The Elements of Poetry
When introducing poetry to students it is important that they understand that there are certain elements in poems that may or may not be
found in prose. One of these elements is alliteration. It is the repetition of the initial sound in two or more words in a line of verse e.g. “Tiny Tim tip-toed through the tulips.” This particular element may be found in all kinds of writing. Shel Silverstein’s poems use this element to emphasize humor, or to set a mood.
Provide your students with a noun, e.g. house or snake, and then ask them to print three or four adjectives to describe the noun using the same initial sound e.g. haunted, harrowing, hazardous house or slippery, slithery, slender snake. This will make them aware of this element in the alliteration poems that you will share with them.
Bear in There
A favorite poem is Bear in There. Primary students love it for the nonsensical picture it conjures up of a polar bear in the refrigerator. Shel Silverstein uses alliteration to emphasize the humour in this poem. He writes that the bear has “his face in the fish” and “He’s nibbling the noodles” and “slurping the soda”.
After sharing this poem suggest that your students make a list of words that have the same initial sound as fish, noodles, soda, and then try each of them in the poem. You will have examples such as “feet in the fish” and “nabbing the noodles” and " sipping the soda” and so on. Ask students if they think that the poet chose the best words for his poem. Why or why not?
Picture Puzzle Pieces
Picture Puzzle Pieces is one of the best illustrations of alliteration poems by Shel Silverstein. Ask students: How does he use the alliteration to make this a sad poem rather than a humorous one?
One immediately feels sympathy for the “picture puzzle piece” lying all on its own on the sidewalk and getting soaked in the rain. With the emphasis on the p-p-p sound the audience is sharply aware that it is a single part of a puzzle and is missing its whole. Ask the students to softly murmur the p-p-p sound while you read the poem to them. What does it sound like? (raindrops falling)
Provide students with paper, crayons, markers and invite them to illustrate what they think is on the puzzle piece by using the clues from the poem e.g. ‘button of blue’ , or ‘Bobo the Bear’.
Danny O’Dare is another poem that makes use of alliteration to create another mood. Read the poem to your students and ask them to pick out the alliterative letters that are the most outstanding. They will quickly ascertain that it is the letter ‘D’.
Read the poem again with particular emphasis on that letter sound. Ask the students what they think is being illustrated by that sound.(It creates the rhythm of a lively dance). Ask the students to quietly say the d-d-d sound while you read the poem again, and point out that it sounds like a musical background to the bear’s dance.
Get Students Busy…
After hearing the poems and discussing the alliteration element, encourage students to write their own verse using this component. They could begin with something simple like an acrostic poem.
Print the letters of a noun, e.g. HAT, down a piece of paper and then print words that begin with the same sound on each line. For example:
- H handsome, hard, heavy
- A amber, arty, awful
- T tasteful, terrible, tight
This will then become the basis for an alliterative poem - in this example - My Hat.