What It Is: In an acrostic poem, a word or person’s name is written vertically down the side of a page. These letters are used to begin each line of the poem. The acrostic, which usually does not rhyme, is written to characterize or describe the chosen word or person.
What To Do: Write a sample acrostic poem on the board using the name of a person all of your students know—this could be someone at your school or even a well-known historical figure or celebrity. Talk about how each line of the poem describes that person. Then, break students into pairs, ideally pairing students who don’t know each other well. Have them find a comfortable spot in the room to ask each other questions; topics can include family members, favorite activities, and memorable moments. Afterward, students should return to their seats to write an acrostic poem about their new friend. When they’re done, invite them to share their poems with their partners. Make a class book of all the acrostic poems to celebrate new friendships.
What It Is: A limerick is a funny, five-line rhyming poem. The first, second, and fifth lines rhyme, while the third and fourth rhyme with each other.
What To Do: Find a book or website with limericks for kids. After explaining the structure of the form, share poems that you know will get a giggle from your class. Check for understanding, then write a limerick or two as a class using the template below. Once you’re sure they have it down, bring out a small plastic ball and have students form a circle; tell them it will be their turn to finish a line when the ball comes to them. Throw the ball to a volunteer who would like to fill in the first line. Then have that child pass the ball to another volunteer who wants to complete the second line. Keep passing the ball until all five lines are written. Work as a team to make sure that the rhyming pattern is followed. After you’re done, use the template to start another limerick and see just how silly you can get.
There once was a ______ named _______
Who thought _________________________.
Until s/he _____________________________.
Colorful Concrete Poems
What It Is: A concrete poem takes the shape of its subject. For example, a concrete poem about a lollipop is arranged in the shape of a lollipop.
What To Do: As a class, brainstorm a list of objects that students would like to write about. (Objects such as trees or dinosaurs are good choices because they are easy to outline and describe.) Put students into small groups to write a concrete poem about an object from your list. Working together, students write down words and phrases associated with their object. For example, students might make the following list about a lollipop: sweet, sticky on my fingers, surprise in the middle, flavors of the rainbow. Hand out sheets of construction paper for groups to outline the shapes of their objects. Then students can use their words and phrases to write a non-rhyming poem within that shape. The poem can be repeated, as necessary, to fill the space.
Suggestive Sensory Poems
What It Is: A sensory poem, or five-senses poem, describes how a poet perceives what something looks like, tastes like, smells like, feels like, and sounds like. It does not need to rhyme.
What To Do: Review the five senses with your students and introduce the concept of a sensory poem. Give each student a clipboard, sheet of paper, and pencil. Have students write the following poem starter on their papers:
I see _____________________________.
I taste ___________________________.
I smell ___________________________.
I feel _____________________________.
I hear ____________________________.
Then take a walk around your school while encouraging students to look for one particular thing they can describe in their poems. Remember that the poem must address all five senses, including taste, so you might want to stay close to the lunchroom. Students can draw or take notes on their clipboard of what they sense during the walk. Return to the classroom and have students complete their poems by filling in the blank lines. Students should peer-edit one another’s work and help make revisions. Then it’s time to publish. Hand out blank paper for students to rewrite their poems—this time without the sentence starters. Invite volunteers to read their poems aloud and have classmates guess what object the poet is describing.
The Art of Haiku
What It Is: A haiku is a three-line, non-rhyming form of poetry that originated in Japan. The first line has five syllables, the second line has seven syllables, and the third line has five syllables.
What To Do: Write the following haiku on the board and read it aloud. Then, clap out the syllables in each line:
Spring is in the air
Flowers blooming, rain falling
Earth comes back to life
Pair students and tell them they’ll work together to write their own haikus. Because haikus are usually about nature, suggest they write about a season. Before worrying about syllable counts, encourage students to talk about phrases that come to mind when they think of the season. To follow the sample haiku’s structure, tell students to use the first line to introduce the season, the second to list specific features of the season, and the third to summarize what the season brings. After students have written their poems, each pair should link up with another pair to read their haikus and clap out the number of syllables in each line.
What It Is: A cinquain is a five-line poem that conforms to the following pattern:
Line 1: one word that states the subject
Line 2: two words that describe the subject
Line 3: three words that tell an action about the subject
Line 4: four words that express a feeling about the subject
Line 5: one word that uses a synonym for the subject
What to Do: Read an example to students. (Go with the simpler version of the form, rather than adhering to a set number of syllables for each line.)
reaching, bending, fluttering
leaves and twigs in the wind
Find a buddy class of fourth or fifth graders. Assign each of your students to a “buddy” and allow the older student to explain what a cinquain is. Each pair should choose a subject and then write their cinquain together. The younger child can come up with the words, while the older one can record the poem. If working with an older class isn’t possible, pair your students with another class at your grade level. Celebrate by hosting a read-aloud.