Elements of poetry are fun and easy to teach. Start with key vocabulary. Then analyze some kid-friendly poems. Finally, ask students to memorize with poetry blackout and write some poems of their own.
Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, looked at the clock. Her students would arrive shortly. She grabbed the file on her desk and smiled. “They’re going to love this.”
Ms. Sneed Introduces Elements of Poetry
Learning Key Vocabulary
After her students filed in, Ms. Sneed walked to the document camera and pulled up a list of terms entitled Elements of Poetry.
“It’s time for a new ELA unit,” the teacher announced. “Let’s get started with some vocabulary.” She read through the terms:
- verse – one line of poetry
- stanza – group of verses
- rhythm – beats, or stressed syllables
- meter – pattern of stressed syllables
- rhyme – syllables that sound similar
Modeling the Terms
After a quick introduction to terminology, Ms. Sneed displayed a familiar nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
“We’ll explore the rhythm first,” she said. “Read the first stanza with me, and we’ll clap the beat.” The kids smiled as they read and clapped, some getting a little more exuberant than necessary.
“I’m glad you like poetry,” smiled the teacher. “Notice that the first verse has four stressed syllables and the third has three. This pattern repeats. The pattern of stressed syllables is called meter. But it’s more than just 4-3-4-3. If you look more closely, you’ll see that every other syllable is stressed. When we analyze poetry, we’ll be looking closely at the rhythm and meter.”
Next, Ms. Sneed pointed out the rhyme. “We look at the last syllable or two of each verse,” she said. “See how only two end words in the first verse rhyme? To label this, we always use A for the first verse. Any verses in a stanza that rhyme will also be labeled A. Here, the second verse does not rhyme with the first, so we call it B. The third doesn’t rhyme either, so it’s marked C. But the fourth verse rhymes with the second, so we name it B as well.”
Her students squirmed in their seats. “Time for some collaboration,” Ms. Sneed said. “Work with your partner to answer two questions: (1) Are the rhythm and meter the same for the other stanzas of this poem? (2) Is the rhyming scheme the same in all stanzas?”
Coming to Consensus
As Ms. Sneed walked around the room, her students chattered away. Before too long, she saw that they were ready to discuss.
“So?” she asked. Lots of hands shot in the air. “LeVon?”
“The rhythm and meter are the same throughout the poem,” he responded. “4-3-4-3 with every other syllable stressed.”
Ms. Sneed nodded. “Carissa?”
“The rhyme is the same for every stanza too: ABCB. But the rhyming words don’t sound the same from stanza to stanza.”
The teacher smiled at her students. “Wow, after only a few minutes of this, you have already got the vocabulary down. You guys are talking about rhythm, meter, and rhyme like pros!”
Elements of Poetry and Famous Children’s Poets
Next, Ms. Sneed opened a file called Analyzing Elements of Poetry. From it, she displayed a short biography of Lewis Carroll. “How many of you have heard of Alice in Wonderland?” All hands shot up. “The author, Lewis Carroll, used some fun poetry in his story. Let’s look at one of them. ‘How Doth the Little Crocodile’ is actually a parody, or humorous copy of ‘How Doth the Little Busy Bee.’ We’ll study that later.
“For now, I’d like you to pull up this poem on your Chromebooks. I’ve created a TpT Digital Activity, so you can mark it up with the pen and highlight tools. If you’d like to collaborate with another student, just find a comfortable place in the room to work.”
Ms. Sneed walked back to her digital camera and displayed “Mary Had a Little Lamb” as a model. Soon the students were situated and working happily.
The next day, Ms. Sneed shared another poem, “Tweedledum and Tweedledee.” This time, she asked kids to work independently.
Over the next week, students continued with Analyzing Elements of Poetry, including limericks by Edward Lear and more traditional poems by Amy Lowell.
Memorize Poems with Poetry Blackout
One morning, Ms. Sneed displayed “How Doth the Little Crocodile” again.
“Hey, we already studied this,” one child said.
“Yep, but now we’re going to memorize it,” her teacher responded. In response to their grumbles, Ms. Sneed laughed. “You will be surprised how quickly you will learn it. This is poetry blackout.”
Once everyone took their seats, Ms. Sneed read the poem aloud. “Now you will read it with me.” Everyone chanted in unison.
“And now, I will black out some of the words and we will read the poem again.” Ms. Sneed pressed the button and seven words were covered. Again they chanted the poem together.
Over the next ten minutes, Ms. Sneed covered more and more words. The class recited the poem over and over. Soon, all the words were covered. And – hey! The students were reciting the poem for memory.
“Now we need an audience,” Ms. Sneed said with a twinkle in her eye. “Line up. We’re going next door to perform for Mr. Frank’s class.”
Write Poems to Learn More About Elements of Poetry
Analyzing I Spy Poetry
The next day, Ms. Sneed made an announcement. “Tomorrow, I’d like you to bring 30 or so small items to school. They should be related in some way. For example, you could bring a set of small toys or a collection of some type. You could even bring objects from a junk drawer at your house.”
Everyone started talking excitedly about what they would bring. Finally, a girl with purple glasses said, “Hey, what’s all of this for?”
“We’re going to photograph it and create our own I Spy book.” With that, she pulled out I Spy Treasure Hunt.
“Move up here and sit on the floor,” she said. I’ll read to you, and we’ll analyze these poems.”
Ms. Sneed smiled as they hurried to join her. Even her “big” fourth graders loved picture books.
As their teacher read the pages aloud, the kids clapped out the beat and examined the rhyme. Before too long, they all agreed on the structure of an I Spy poem:
- Two stanzas
- Two verses per stanza
- Each pair of verses rhymes (couplets)
- Four beats per verse
- Usually two unstressed syllables between the beats
Creating I Spy Pictures
The following day, Ms. Sneed let them arrange their collections right away. “I will use the square format on the camera on my phone,” she said. “So you need to make sure your materials are in a square shape.”
A flurry of activity ensued. Each child staked out an area for his or her collection – and the organizing began. After a while, cries of “Ms. Sneed, I’m ready!” could be heard. The teacher stood on a short ladder and took bird’s-eye photos of each child’s display.
Writing I Spy Poems
That night, Ms. Sneed shared all the pictures with her students.
Then, the next morning, she showed them how to copy their own picture into a Google Slide. Next, she showed them how to add a text box.
“Before you begin, let’s review the structure of a I Spy poem,” she said. “Two stanzas, each with two verses. Only the first verse begins with ‘I spy.’ Four beats per verse – with two unstressed syllables between them.”
And the poets began their masterpieces.
More Poetry Writing
Surprisingly – or maybe not – Ms. Sneed’s class loved writing poetry. Maybe she would tackle limericks next…
Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. In order to survive, she had to organize, plan, and simplify. Then, to thrive, Ms. Sneed needed to learn, engage, and finally – dive in! Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.