Roses are red… and some poetry is stale. Celebrate April, also National Poetry Month, with a return to creativity.

Check out these classroom-friendly ideas on how to teach some of the more fun, lesser-celebrated poetry forms, including free verse, cinquain, and tankas.

Free Verse
Anything goes with this free-spirited, no-restraints form of poetry, but its relaxed nature is exactly what makes it so difficult to master. Give your students a little direction by first exposing them to plenty of examples. Imagine Learning features a free-verse poem entitled Searching, by Nicole Drysdale, with a graphic organizer to get your students’ thoughts going. Click below for the full text.


After reading this and other great examples, give your students a similar topic, and then set them free!

This five-line poem is more structured than free verse, but it’s just as fun. This poem often describes a person or object. One variety of cinquain works like this:

one noun
two adjectives
three “-ing” verbs
one phrase
another noun

The first and last lines are different nouns for the same subject. The middle three lines describe this subject in a fun or interesting way. For example:

scaly, hungry
slithering, hiding, waiting
my favorite pet to feed
The formulaic nature of cinquains makes them fun and easy to write. You can also play fun games with them. Once your students write their own cinquains, write a few on the board, but leave the first and last lines empty. Then have each student try and guess what the missing lines could be.

Meet the haiku’s more extreme cousin. Like haiku, tankas begin with three unrhymed lines, the first being five syllables long, then seven, then five. But where the haiku ends, tanka continues with two more unrhymed lines of seven syllables each. This Japanese lyric poem is well over 1200 years old (its more popular counterpart, haiku, is around 300), and it often involves metaphors and other figurative language.

Prepare students for this form of poetry by doing a quick overview on syllables and then “speaking” in tanka. Have students sit in a circle. The first person will start the conversation, but each line must fit a 5-7-5-7-7 syllabic pattern. For example:

Student 1: Have you read tankas? (5)

Student 2: No, I’ve never heard of them. (7)

Student 3: They’re interesting. (5)

Student 4: It’s fun to count syllables. (7)

Student 5: But only if you can count. (7)

Have students count with their fingers as they speak. You also may want to write “5-7-5-7-7” on the board and point to each number to help students keep track of how many syllables to use. When a student uses too many or too few syllables, they are out, and the game continues. Students will not only be speaking in tanka, they’ll be thinking it too. Writing should be no problem.

Do these classroom ideas sound familiar? This archived blog post was first published in April 2009.