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Composing a Story in Verse: Writing a Ballad

written by: Lady Lit • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 1/20/2012

A folk ballad is a story told or sung in verse, as the word “ballad" literally means dance songs. Most of the ballads that exist today were composed during the years 1200-1700, but few of the ballads were printed before the 18th century. Use this activity to show students how to create their own.

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    Characteristics of Ballads

    Here is a list of the characteristics of ballads to get you started:

    • Most ballads have a narrative form.
    • Ballads tend to have a distinctive verse form-Quatrains.
    • Ballads have refrains-with four stresses per line—general effect is musical.
    • Most ballads contain dialogue.
    • The common rhyme scheme of many ballads is (abcb) with ballad stanza lines 2 and 4 rhyming.
    • These poems are generally very impersonal in tone and not very reflective.
    • Ballads tend to be extremely concise and tend to recount one episode.
    • Common themes include tragic love themes, history, supernatural, unbelievable incidents, tragic domestic stories, etc.

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    What To Expect From Your Students

    I provide students with the following requirements:

    • Their ballad must contain eight stanzas in length, and must contain a theme of love, tragedy, or history.
    • Ballads must contain an abcb rhyme scheme as well as a refrain that repeats through each stanza of the ballad.
    • Students are required to have dialogue, and I remind students that dialogue should appear in quotation marks.
    • The poem must contain three examples of similes as well as three examples of metaphors. The similes and metaphors should appear underlined.
    • Ballads must be typed.

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    A Point to Consider

    Although this project is not all that difficult to complete, students will have a problem getting started. I tell students to write of a romance, nothing involving their own lives because ballads are not reflective in nature, but you should tell students to create a romance between two individuals. Generally, this is a useful idea that will help students get started writing their ballads.

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    I count this assignment as two test grades, and I give students two weeks to complete it. I use a rubric and assign a point value to each of the aforementioned requirements. Though the good thing with this particular project is that it is flexible enough in which you can add your own requirements and grade it accordingly to your standards.