Thursday, April 9, 2009

Book Chook Ways to Start Writing Poetry

From when we are babies, we experience the world through our senses. I'm sure you've seen babies try to discover more about their world by shoving almost anything into their mouths! When I start teaching writing, I get back to basics - I try to provide sensual experiences that spark verbal images.

My students touch an ice cube with their tongues, they close their eyes and use their fingertips to explore peeled grapes, they lie on leaf litter and become leeches. When something dramatic happens in the classroom, we use it as fodder for our writing. My aim is to shake loose the stored language inside their heads, and have them play with it. I encourage an atmosphere that promotes the free flow of ideas.

If you've already shared poetry as an integral part of your regular read-aloud routine (ooh, alliteration!), kids will not be daunted by the idea of writing in poetic formats. I don't worry too much at this stage over whether something IS or ISN'T poetry. My aim is to have children creating with words, and delighting in the joy of language.

However, some students need structure to enable them to feel comfortable about creating. So here are some poetic forms you can try with your kids.

diamante: These poems are easy enough for younger kids to understand. They are shaped like a diamond. They start and finish with one of a pair of opposites, like day/night. They go on to tell more about the chosen opposites. As the poem progresses, it slowly changes to the second one of the pair of opposites.
Mrs Murphy's Class has two examples.

limerick: Bruce Lansky explains limericks really well at
Gigglepoetry. They're not easy to write, but reading lots aloud gets the limerick rhythm into your head and studying them closely makes it easier.

cinquain: These have five lines. Line 1 is the title. Line 2 has two adjectives that describe the title. Line 3 has 3 "ing" words that relate to the title. Line 4 has a phrase of four words related to the title. Line 5 is one word, a synonym for the title.
Read Write Think has a lesson on composing cinquains.

acrostic: Start with a word that becomes the title. Each line of the poem relates to the title, and starts with one of its letters.
Read Write Think has a lesson on composing acrostics.

phoetry: Play with this one. It describes a combination of photography and poetry. Once you've chosen your pictures, use words to describe what comes to mind when you look at them. That could be about places, people, feelings, impressions or actions suggested by the photos. Teachers encourage kids to use phoetry to illustrate the meaning or symbolism of a poem.

Why not try writing poetry with your kids? Sally Murphy has some great exercises at her
Writing for Children Blog.


Book Chook Feather of Approval 1: To Australia's Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, who when asked what he would spend money on recently, replied, "What I would probably do is go down to the bookshop and buy some books I've been wanting to buy for a while." Onya Kev! It's good to see politicians getting it right.

Book Chook Feather of Approval 2: To Garrison Keillor and American Public Media, who deliver The Writer's Almanac to my inbox daily. It's a great way to get to know new poets, and to spark ideas for my own creativity.

Photo credit:


  1. Phoetry! I like that... this is a nice post, I haven't ever done an activity with my kids involving poetry. I think they would enjoy it and since they are home for four days... i might as well!

  2. Fiona, tell them I'd love to publish their phoetry on my blog if they'd like to share it.

    Recent blog post: Book Chook Ways to Start Writing Poetry

  3. I love how you say that you like to "shake loose the stored language in their heads." Every child can write, if they can somehow relate to the topic. In prompting them to use their five senses (hearing, seeing, tasting, touching, and even smelling), it makes it easier for children to use descriptive language.

    A lot of children and adults are intimidated by the many forms of poetry, but I like the suggestions you've given. I'd never heard of phoetry before, and it sounds like a wonderful way to connect images with language.

    Another simple type of poem I like to write, which comes in many forms, is the "I am" poem. You can create your own at this link:

    Thank you for such informative and inspiring suggestions!

    Recent blog post: No Place Like Home

  4. Thank YOU for the link, Dawn.

    I think we all can write. It's learning to re-write that's tricky!

    Recent blog post: Rhyme Helps Reading


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