Reading and Defining Poetry

Grade Levels: 7 - 10

  • The students will find samples of poetry they like.
  • The students will begin to make a definition of poetry that is useful for them in their own writing.
  • The students will share a favorite poem with the class.
  • The students will begin recognizing poetic elements.


This lesson requires two class periods.

For the next three weeks, students will write poetry. Although they may wish to work with rhyme, this unit does not require it. Suggested assignments call for free verse with specific structures and shapes. The lessons are useful in emphasizing the power of economy, contrast, repetition, and figures of speech in any writing whether it is poetry or prose. Don't encourage students to use rhyme until they have practiced other poetic skills. Rhyme sidetracks them from using other important elements and tempts them to say that which they don't intend.

  • Bring a collection of contemporary poetry books from the library to class, or arrange for the class to read and work in the library. Give students at least one class period to read and look through as many books as possible.
  • Ask students to read widely and find at least one poem they each honestly like. Don't let them rely on an old favorite, but expect them to read to discover something new.
  • Explain that they will be expected to share a poem with the class in the large circle on the following day. They should be prepared to explain in detail why they admire the poem they have chosen.
  • Arrange the class in the large circle and ask the students to take turns reading and discussing the poems they have chosen. (Begin the session by sharing several poems you have found. Model an explanation of why they appeal to you.) Encourage the students to explain why they were attracted to their poems. Ask questions, if necessary, to elicit more thoughtful answers.
  • Most students are likely to choose a poem because the subject matter appeals to them. They are unlikely to be aware of any poetic devices the poet may be using. If so, this is a good time to reinforce the idea that the subject matter of poetry is ordinary human experience. It is important for students to realize that their own experience is subject matter for poetry. Occasionally, point out poetic elements in particular poems as you hear them read.
  • After the poems have been read and each student has discussed a poem, ask the whole class to brainstorm a list on the board of some elements of poetry. The list may be similar to the following:
    • subject matter – feelings (both serious and humorous)
    • economy (grammar and usage rules are sometimes ignored)
    • shape or pattern
    • white space
    • line breaks
    • repetition of words or phrases
    • rhythm
    • rhyme
    • voice of a speaker
    • verbs
    • images (pictures in the reader's head)
    • appeals to all the senses
    • word sounds (alliteration, onomatopoeia)
    • figures of speech (simile, metaphor, personification, onomatopoeia, hyperbole, oxymoron)
    • surprises!

Excerpted from Writing Process Activities Kit.

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