

Ideas for Teaching Poetry: Ways to Create Wordsmiths
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Before Literacy

Historians theorize that poetry pre-dated literacy. In the Middle Ages, information was recited by troubadours. Rhyme in songs, tales

and riddles led the reciter and it was believed that this activity was the precursor of modern newspapers.

Enjoying poetry written by others is one thing, but writing it ourselves is another thing entirely. Sometimes what we feel is difficult to put into words. More important, trying to teach poetry writing to your students may not be an activity that you look forward to. However, if you subscribe to the notion that poetry is the type of activity that will force the reader to use some valuable critical thinking skills, it is well worth the effort.

Initiate lessons on ‘rhyme’ or use it as a review mechanism. For young children who have not mastered reading and writing, these activities can improve their language skills. For older children these activities will help them as they approach more advanced poetry elements.

The Onset of Reading and Writing

As time passed and more people became literate, receiving or giving information orally was not enough. People began to react to situations or ideas and write down their thoughts. They discovered, as a result of this activity, that information could be long-lasting and preserved.

Gradually these thoughts and ideas were organized and put into a form. A pattern of rhyme, rhythm, line structure and stanza format surfaced. Instead of orally telling a story, poets began to tell their stories in verse.

Review activities that will help your students get a handle on the forms of poetry and rhyme schemes.

Stories and the Human Experience

It has often been said that everybody has a story to tell. Some stories spark interest and some do not. Many stories, however, have been turned into poems. These poems evolved into three general types:

  • Narrative - can be an epic (long poem about gods and heroes) and a ballad (similar to a song about an adventure or a romance)
  • Dramatic - story using a character’s own thoughts or statements
  • Lyric - brief poem in which the author expresses the feelings of a single speaker and notable for its musical qualities, achieved through rhyme and rhythm.

Read how these activities can help your students discover how emotions and feelings can be expressed.

Recognizing Poetic Features

Sometimes it seems like the vocabulary in poetry is purposely difficult in order to force the reader to think about what is being described. Words are precise and chosen carefully. Among the keys to understanding a poem is the ability to analyze the poem to determine what the writer is trying to say.

Over the years, in addition to the early use of sound devices, such as rhythm, rhyme scheme and repetition, poets have used figurative language. The use of metaphor, simile, personification and onomatopoeia have enabled poets to express their ideas and feelings in a variety of ways.

Give your students a firm foundation for enjoying, understanding and writing poetry by introducing and/or reinforcing their knowledge of these important poetry elements.

Modern Poetry

For several centuries poets have discovered a myriad of ways to express their thoughts and ideas. While establishing a form or fixed metrical pattern has been the usual method, some works have not conformed to a fixed metrical pattern. These poems have no set meter or rhyme scheme and are called free verse.

There is some disagreement among writers regarding the use of free verse. Serious modern poetry, some argue, is written by and for well-educated, highly literate people and rhyme is downgraded. Others argue that while the sonnet has a refined imagery, ‘rhyme’ is still valid and point to ‘limericks’ as an example. Clearly, were teachers to subscribe to the latter argument, they might as well give up. Well-educated and highly literate people are not born, they are made.

Review the activities and help your students get a feel for this poetry element.

An Acquired Taste that Can Linger

Poetry is an acquired taste, much like broccoli. We might not like it, even though we know that it is good for our health. For some people slathering cheese on broccoli makes it more palatable. Poetry has to be treated the same way. Sometimes it might need ‘a little sugar to make the medicine go down.’ The lessons listed in this article attempt in many traditional and amusing ways to get students interested in poetry, because like broccoli, it’s good for them. Hopefully, they will soon come to realize that for every important event in their lives, there is a poem that can offer an invaluable lesson.


  • Brooks, Cleanth and Warren, Robert Penn, Understanding Poetry, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1960..

    Feldman, Kevin, Kinsella, Kate, Vaughan, Sharon, Prentice Hall Literature, Pearson Prentice Hall, Boston, Massachusetts, 2007, ISBN 0-13-131717-2.

    Poem-and-Poet: History of Poetry.