Stanza Form in Poetry: Definition of a Poetry Form with Lesson Plans

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Definition of Poetry Form

There are many different types and forms of poems. When teaching stanza form in poetry, keep in mind the following objectives:

  1. Students should know the definition of poetry form and be able to name the different types of stanzas.
  2. Students should be able to identify different stanza forms in poetry. They include couplets, terza rima, quatrains, cinquains, rhyme royal, ottava rima, the Spenserian stanza, and sonnets.
  3. Students should be able to determine the author’s purpose for using a particular stanza form in poetry. This is analysis and involves higher level thinking skills – skills which are transferable to the real world. If you are capable of leading students to this point, you have not only equipped them for being literary experts, you have given them a life-long, beneficial skill.
  4. Students should be able to compose poetry in different forms depending on their purpose.
  5. Students should be able to apply their knowledge of poetic forms for prose writing. They should make the connection that different forms of poetry serve different purposes and different forms of prose serve different purposes (business letters, essays, text messages, etc.).


Use these poems in conjunction with poetic form lesson plans and other poetry lesson plans to make your students masters of poetry.

  1. Couplets are a unit of verse consisting of two successive lines, usually rhyming and having the same meter and often forming a complete thought, as in an epigram. Couplets are used to end Shakespearean Sonnets and often form the basis of longer poems. Examples of poems using couplets include “The Tyger” by William Blake and Andrew Marvell’s “To his Coy Mistress.”
    • Lesson Idea: Instruct students to create epigrams consisting of a couplet to put on t-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, or notebooks.
    • Lesson Idea: Analyze how the couplet in a Shakespearean Sonnet wraps up the entire poem. Try this annotation lesson plan.
  2. Terza Rima is a three line stanza with the following rhyme scheme: a b a b c b c d c. “Acquainted with the Night” by Robert Frost is a good example of a poem written in terza rima.
  3. Quatrains are a popular stanza form, the most popular being the ballad stanza, containing an a b a b rhyme scheme with alternating lines of iambic tetrameter. Examples include “She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways” by William Wordsworth.
    • Lesson idea: Imitation works well. Instruct students to write a series of quatrains on the same topic using four different rhyme schemes: a b a b, a b b a, x a x a, and a a a a. Discuss the differences.
  4. Cinquains are quatrains with an additional line. Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” is the most famous.
    • Speed Poetry Analysis exists for poems like Frost’s. In “The Road Not Taken,” note how the fifth line of each stanza stands out because of the rhyme scheme.
  5. Other stanza forms include Rhyme Royal, a seven-line stanza written in iambic pentameter, rhyme scheme a b a b b c c; ottava rima, an eight line stanza of iambic pentameter, rhyme scheme a b a b a b c c; and a Spenserian stanza, a nine-line poem whose first eight lines are iambic pentameter and ninth line is an Alexandrine, rhyme scheme a b a b b c b c c.
    • Lesson Idea: take a poem written in the elevated style of rhyme royal, ottava rima, or a Spenserian and turn it into a ballad.

Further Reading

Find an in depth analysis of these poems and others in the Bright Hub poetry study guide.

For a complete semester standards based curriculum guide, follow the link.

This post is part of the series: Teaching Sound Devices and Form in Poetry

Use this list of poems and lesson ideas for teaching sound devices and form in poetry.

  1. Poems For Teaching Onomatopoeia
  2. Poems for Teaching Stanza Form in Poetry
  3. Poems For Teaching Meter in Poetry
  4. Alliteration in Poems for High School Students
  5. Poems for Teaching Sound Devices in Poetry