Poetry: Poetic Structure

When starting any study of poetry, it is important to understand poetic structure.  There are several features that are common to most poems that children should be aware of.

Poetic Structure Definitions

  • Line: A line is one row of words in poetry.  Lines do not necessarily need to be complete sentences.
  • Stanza: A stanza is a group of lines together separated by a space.  Children can compare stanzas to paragraphs in a book.
  • Rhythm: The rhythm is the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in the poem.  Rhythm is what gives a poem that lilting, musical feeling when you read it out loud.
  • Rhyme Scheme:  The rhyme scheme is the pattern of rhyming words at the end of each line.  Most poems have rhyming words at the end of each line that fall into a pattern that stays the same throughout the poem.

Identifying Poetic Structure

Begin teaching your children about poetic structure using a simple poem that they may already be familiar with like Mary Had a Little Lamb.  Print out a copy of the poem that your children can write on when learning.  Use a different colored pencil or pen for each of the following steps.

  1. Start by having your children underline one or two of the lines in the poem.  They could also count how many lines the poem has altogether.  You can also point out that each line starts with a capital letter but doesn’t always end in punctuation.
  2. Next, point out the spaces between each stanza.  Label above or next to each stanza with first, second, and third.  This would be a great time to show your children that each stanza covers a different idea within the poem.
  3. Rhythm is a tricky thing for children to grasp.  Remind them that it is similar to a bouncy feeling in the words you are reading.  Ask your child to listen for words that are emphasized as you read the poem out loud.  Read the poem several times (make sure you are emphasizing the same words each time) and then have your child underline the words that are being emphasized.  Usually you will find that the emphasized words fall into a pattern.
  4. Rhyming is generally easy for children so this step may be the easiest one to teach your children.  Underline the last word of each line.  Then each line gets assigned a letter.  Words that rhyme are given the same letter.  Continue to letter the lines until you have finished the poem.  The pattern of letters at the end of each line is the rhyme scheme.

Understanding poetic structure is key to being able to word with and decipher poetry.  Your children will enjoy being able to mark up and write on the poems they are reading as they learn about basic poetic structure.

What tricks do you have to help your child understand poetic structure?

Photo by: Pascal Maramis

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