Have you flicked through the most popular children’s books at your local bookstore or library recently? If you have, chances are you noticed that most of them, especially the ones for much younger readers, are written in rhyming verse of one style or another. Poetry is a great way of teaching and subsequently encouraging younger children to read; the rhythmic ‘singsong’ patterns are easily and entertainingly followed, making stories told through poetry accessible and fun to children who are just learning how to read.
Yet as children get older, they’re generally pointed in the direction of prose, and are generally exposed to fewer and fewer poems. But even for older readers, poetry remains a great way of teaching students about story structure, form, and presentation. So here are five types of poetry you should definitely not shy away from in the classroom.
Truth be told, your students are probably already familiar with these. If not, then the simple, memorable style and humorous content of limericks make them lots of fun in a classroom setting. The funniest anecdotes are often the snappiest, so challenging your students to make up short, humorous stories in limerick form will likely prove to be loads of fun for them, as well as a great lesson in telling a story in a specific way.
2) Acrostic Poetry
Ah, acrostic poetry. Form of choice for would-be love poets who can’t rhyme. In the most basic form of acrostic poetry, the first letter of the first word of each line of the poem can all be combined to make up a word or phrase. So a fun creative writing exercise could be to let students pick words out of a hat – ‘beach’, for example – and write a five-line poem on the topic of beaches with each line beginning with a word starting with B, then E, then A, and so on. Then you can gradually work your way up to longer phrases. And if you really want to put your students’ skills to the test, perhaps see if they can handle a pruntiform!
Another twist on the acrostic style, sestinas consist of seven stanzas – five with six lines each and the last one with three. The difficulty comes in ending each line of each stanza with a particular word – so six particular words in total – and changing the order of these concluding words around in different stanzas. So if the final words of each line of your first stanza, are, say, ‘dark’, ‘night’, ‘terror’, ‘find’, ‘doom’ and ‘see’, then you have to use those same words in the following five stanzas, but in a different order each time. The last three-line stanza requires putting one of the words in the middle of the line as well as the end of the line, allowing for all six words to be used. Sounds tricky? That’s because it is – but entertaining too, probably.
What student worth their salt doesn’t know the difference between Shakespearean and Petrarchan (or Italian) sonnets? Once you’ve taught your students the different rhyming sequences, set them to work ‘modernising’ Shakespeare’s sonnets using 21st century expressions in place of Shakespeare’s original phrases. For extra laughs, try getting them to rewrite one of Shakespeare’s sonnets in text-speak. Not only will you all be entertained, you’ll be able to explain the meaning of Shakespeare’s poetry a lot more easily. It’d be marvellously novel to give out behaviour awards for using text-speak, rather than banning it…
If you’re tired of the word ‘epic’ being misused, sit your students down and teach them its real meaning, perhaps by way of introduction to Beowulf, or The Odyssey. If you have to come up with regular creative writing assignments, then a narrative poem written in blank verse could be an excellent way of challenging your students.
So whether you’re teaching children of 5 or 15, poetry can be a great educational tool for any age!
Which poetry forms have you found successful in the classroom? Share in the comments below!
Louise Blake is a mummy blogger from Bath who thoroughly enjoys sharing tips to make reading and learning more fun! She writes here for Classroom Carrots, an online company that supply behaviour awards for the classroom.