Poetry can be a hard sell for kids. It’s not always easy for them to connect with, and getting them to try writing their own is even harder. But it might help them to learn that there are many types of poetry, not just Shakespearean sonnets. Show them these 15 types of poetry, including excellent examples of each, and they might just find something they really like!
In an acrostic, the first letter of each line spells out a word or phrase that’s generally related to the topic of the poem. There are several different types of acrostic, including a double acrostic where both the first and last letter of each line spell out a message. Another type of acrostic is the abecedarian, where the first letter of each line goes in alphabetical order. Acrostics are often one of the first types of poetry kids learn, by writing a poem using the letters of their own name.
This is one of the oldest types of poetry, with ancient examples that were passed down orally through the centuries. A ballad tells the story of a person or event. Traditional ballades had four stanzas, with a repeated line called a refrain and a set rhyme scheme. Over time, they evolved to a slightly less structured form, with shorter rhyming stanzas (often four lines, known as a “quatrain.”) Ballads and epics are similar, since both tell stories of people or events, but ballads are shorter.
Source: Austin Kleon
These poems are unique in that they use something that’s already been written, and strike out most of the text to leave only selected words and phrases. These are fun for kids to play around with, using pages from books or magazines. Blackout poetry is usually non-rhyming free verse, since the author is limited to the words already on the page. Contemporary author Austin Kleon has become well-known for his newspaper blackout poems.
Example: How To Improve, by Austin Kleon
Blank verse doesn’t rhyme, but it’s a structured form of poetry in terms of meter. These poems are almost always written in iambic pentameter (da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM). It was particularly popular during Shakespeare’s time and remained a common choice for poets like William Wordsworth, John Keats, and Robert Frost.
Example: Mending Wall, by Robert Frost
Anyone who recognizes that “cinq” often indicates the number five will find it easy to remember that a cinquain (pronounced “sing-KANE”) is a five-line poem. According to Poets.org, cinquains generally follow a rhyme scheme of ababb, abaab, or abccb, though they are not required to rhyme at all. Multiple cinquains can be linked together to form a longer poem.
Poet Adelaide Crapsey invented a specific type of cinquain (sometimes called the American cinquain), which has one stress in the first line, two in the second, three in the third, four in the fourth, and one in the fifth. This poetry type is popular in classrooms, since the strict structure helps students create their own poems.
Example: Snow, by Adelaide Crapsey
Poems written in this form take the shape of the item they’re describing. They can be written in any style, as long as the formatting creates a shape related to the words.
In an elegy, the poet writes of sadness, grief, or loss. They’re often written in response to a death. Elegies can be any sort of poem in terms of meter and rhyme scheme (or they don’t need to rhyme at all). Traditional elegies follow a specific form. First is the “lament,” where the speaker tells of their sadness. Then, the author praises the dead or lost, and finally finishes with words of consolation, offering hope for the future.
Like a ballad, an epic tells the story of an event or person. Epics are much longer than ballads, though, often even book-length. Like ballads, this form of narrative poetry has been around for centuries and frequently tells tales of superhuman deeds and incredible adventures.
Example: The Odyssey, by Homer
This is the most open form of poetry, with no rhythmical, rhyme, or other requirements. It often mimics the flow of regular speech, but it is set apart from prose by its use of line breaks and poetic devices like imagery, alliteration, and more.
This Japanese style is highly structured and often focuses on nature. They seek to capture a brief moment in time in powerful words and phrases. The poems are written in three lines, with five syllables in the first, seven syllables in the second, and five in the third. That format is sometimes broken, especially when poems are translated from one language to another, but they will always contain just three meaningful lines.
Want a laugh? Read some limericks! These structured poems have been around for a long time. They contain five lines, using the aabba rhyme scheme. Generally, the first, second, and fifth lines are longer, while the third and fourth are shorter. The fifth line is often like the punchline to the joke. Some limericks are downright bawdy, but there are lots of kid-friendly examples. They’re also a fun form for kids to experiment with. Edward Lear was a master of limericks.
This is a broad category, and it includes types of poetry like epics and ballads. You’ll know you’re reading a narrative poem when it has a plot, with a beginning, middle, and end. Over the years, they’ve been written to record history and extol the virtues of famous people. Narrative poetry has been popular since the days of the Greeks, and it continues to be beloved today.
These poems celebrate a person, place, thing, or idea. They can be written in any form (though there are odes that have specific formats, like Horatian odes) and be of any length. Odes differ from ballads or epics in that they don’t generally have a plot. Unlike elegies, they don’t focus on grief or loss. Instead, they tell of the subject in glowing, descriptive terms, aiming to impress the reader.
This is one of the most famous (and structured) types of poetry, immortalized by geniuses like Shakespeare and Milton. There are two classic types of sonnets, both with 14 lines written in iambic pentameter.
Petrarch was an Italian poet of the 14th century. Though he didn’t invent this form of sonnet, he mastered it so well it’s now known by his name. It has two stanzas. The first stanza has eight lines, with an abba, abba rhyme scheme. The second stanza has six lines, and the rhyme scheme can be cde cde, or cdcdcd. Petrarchan sonnets often present a question or argument in the first half, with a conclusion or counterargument in the second.
After sonnets were introduced to England, poets made some alterations to the rhyme scheme and format. A Shakespearean sonnet has three quatrains (sections of four lines each), followed by a couplet of two lines. The rhyme scheme is abab, cdcd, efef, gg. This gave writers a little more leeway, since it can be harder to find rhyming words in English than in the Romance languages. Shakespeare perfected the form, writing 154 sonnets in this style.
Also check out 24 Famous Poets Your Students Should Know.
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