“Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.” Rita Dove, American poet
Since the first known poem dating back to 2100 B.C., poetry has been used to express complex feelings and ideas through art. Even before written text, it was used to tell fictional stories and even recall historical events.
Today, poetry takes a variety of forms and has many different purposes. It’s also a great tool for fostering important development skills in students. Reading poetry helps to support the following four areas:
- Language development: It builds their reading, speaking and listening skills, while allowing them to practice their pitch, voice inflection, and volume.
- Cognitive development: Poetry helps them understand patterns, which lead to sequences, and sentence structure. This helps the brain to process and retain information.
- Social-emotional development: Reading poetry is fun and expressive, and it helps to uncover their individuality and creativity.
- Physical development: The musical structure of most poems teaches linguistics, allowing children to better coordinate their breathing, tongue and mouth movements.
What’s better than reading poetry? Writing your own! Students will receive many of the same benefits as well as have an opportunity to hone and display their own creativity. Here are 5 poetry styles to help them tap into their inner Shakespeare and explore the versatility and imaginative nature of the art form.
Acrostic poetry combines creativity and structure. To write an acrostic poem, you use the first, last or other letters in a line to spell out a particular word or phrase. The word usually represents the theme of the poem, with each line related to that central theme. For example, a poem about “spring” would contain six lines and each line could start with a letter from the word “spring,” in order. See the example below:
S - Sun shining bright
P - Pretty flowers blooming
R - Raindrops splashing to the ground
I - Insects crawling and flying about
N - New smells and sounds to enjoy
G - Gentle breezes blowing
With acrostic poems, the lines don’t necessarily have to rhyme. However, each line should describe the main word to create a flowing and cohesive poem.
Haiku is a short form of Japanese poetry that contains only three lines, making it extremely easy for students to create their own poems. It also has a simple structure, as the first and third lines are five syllables long and the middle line has seven syllables.
Similar to acrostic, the lines rarely rhyme and they typically describe something in nature, such as animals or seasons. The most popular Haiku poetry exercise for students is a “What Am I?” Haiku. The writer will describe something using the Haiku and the others have to guess what it is after reading or listening to the poem. KidZone offers the following example:
Green and speckled legs,
Hop on logs and lily pads
Splash in cool water.
And here’s a bonus: students can discover new sensory words as they tap into their imagination!
Also known as shape poetry, concrete poetry arranges words in the poem to reflect its topic or subject. It connects art and writing, using images and words to get the message across to readers. For example, a poem about a flower can take the shape of an actual flower. A popular example is The Mouse’s Tale, which appears in the novel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The poem is written in the shape of a mouse’s tail and plays on the tale/tail homonym.
To help students write a concrete poem, follow these 5 simple steps from Poetry4Kids:
- Choose an object to be the subject of your poem. For beginners, this could by their favorite animal or food.
- Draw a simple outline of its shape on paper or on the computer. If you’re using paper, draw with a pencil instead of a pen.
- Write your poem normally by describing how the subject makes you feel. It doesn’t have to rhyme, and it should only contain 6-12 lines - don’t make it too long!
- Lightly in pencil, or on the computer, write your poem into the shape. You may have to make your writing bigger or smaller in certain areas to make the poem fit, and it could take several tries before you have the perfect concrete poem.
- Finally, erase the outline of your shape, so that it is just the words from your poem left creating the image. If you were writing in pencil, go over the words in pen.
Concrete poetry is a fun way to mix writing and art, allowing students to practice two important skills at one time!
Perhaps a favorite among students, limericks are silly and nonsensical poems that contain five lines. Although they’re silly, limericks have a more complex rhyming scheme than other poetry styles.
When writing a limerick:
- The first, second and fifth lines must have 7-10 syllables, rhyme with each other and have the same verbal rhythm.
- The third and fourth lines only have 5-7 syllables, but they must also rhyme with each other and have the same rhythm.
- Limericks typically start with the line “There once was a…” or “There was a…”
This funny limerick by Twisted Cartoonist is a great example to show your students:
There once was a loony old goat.
Who wanted to sail on a boat.
Across the seven seas,
With a crew of trained fleas,
While wearing a long captain’s coat.
You can use this poetry style to help students get the “sillies” out!
5. Spoken Word
Originating from hip-hop music, spoken word is a performance art that leverages word play - such as cadence and voice inflection - as well as certain poetic devices to deliver a message. While spoken word poetry can be written and published on paper, it is meant to be read out loud. This poetry style can give students an outlet to express strong feelings, and you can even put their skills on display with a Poetry Slam.
Below are a few tips for writing spoken word poetry:
- Choose a subject
- Show emotion and attitude
- Pick your poetic devices
- Memorize your spoken word poem
- Practice, practice, practice your performance
For inspiration, show students videos of other children and youth performing spoken word poetry. This can help them better understand the elements of a good performance - such as eye contact, projection, enunciation and gestures - in order to deliver a stellar piece.
Poetry is a great learning tool for students, as it teaches key language development skills while providing an outlet for creative expression. For National Poetry Month and beyond, try out these various poetry styles and help students discover their inner poet.