What is Poetry?

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Draw on students’ knowledge of poetry to determine a definition for and the structure of this literary genre.

Big Idea

What is poetry? Pose this question to activate prior knowledge and then build on what students know.

What is Poetry?

10 minutes

Children experience poetry from their earliest days. It’s in the soothing lullabies, their first books are filled with it, and each year in school they are exposed to it in a multitude of ways. So there is no reason to start from scratch; instead find what they know and build from there. Click here for information on how to kick start this unit on poetry. Click here for a sample of one student’s response to the question.


20 minutes

In the same document that students write a reflection on the meaning of poetry, they add notes on its form and structure during a class discussion. After listening to a number of students read their definition, table groups come up with a definition and then in a whole class discussion we combine those to create a class definition of poetry.

As the talk continues we realize that we are familiar with a wide variety of forms of poetry. The students are eager to reminisce about experiences in previous grades when they wrote and published their poetry. At this point, I tell them that the difference in this year’s study of poetry is that we will spend a great deal of time analyzing it. This means we will examine the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of poetry. How do poets assemble their poems? In other words, what tools do they choose? And why do they choose them? What meaning does the figurative language, imagery, or sound devices add to the poem?

To end the discussion I pose the question: Why do people write poetry? The responses include to tell a story, express a feeling or mood, represent a thought or idea, reveal a scene and to describe a scene.

Throughout this unit of study, students can return to this document as a reference tool and to add notes.

Color Poem

20 minutes

Be sure to save time at the end of class to give students an opportunity to begin writing a poem. This acitivity was passed along to me by a colleague. It is based on the work of Mary O’Neil in Hailstones and Halibut Bones: Adventures in Poetry and Color (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2006). T

he clever and unexpected ways that the author describes each color catches the students by surprise. The structured template gives them a starting point but they quickly realize that a little poetic license is acceptable and get down to the business of writing. Click here for a sample.