Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Mini Poetry Workshop!

Let's face it: poetry is hard.

But it can be fun to write, especially if you understand some of the things that make poetry so darn cool. Like imagery, alliteration, rhythm and, of course, rhyme! Once you (and your kiddos) understand more about how to use these devises in your writing, poetry can become less of a struggle, and more of an engaging challenge.


This is simply what you see put into words. When done well, imagery will transport a reader from one place to another, if only in their mind. It is what gives a poem, or any other piece of writing, a sense of place, and can greatly affect the mood.


Before me the grasses bend

in rhythm with the breeze,
and a cottonwood’s leaves shimmer and dance in the sunlight


Alliteration is a series of words that begin with the same sound, as is often done on tongue twisters. Using alliteration in poetry adds a layer of interest to the way a poem sounds when read aloud.


His blood is black and boiling hot.
He gurgles ghastly groans. 

(from "The Troll" by Jack Prelutsky)


All language has a natural rhythm. In poetry, especially rhyming poetry, the rhythm is often a predictable pattern of stressed and unstressed beats, like in a song. This rhythm is usually referred to as meter.


Twinkle, twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are

These lines have a predictable patter of stressed and unstressed beats. The pattern is simple; every other syllable in each line is stressed. The trick to meter is working the right words into the poem in such a way that the words' natural rhythms will fit into the meter. You can see in the example below how I have fit other words into the same pattern:

Blizzard, blizzard, watch it blow
Whirling, swirling, ice and snow


This one is fairly straight-forward. It is good for budding poets to learn the difference between true rhyme (cat/fat) and near rhyme (rain/again).rhyme can be one of the trickiest parts of writing poetry because of the challenge it can be to find a word that 1) fits the meter, 2) makes sense with the rest of the poem, and 3) rhymes perfectly. A good rhyming dictionary, like the online one at rhymezone.com is a handy tool.

Now, you try it!

1. Have your kids practice imagery by writing descriptive phrases of things they see around them.

2. Practice making up goofy alliterative phrases.

3. Try working on rhythm by writing new words for Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Say the words aloud to hear how they fit in the meter.

4. Make lists of rhyming words.

5. Now you are ready to try writing your own poem!

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