Poetry Terms to Know: A Quick Refresher

Reacquaint yourself with the building blocks of poetry, which are crucial to a child’s literacy development.

Jul 20, 2022



Poetry Terms to Know: A Quick Refresher

Jul 20, 2022

Poetry enters children’s lives sooner than you might think. Consider the nursery rhymes recited to us from birth that we remember to this day! (Humpty-Dumpty, anyone?)

Rhyming verses and repetitive phrases, specifically, are some of the earliest language that your child absorbs — often through reading routines you establish at home, like a nightly read-aloud. In addition to bringing your child joy, this important bonding activity is actually preparing them to read.

The Poetry-Literacy Connection

Nursery rhymes, poetry, and songs all strengthen a child’s ability to hear sound patterns in our language. 

“Really hearing those individual sounds makes a difference,” said Nancy Garrity, senior director of early childhood at Scholastic Education, in a previous interview with Scholastic Parents. “It will help later, when children are learning to connect sounds to spellings.”

Simply put, rhymes are memorable. The more familiar your child becomes with these sound patterns in oral language, the more easily they’ll recognize them on the page. This ability to hear and recognize sounds will be especially helpful in kindergarten and 1st grade, when children begin to connect sounds with letters — also known as phonics.

In fact, research shows that children entering kindergarten with a familiarity of nursery rhymes and simple poetry may have an easier time learning to read.

Poetry Terms to Know

Now that you know more about the role poetry plays in nurturing your child’s literacy, it’s time to brush up on a few basic poetry terms for when you’re navigating texts together. Let these terms also serve as a reminder of the rich and immersive reading experience poetry can provide, in addition to other genres of books like graphic novels and nonfiction.

Alliteration: The repetition of initial consonant sounds in words.

Example: She sells seashells down by the seashore.

Assonance: The repetition of vowel sounds in words.

Example: The rain in Spain falls mainly in the plains.

Blank Verse: Unrhymed lines of iambic pentameter (defined below).

Example 1: "But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?"

Example 2: "It is the east. And Juliet is the sun!" [William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet]

Consonance: The repetition of consonant sounds.

Example: She gave the big dog a hug.

Couplet: A pair of lines in poetry of a similar length that rhyme.

Example: "Tell me if you think you know / How to make a turtle go." [Charles Ghinga, Turtle Trouble]

Free Verse: A poem that does not have a regular rhythm or rhyme.

Haiku: A form of Japanese poetry that has three lines: the first line has five syllables, the second has seven syllables, and the third has five syllables.

Example: "Behind me the moon / Brushes shadows of pine trees / Lightly on the floor.” [Kikaku]

Iambic Pentameter: A line of five “iambs” or “feet” in which an unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable.

Example: "So long as men can breathe or eyes can see / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee." [William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18]

Meter: The pattern of repeated stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry.

Onomatopoeia: The use of a word that sounds like its meaning.

Examples: Bang! Boom! Wow! Hey! Ouch!

Prose: A form of language with no metrical or rhythmical structure. It is the natural flow of speech.

Rhyme: A similarity of sound in words.

Examples: Cat, bat; pot, hot; man, can; pet, let

Rhyme Scheme: The ordered pattern of rhyme at the end of a line of poetry.

Sonnet: A poem consisting of 14 lines of iambic pentameter. There are two types of sonnets, Italian and Shakespearean, each with its own distinct rhyming scheme. The Italian Sonnet consists of one octave (eight lines) and a sestet (six lines). The Shakespearean Sonnet consists of three quatrains (four lines each) and a final rhyming couplet (two lines).

Stanza: In poetry, a stanza is a paragraph. As mentioned above, a couplet is a stanza of consisting of two lines. As lines are added, the name of the stanza changes:

a triplet = three lines

a quatrain = four lines

a quintet = five lines

a sestet = six lines

a septet = seven lines

an octave = eight lines

Verse: A metric line of poetry; as a whole, “verse” can refer to poetry itself.

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