Beyond Rhymes: Poetry Lessons for All Ages

April 20, 2020
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Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? Now is a great time to think about adding poetry to your homeschool, no matter what grade level your students are. Yes, poetry can spark grumbles from students (and even some teachers). Why? Often lessons present poetry in a way that makes it seem very technical instead of engaging. It’s also often treated as isolated content, and students can find it difficult to make a connection between poetry and other subjects. How can you teach poetry so it doesn’t seem so separate and foreign? Here are some ideas you can use to add poetry to your homeschool.

Four Levels of Poetry    

One way to think about poetry is through its four levels: typography, sound, imagery, and idea. Each level builds on the one before, and this framework can provide a great structure for teaching poetry:

  • Typography: This foundational level relates to how a poem looks on the page. The most common structure is lines and stanzas, but there are also many other structures. The poet E. E. Cummings used creative ways of “typing” his poetry, including missing punctuation, broken capitalization rules, alternate spacing and indentation, and combinations of words.
  • Sound:  The next level refers to the sound of poetry when reading aloud. Poems may sound musical through poetic techniques like alliteration (words that begin with the same first consonant sound), assonance/consonance (words that contain the same vowel/consonant sounds), caesura (breaks/pauses), repetition, rhythm, and rhyme. 
  • Imagery:  Imagery, the third level, is the use of the five senses to create mental pictures and feelings about some part of life. Creating vivid imagery requires the author to use specific nouns and strong verbs and techniques like hyperbole (exaggeration), metaphors, similes, and personification.
  • Ideas:  The final level relates to a poem’s theme. In poetry, a central theme—like life, death, nature—is often stated indirectly.  It unfolds through the imagery, sound, and typography of the poem. 

Introducing Poetry in Elementary School 

You can introduce your children to poetry early in their education. Begin by reading poems aloud—perhaps by sharing a different poem each morning or each week. Young children can learn about poems that look different on the page, sing poems that are more musical, and describe items in their environment (i.e., a toy or a flower) through poetry. You can use poems as strategies to help your children learn new material too. Students in the middle to upper elementary grades can learn about poetic techniques and different poetry genres. 

Poems for early elementary grades might range from the Llama, Llama series by Anna Dewdney, to books like Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, to Dr. Seuss. Later elementary students might also enjoy poems by Shel Silverstein, Roald Dahl, and Rudyard Kipling. Love That Dog: A Novel by Sharon Creech can be a good addition too.

Enjoying Poetry in Middle School 

If your children covered poetry in elementary school, middle school is a good time to work on boosting reading and writing skills. Allow your students to find poetry that they enjoy. You can ask them to find a poem they like, memorize it, and “perform” it to the family. Children can also read a variety of poems, and try to find a poet with whom they connect, or they can create anthologies of their favorite poems. Teach your students how to identify and use techniques for creative typography, sound, and imagery; or challenge them to write poetry of a certain genre, poetry modeled after a chosen poet, or poetry containing a list of specific words or particular imagery or theme.

At the middle school level, students can relate to or learn from poetry like The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai, or T4: A Novel in Verse by Ann Clare LeZotte. Poetry like Planet Middle School by Nikki Grimes and Paul Revere’s Ride: The Landlord’s Tale by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow may also be good choices.

Appreciating Poetry in the High School Grades  

By high school, with a solid foundation in poetry, your children should be able to appreciate the ideas and imagery in the poetry they encounter and identify and use a variety of poetic techniques to both analyze and write poetry. They should be able to compare and contrast poems about similar themes or poems written by the same author. Have your students write poems from different points of view or in reaction to texts, movies, artwork, or news events.

In high school, you can teach using almost any poems; but it’s a good idea to have some classics among them. Look for works by Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Edgar Allan Poe, Maya Angelou, William Carlos Williams, Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath, E. E. Cummings, Ezra Pound, Emily Dickinson, Sherman Alexie, and Walt Whitman. High school students may also enjoy contemporary artists, like Tupac Shakur, who combine rhythm/poetry and rap.

Incorporating Poetry in Your Homeschool

Poetry can be an engaging part of homeschooling. Students can become involved in family, community, or online poetry readings. They can submit their own works to newspapers or magazines or self-publish a book of poetry online. They can create poems to give as gifts to friends and family. They can take field trips to poetry sites (i.e., where a poet lived, wrote, or is buried) or visit nursing homes to share their poems. Collaborative poetry writing can also be fun!

Regardless of the lessons and activities you add to your homeschool, the ability to appreciate and write poetry also requires skills in grammar, mechanics, and syntax. This is where Time4Writing can help. Time4Writing offers 8-week online courses to practice writing skills through instruction, quizzes, and personalized feedback. With the right foundation, your students will write their own poetry in no time!


Time4Writing offers 8-week online writing courses for students in elementary, middle, and high school. Each interactive course is led by a certified writing teacher who gives prompt and personalized feedback on all assignments. Courses can be accessed 24/7 from any device with an internet connection and come with a 14-day money-back guarantee.