A veteran teacher of verse introduces poetry to young minds

On November 13, 2017, my colleague Matthew Zapruder started a thread on Facebook seeking ideas for teaching poetry to kids. Matthew is not just a writer of most-memorable lines, but also the author of External link opens in new tab or windowWhy Poetry (Ecco, 2017) and a veteran teacher of verse—but not to elementary school students. His friends delivered in spades, brainstorming, sharing tips, and showing their own offbeat creativity. It made for a bracing palaver about poetry.

With Matthew’s permission, I’m posting highlights from the conversation. I’ve mostly left punctuation and spelling intact (these are, after all, folks who deliberate over every character), but I’ve deleted “likes,” emojis, and redundant replies. I’ve also re-ordered posts slightly to group some overlapping posts or to make it clearer when someone is building on someone else’s idea. Forgive the inelegant translation of Facebook formatting. And be inspired.

Matthew Zapruder Ok everyone, I’ve never asked for help on Facebook before but I need it. This week I have to teach a couple of 45 minute poetry workshops to kids between 2nd and 5th grades. My general idea would be to have them to do something fun and generative and creative, and maybe walk out with the idea that lines of poetry can come from anywhere, that the fun of poetry is about starting with cool words and figuring out interesting things that can happen with language (and not just another way to say the same old tired things), etc. Does anyone with experience with this want to chip in with some ideas for actual activities or lesson plans? I’d like to just be able to do the whole thing with them using only pen and paper, maybe an example or two and a blackboard, but otherwise just keeping it very simple. Thank you for all suggestions!!!

Rachel Kessler Rube Goldberg machine poems!


Rachel Kessler List poem of lies

Rachel Kessler PS: 2nd-5th graders are the best poets. Have you read Kenneth Koch’s books on it. I just pretend I’m him. [Wishes Lies & Dreams]

Rachel Kessler Ruby votes for concrete poems

Rachel Kessler Kids that age LOVE form

Rachel Kessler LAST suggestions (sorry so many): 1. Favorite words as characters, 2. RIDDLES, 3. Colors in conversation (partner poems/poems for 2 voices), & 4. Taste stuff then write about it, aka, buy their love with candy – works every time.

Elee Kraljii Gardiner I have done this three times and sound poems are a super fun entry!

Michelle Bitting I start all my residencies wearing a giant Mad Hatter hat. Talk about how art takes us to another dimension where ANYTHING is possible. Then talk about what goes into making a hat. Pull thread and feathers and glitter and ribbon and needles out of the hat. Then what goes into a poem: Imagination, Feelings, Great words, similes, metaphors, alliteration, Onomatopoeia, etc… Just beginning by breaking down the big word: IMAGINATION into “Imagine” and then “Image” sets you up for the basis (and WONDER) of every other lesson. Always coming back to the imagery, the details.

Oliver Jones Kenneth Koch’s Rose Where Did You Get That Red is a pretty helpful book.

Saskia Wolsak I really like this book (despite its cover), and appreciate the exercises, particularly on sound: Creating Poetry.

Vicky MacDonald Harris I did a poetry club at the grade school I worked at. The two most successful classes, was one where I brought a velvet bag filled with little things, rocks, paper clips, an unusual coin, a lego, just kids stuff, and let that inspire them. They took turns picking something out of the bag, with only touch to guide them. The other was where we walked around the school, and I let the kids take a photo of something that inspired them, artwork, unique architecture. Whatever worked. One boy took a photo of a garbage can, another a statue in the library. Then I gave them some time to write. They needed a lot of assistance to get going, but once they started, it moved nicely.

Ada Limón I like to talk about an anaphora “the part of the line that repeats” and pick one anaphora together like “Love is” and build a poem together! You can add in details later and teach them about details. Then they’ve created a whole simple poem together!

Suzanne Buffam See Rachel Zucker’s (a la Koch’s) lesson on PoFo website. “With my third eye I see…” It’s a perfect way into image : imagination and repetition.

Michelle Bitting Anaphora works primo with kids. Especially for consoling anyone who feels stuck. It really keeps the ball rolling. It can be as simple as “Love is” to “The Most Amazing Thing” or “It’s Weird How” or “Inside My Mind”… And then if you give them objects and great nouns and verbs to randomly use, they can usually come up with SOMETHING. Also, EVERYONE can write an “I Wish” poem, beginning each line, as Ada suggested with the prompt (Love is, I Wish,) and then give you at LEAST, at LEAST five detailed, image-rich concrete things that are connected with the 5 senses that they wish they could do or associate with love, whether it’s triple grand slam nachos with hot cheese like lava, and meat and beans and secret pink sauce piled deep as the Grand Canyon, or a riot of purple wisteria roses in full bloom outside the kitchen window…

Denver Butson I use a lot of prompts for them to start poems with, usually things that start some kind of tension in the poem:

    • I used to be _____ but now I’m_____


    • This morning I woke up and I was a ______ (animal, bug, color, etc).

I also read them some of David Antin’s translation of Breton’s "Free Union." For the listing and repetition. They love it.

Lots of free writing. Lots of reading aloud.


Denver Butson I type the prompts out several to a sheet and then cut them into strips and put the strips face-down in the middle of the tables for students to choose as they begin to write. They can choose another strip and continue their poem or start a new one when they get stuck.

Elee Kraljii Gardiner of course “I am from” poems- you make lists of what’s in your neighbourhood, things you see on your street, your yard, your living room, phrases from your relatives, ancestors’ names, your feast foods, and then make a list poem


Susanna Kohn I second the “I am from” exercise. My 4th grade daughter did that in her class, and the poems were so beautiful they made me cry. Somehow keeping the writing close to their own lives helped them avoid cliche, as they weren’t trying too hard to write “a poem.”

Michelle Bitting External link opens in new tab or windowhttp://www.teenink.com/poetry/free_verse/article/47932/I-Am-From/ [Page contains an example of an I Am From poem.]

Michelle Bitting I Am From Poem – External link opens in new tab or windowFreeology  [This page contains a form intended to help you get started writing an “I Am From” poem, about your memories and upbringing. This poem is personal and should reflect specific details and feelings about your life and memories.]

Christina Rothenbeck Ekphrastic poems go over well with that age group, too. I really like giving them abstract paintings and asking them to describe the way they feel, so they have to make imaginative associations.

Sarah Green I find they really like sonnets, especially the loose Koch translation of Dante, and framing sonnets as a Q&A or a wish.

Amy Glynn It can get tough, but with the right poem, “echo poems” are great. You read a line, they write a response line. No context, you say “When you are old and gray and full of sleep,” and they all write whatever that makes them think of before you go on. Short poems (6-8 lines) work well if the vocab isn’t too distracting — make sure they know it doesn’t matter if they don’t know what a word means and they can have a totally impressionistic response, not an analysis. “Whose woods these are I think I know” = tall trees, cold night.” or “I am trespassing.” or “Santa Claus.” Dig? Then ideally you get a few kids to read their collage-poem back so other kids can see how many different ways the original poem gets turned in 26 brains.


Amy Glynn P.S. Better for 4-5th than 2nd. 2nd I’d have people pick pieces of paper out of a hat and write whatever on that topic. “egg.” “leaf.” “run.” “river.” Kind of like poetry world series but less sadistic? 


Adam Clay I like using Tate’s “Recipe for Sleeping” as a model – then generate a list of things they can write recipes for using concrete terms (with an emphasis on the idea that it doesn’t have to make sense or rhyme). The results are always amazing.

Michelle Bitting APPLES TO APPLES: A super fun exercise that helps writers of ANY AGE imagine SPECIFIC and SURPRISING images inside abstract ideas

By Michelle Bitting

I love the game Apples To Apples and most people I know, adults and children alike, do too! A huge part of why I love it is the way it gets the mind leaping in unusual directions. It allows the player to associate a random description with a wild noun that the imagination might not normally make. During a series of writing workshops on finding concrete imagery inside “big” ideas and feelings, I always find some time to play this with the class as a group brainstorming “game” that serves as a provocative lead-in to their personal writing time. The results are often hilarious and shocking—the writers always get limbered and amped to write—the pencils fly to the page!

  1. Open your bright red Apples To Apples game box. Look through the green Adjective cards. Pick five or so that feel particularly compelling. Don’t think too hard about it. For instance, just now I pulled out “Savage,” “Majestic,” “Heroic,” Nauseating,” and “Classy.”
  2. Pass out the red Noun cards, face down, one or a couple to each student. If you are alone, you can “deal” yourself more—ten to twenty at least would make sense.
  3. Write the five green card adjectives up on the “chalkboard” allowing enough room beneath each one for a list of phrases. Again, if you are by yourself, you can make columns on a piece of paper.
  4. Now instruct the students to turn their cards over and think about which Adjective they’d match their nouns with. As the poets share their Nouns, write them down under the Adjective column they’ve chosen.

Some students will be wild in their associations while others choose more logical pairings. Both are great! There is no right or wrong. As you build the columns you can subtly discuss why some pairings work well even when they are strange and yet there is a point where extreme or too absurd can go too far and it’s not as effective. Why is that? Art is mysterious, isn’t it?

Time and Materials: One shiny red box game of Apples To Apples, Junior for younger school age children and regular for teens and adults. You can sort through the green and red cards and toss aside any nouns that feel too obscure or inappropriate for whatever reason. There are plenty to spare!


Michelle Bitting You’ll find that games like the Apples to Apples lets them think outside the usual lines quickly and if you put the abstract terms, the broad adjectives etc up on the board… and then call on them to decide where to put their concrete nouns, under which heading, it gets fun very fast.

Edward Mycue Get handfuls of one of the local papers and let them play with a page with cutting out 43 words and 34 phrases and clauses and then move them around finally glue-sticking them on a sheet of paper and making-up or choosing from the chosen bits a title. I would call it TIME TO DESTROY, TIME TO DISCOVER.

Leah Umansky When I teach younger kids, i go with erasures and with persona poems, or poems about pop culture.

Meggie Monahan Joe Brainard’s I remember excerpts, or Billy Collins’ Litany work well

Nicole Stefanko-Fuentes Even though they are young and have only been alive a few years they still love to write their own I Remember pieces after reading some of Joe Brainard’s. Everyone loves nostalgia and the odd memory that sticks with them. It’s also something that even the kids who think they are not creative types can do.

Sierra Nelson Someone “I remember” poems work great with all ages (including 3rd graders I’m working with now) — immediately compelling and easy to jump right in. (I use an excerpted list of Joe Brainard’s I remember and a couple student examples from The List Poem anthology). I also love writing about colors as a place to start, and bringing in the idea of synesthesia (what sound does this color make? How does it move?) Everyone has a favorite color or two, and paint chips from the hardware store are so fun to play with as inspirational objects (and free!). I let the poets decide if they want to use the name on the paint chip, or invent their own — (re)inventing paint chip names is also a really fun activity (and can be done as a group or solo).

Abe Louise Young The book Poetry Everywhere is my biggest ally in this age group

Michelle Bitting Also Karen Benke’s “Rip This Page” Adventures in Writing is SUPERB.

Stacey Sklar One of my hall mates just did a fun exercise where she gave students a page of photocopied text and a sharpie, and the kids would black out lines of text, sometimes in very cool designs or shapes, and the words left behind became the poem.

Stella Beratlis Blackout poems using pages from discarded library books (esp. children’s nonfiction) as source texts. Create or print some examples; talk about them as a group, then set them loose with source pages and colored markers. Maybe better for 4th-5th graders.


Lisa Gluskin Stonestreet This was a huge hit with the 5th graders I worked with. They made erasures based on everything from D&D manuals to Oreo ads.

Stella Beratlis Lisa Gluskin Stonestreet GREAT ideas for sources!

Kent Shaw I used “Instructions to the Portrait Artist” with a Picasso painting. It was a great hit. To my mind, it has instructions to someone and it is asking them to find images in their life they would like in their self-portrait. The Picasso helps get them out of the literal frame of mind. Teaching kids that age was one of the most fun teaching experiences I had in Houston!

Connie Post One exercise grade school kids like is a “pocket” poem. Have them Take some things out of their pocket (or back pack ) and write about it (where did it come from, why do they like or dislike it, its meaning, etc.)

Kate Campbell Create a magic poem box — shoe box with small, interesting, broken, colorful, crazy objects inside — feather, chicken bone, button, sea shell, safety pin, whistle, unusual beads, rubbery fish, horse with one leg broken off, tiny toys — carry the box to each child and hold it up so they can’t see inside. Let them draw an object and write a poem about it or what it evokes. It’s kind of like the pocket poem suggested by Connie Post, but with more intention and control.

Stuart Ross I ask kids to look around the classroom and find the most obscure, neglected thing: a staple stuck in a wall; a cobweb hanging from the ceiling; a broken button, etc. And then to write a poem of praise to it, using the most extravagant words they can come up with. (You can start by having them make a big list of extravagant words.) A second part can be a poem from the point of view of the staple or cobweb.

Lisa Gluskin Stonestreet With that age, I usually start by introducing them to metaphor, having them create a group poem or three based on Stevens’ “Someone Puts a Pineapple Together.” Actual pineapple (and coconut, cauliflower, etc.) involved.

John Gallaher Play the definition game! Half the class thinks of words and half thinks of definitions and then they randomly are assigned each other. More for 5th than 2nd.

Xandra Maria Castleton Read them something, have them pick out the fun words, write them on index cards and create a fun word box. Dump all the words out on the floor and line them up, making collective decisions. The final result is a poem.

Michele Somerville They love acrostics. They like anything with a template, poems in shapes of things— poems in the shape of rainbows, basketballs, etc. They like anaphora and any kind of repetition. They like to have to leave their seats & find stuff so “found” poems find 10 words somewhere in the room… do something with them. 5th graders can do blackout/erasure w pop songs they know the words to. Even little ones can write blues poems (they like the memory line).

Jenny Minniti-Shippey A good one for kids, that involves movement, is The Opposite Game. Stand your group in a circle. The leader begins with a phrase: “the opposite of a banana is a lion,” or any random, silly pairing of nouns. The next person in the circle picks up the phrase: “the opposite of a lion is a towel.” Go around the circle a couple of times, faster is better, lots of laughter. Then, they write using that structure–older kids can use the structure once or twice, and then break from it, and the younger kids can keep playing with the opposites.


Jenny Minniti-Shippey This also works well to develop “community agreements” for the day: to listen to each other, to participate, to have permission to not make sense, to have fun.

Matthew Zapruder that’s awesome

Susan Cohen California Poets in the Schools has a terrific book of ideas to use with kids of various ages: “Poetry Crossing.” Available online. Nice thing, too, with each each activity it includes a poem by an adult and one by a child so kids can see what others their age did with the prompt.

Karen K Lewis External link opens in new tab or windowhttp://www.californiapoets.org/publications-and-anthologies. 50 lessons with handouts ready to copy includes bilingual examples and ideas for K – adult. In celebration of California Poets in the Schools 50th Anniversary.

Laure-Anne Bosselaar I teach the 3rd, 4th, 5th graders this: What is a concrete word (table, roof, car, elephant) and what is an abstract word: (love, hope, anger, laughter”). Then I have them each write a concrete word on a little piece of paper, then an abstract one, folding their little piece of paper. Then we make 2 piles: one with all their abstract words, one with all their concrete words. And here comes the fun. Students take a word from each pile. And they must compare their words. For example “Love (abstract) is like a shoe (concrete word). Or “A Backpack is like anger”… Those kids come up with the best similes!! You can also have groups of three write those similes together. And they can come up with as many similes as they can write in the 10 minute exercise…

Deborah Crooks Not sure if anyone mentioned Jack Collom’s book Poetry Everywhere?


Macki XCarl Jack Collom: How I Teach Poetry in Schools: External link opens in new tab or windowhttps://poets.org/lesson-plan/how-i-teach-poetry-schools

Jill Crammond I like to start a class with “word salad”: a collection of words on slips of paper, all in a bowl. I use actual salad tongs and have them take a scoop of word salad, then play with the words, arranging them in any sort of order. This frees them to enjoy the sounds of the words next to each other, as well as realize a line of poetry could be two words or one or seven. And I always stress it doesn’t have to make sense, it just has to sound good to you.

Elizabeth Cohen Pretend you are something in the room, anything! The smallest thing, even an m&m on the floor. Speak the poem in the first person, but do NOT name the thing. The students must use description.

Then go around the room and have each person read their “I am a small thing” poem and everyone else has to guess what they are. It eats time, it teaches descriptive writing, its fun and can even be funny, because kids that age will pick the silliest things…and I guarantee at least one of them will pick your beard. Or left shoe. Or coffee cup.

Lindsay Wilson From the Practice of Poetry: You read a poem about a journey (I like to use Tuesday Walks by Bob Hicok–it’s goofy and filled with a lot of great words–I think that’s the title. Sorry all of this is at the office). They take note mentally or on a piece of paper about all the words that stand out to them from the poem you read. Then they write their own poem about a journey that incorporates as many of the words from the other poem as they can. I’ve had some fun drafts come out of this. It helps them see that writing can simply follow neat language rather than a predetermined story.

Ani Tascian Love this thread. Warm up, read a poem or two, share. My favorite warm ups are music relay, where they have to write until music changes (Hans Zimmer is great for this). They fold the paper so you can only read the previous line. Or Exquisite Corpse, same idea. Today, I took my lesson from a really great and current lesson book called, Here We Go (Vardell/ Wong): Everyone has questions about the world. What kinds of questions do you have? We read a few poems. Then they wrote a poem with a question or questions in them. 45 minutes will go by quickly! Also, I have used Sun Bear in class before. They’ll love to have a real poet in, so def. read your work. How awesome!


Matthew Zapruder Ani, that’s great! I’d love to know more about the questions exercise. Do you know Neruda’s The Book of Questions? I think I am going to use that with these kids.

Michelle Bitting I do a class on Odes a la Neruda and then at the end of the residency of the following level, another Neruda themed class using The Book of Questions. It’s great! They write the best poems that are all questions or at least start out that way and go off wherever they are led. I also work some discussion of writing in another language, the music of different tongues and also, some age-appropriate discussion of the power of art and poetry and how people LOVED Neruda because he was the voice of The People in a country where The People were oppressed by militant, authoritarian regimes. At which point, some of them ask to write anti-odes to Trump. Kids know everything.

Matthew Zapruder very cool … I have an odes exercise like that, not for kids, but that’s great.

Michelle Bitting You can start out with basic short history of the Ode, how the first poems were sung, and then work towards Neruda. There’s a great recording of fab actors reading Neruda’s odes. I play the Ode to the Sea with Ralph Fiennes reading it. Such a goody. There’s music playing behind him reading it. Then I give them some history on Neruda and show pics of him on my tablet. They can totally relate. The writing in green pen (hope), the way 80,000 people filled the streets when he dies, how he had to go into Exile which they find FASCINATING especially as it proves how necessary and powerful art, poems and THEY are with their already-genius imaginations. Which is TRUE. How Neruda wanted to be in the mind of a ten year old. Not a lie. That’s where the magic is and they are naturally brilliant. Be sure to remind them of that. ???? Oh, and Ode to My Socks totally slays.

Matthew Zapruder love it

Ani Tascian Michelle- I have one on Odes, too, but your lesson sounds fabulous. (I use Gary Soto’s, Ode to Pablo’s Tennis Shoes.)

Matthew Zapruder thank you!!

Karen K Lewis Students love the idea of “quest” that hides in the word “question” / also Neruda is ideal for bilingual classrooms, accessible and wild imagery

Alexandra Zapruder Too bad your friends are boring and don’t have any ideas.


Matthew Zapruder I know

Scott Edward Anderson I did a couple of “bad first draft” exercises with my kids’ classes during National Poetry Month. The best one was taking the kids outside and letting them roam the school grounds for a bit, making notes of interesting things they see that catch their eyes. Then after a bit, we all (me too) took what we saw and wrote a poem out of it. No length or form restrictions, can rhyme or not, whatever they want. Anything goes. Then we got in a circle and whoever wanted to share their poems could a chance to read it. No critiques. The kids loved it — and I got a decent poem out of it!

Lee Ann Brown We collected epigrams and then spliced them together and rewrote them and got things like: “The pen is mightier than the swordfish” – made a big list poem of them together

Matthew Zapruder ok, I can’t keep up with all of this, I will come back to it later and collect all these amazing ideas, thank you!!!!

Elizabeth Cohen I am stealing these ideas too.

Matthew Zapruder let’s all just promise we will give credit if we ever share them!

Katia Grubisic Fortunately/unfortunately:

Fortunately, it snowed.
Unfortunately, I had lost my mittens.
Fortunately, my fingers were magic.
Unfortunately, etc.

Robert Bharda Haiku and limericks, maybe a little of “The Owl and The Pussycat” (Lear), and some of the shorter poems of e. e. cummings.


Larry Kuechlin I love reading e.e. cummings to children that age when I am teaching poetry. They love the visuals and the fun word play of the artist, and you can introduce the idea of reading poetry as a concept and not necessarily a concrete idea because you have to interpret what he is saying to “see” the image he is creating.

Robin Beth Schaer I taught a workshop this fall for that age range at the local art center. It seemed like the subject matter (as opposed to form) was always the hook for them. One fun lesson we had was with poems in the voices of aliens. I used “Southbound on the Freeway” by May Swenson and had them write their own poems in the voice of an alien seeing something very particular on earth for the first time.


Matthew Zapruder that’s great!!

Robin Beth Schaer It was so fun. They ended up having to think about language and what things looked like objectively and subjectively. It worked well. On the topic of aliens, I’ve also used Hayden’s “American Journal” and “The Cowboy” by James Tate.

Justice Morríghan Make a Quick and Easy 8 Page Mini-Book: External link opens in new tab or windowhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21qi9ZcQVto. 8.5 x 11 works just fine. Try color stock.Card stock.

Ruth Nolan I’ve done lots of this type of stuff with this age group. One idea, using ‘nature’ prompts: pick an animal. Write a few lines of poetry in the voice of that animal. “I am a coyote. Listen to me howl.” You can try the same narrative technique using nature objects: a tree, a river, a sand dune, etc. Another prompt I’ve had is to write out a conversation between two animals or natural objects.

Ruth Nolan little kids love to pretend they’re animals or superheroes or all kinds of other beings…it makes for some fun writing prompts! I also lead activities where I help children make tiny chapbooks – pre printed with pictures (animals and nature objects) and folded so they can fill in their little poems after they write them. And: short Japanese poetry forms work VERY WELL with these types of prompts …. haiku and diamanté, for example.

Laura Orem This all sounds way more fun than AWP. 😉


Matthew Zapruder mos def

Margarita Shalina Chain poems or stories are a great warm up. You write the prompt, the first line of the poem, on a piece of paper. Use color paper or white paper with color markers. With kids it can be silly, “The night was bright and the moon was aglow when the aliens landed…” Then pass it around to each student. Everyone must contribute one line. You can also play music to the class and ask them to write a poem in response. The music can be with or without words. Without might be more interesting as it will elicit a feeling resulting in generative language. The same applies to movie or YouTube clips that can be used as prompts. Anything intellectually stimulating but age appropriate. List poems can be great in response to a prompt as well. If you’re feeling brave, and depending on your class size, you can have sts work in groups collaborating on poems then act them out using either tableau or pantomime. Good luck!


James Siegel 3 per group works best for making couplets about an agreed on topic–kids/we love rhyme. Student A writes a line on the top of a piece of paper and makes a small fold covering her line and writing her last word to the on the fold, passes to student B who writes a rhyming line, passes to to student C who initiates, then to A who rhymes, next … Be careful to write on the paper not the fold so it’s easy to read unfolded. This also works with anaphora, anaphora+rhyme. Kind of depends on the writers and their fluency levels.

Susan R. Williamson Favorite 4th grade experience. Eating Poetry. Read the poem, talk about metaphor, hunger, and then work with making list of food words. They can then use the words to make poems with a form, or any way you like best. and then have them help make the lines together with the words they have collected fir an exquisite corpse together. They will love to read these poems to the class.

Adam Sol Moribund Facekvetch told me that he asks his classes to write the WORST POEM EVER, and then they try to figure out what makes a poem really bad. Of course half of the bad poems they write end up being pretty hilariously good.

Victoria Chang I took a more traditional route where I asked kids what qualities make a poem. We wrote them on the board–kids said stuff like rhymes, pretty language, images, sound, humor, etc. Then we read some poems written by kids just like them and we discussed them through the lens of the things we talked about (from Kids’ Poems: External link opens in new tab or windowhttps://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0590227351/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o09_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1) and then I had them try and write one themselves and draw a picture to go along with it.


Matthew Zapruder that’s a great way to do it too!

Hayley Heaton I once taught a kids’ poetry class where we read “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” and then had the kids pick something they wanted to look at 13 different ways and write about it.

Moribund Facekvetch 1.Sometimes I have kids write “fantastic binomials”: they each pick a noun and then they pair up. They join the words together and each write poems imagining what that object could be. A shoe fox? A toaster car? They also can illustrate it 2. I read Simic’s going inside a stone poem and then have them imagine going inside something surprising of their choice. I use the poem as a model…”Go inside a ___/that would be may way. Let somebody else be a___” etc. Just the first few lines as a model. For me, it’s all about play and the possibility of words and their own empowered imagination, free from the pressures of “school writing.”


Moribund Facekvetch Also I’ve had them make a poem out of made up words. A kind of onomatopoeia as an entire poem. I find having them do at least one poem with another or others takes the pressure off and makes it fun. Sometimes I have them write poems alternating lines with a partner or even individual words. They always laugh which for me is the best sign.

Elizabeth Beck Found word poetry and shape poetry is fun for that age group. I printed a template of a tennis shoe and taught Ada Limón’s poem and they wrote all the words they would carry if they could. I Am Poetry is awesome. Model with George Ella Lyon. I think it’s important to teach models. Generating words individually and then collaborating to create a group piece is a successful method. Everyone can “pitch in” so to speak. I have lesson plans I can email you.

Pascale Petit I’ve found the surrealist definitions or metaphor game works well? Makes metaphors/poems instantly makes it look easy. You have strips of paper and one end you write a concrete noun, such as purse, friend, mirror, fly, wedding dress, etc etc, I usually think those up but a variation is that they could. Then you ask them on the length of their strip to define the noun, can be simple and literal or more imaginative but should be short, one clause, then everyone tears their definition from their noun and passes the definition along to person on left. Everyone then has a new definition to their noun. And reads it out, can be then used to start a poem. It can be funny too, icebreaker, but introduces metaphor and non linear thinking. You prob know this game tho variation of the exquisite corpse.


Matthew Zapruder that’s great and would totally work with younger kids

Pascale Petit yes I’ve done it with a hundred at a time 11-12 year olds but any age it works and is fun.

Renée Roehl I used pictures of license plates. They had to make poem starting with the letter and the line had to be as long as the number: FNJR6480: first line starts with F and must be six words or syllables if they choose. A zero means they get to choose whatever length they like. Used with all ages.


Matthew Zapruder wow, that is fascinating … love it

Alexander Dickow Here’s one that worked well for me: find a series of objects you know they won’t be able to identify (a Tinguely sculpture, a hurdy-gurdy, a marine trumpet, etc., etc.) and have them personify the object, either as a prosopopeia or just as an external portrait of the “character” the object would be. Works like a charm, simple, easy, creative.

Monica Fambrough I like to do a ‘memory and imagination’ exercise, where you write a list of about 20 questions in advance, all involving either memory or imagination (like “what is your earliest memory of a food” or “what will you say when you are skydiving, right before you jump out of the plane?”) Have them write 1-2 sentence answers on index cards for each question. Then have them rearrange the index cards into poems, using as many or few as they want.


Matthew Zapruder as you probably know I love all exercises like that … that one is more directive, and could work in this situation better because they don’t know me at all.

Gillian Jerome A kid fave: read William Carlos Williams’ poem “This Is Just to Say” and then talk about what it’s all about. Who is speaking to whom and why? etc. They totally get that it’s a “I’m sorry/not sorry” poem and THEY LOVE IT. Kids delight in writing about what they are really not sorry about it.


Valerie Bandura Read This is Just to Say and ask them to consider all the secretly bad things they’ve done but are secretly proud of, stealing change from their parents’ pockets, walking the baby…

Annabelle Echo You can’t go wrong with a William S Burroughs Cut-up Machine. Or a poem based on a single word reused on each line of the poem.

Robin Reagler At WITS we have found that providing a word pool helps kids produce a strong first draft. They can be used to augment any prompt or lesson. The words in the word pool are not SAT words but words kids already know that are energetic and fun. The word lists are often more than half verbs. They can also be used in revision in order to help a student get from The clown “went to the store” to “skateboarded to the bodega.”

Matthew Zapruder ok, I adore you all but I am going to have to say now please stop because I now have so many amazing ideas that I am going to have a panic attack trying to figure out which one to choose. Thank you thank you thank you. If you have some absolutely killer exercise that you think I would be remiss not to look at, please do feel free to DM it to me. xoxo friends!

Valerie Bandura Put different smells (coffee, shaving scream) in a paper bag and have them associate what images that reminds them of. All of a sudden they’ll be somewhere else very particular.

Carol Dorf Example poems are a good idea. There’s 100 words — you come up with a list of 100 words (things like Oakland (if it is there), mother, father, redwood, dragon, bird, etc.) They choose 10 words, write them at the top of their page (have them fold it in half the long way) and then they get 5 minutes to use them up — in sentences or lines. Then they give “their” words to someone else, same 5 min (the 5 min is flexible — you choose it.) Then use Juan Felipe Herrera’s poem “Five Directions to my House,” and have them write a direction poem. Have them share first with their table groups and then have as many as possible share out with the whole class. Best to choose some model poems by poets from the same cultural/racial group as the students.

Louise Steinman Onamatopeia! (Did i spell it right)? I just attended a workshop for kids taught by Zapotec poet Natalia Toledo here at the library; it was brilliant… tongue-twisters, lullabyes, creation tales… and she had them draw the tortuga in the myth… because poetry can be so many different things.

Lisa Catherine Harper Ogden Nash’s opposite poems are fun and make them laugh.

Michael Broadway Have them create words that rhyme with ORANGE. I could be a made up item or animal. (Do you remember the now out of print Dr. Seuss book entitled “On Beyond Zebra”?)

Devi S Laskar I taught fourth graders for a while and they loved it when we played instrumental music of different genres and asked them to “interpret” or “write lyrics”

Stacy Bierlein I take a large potted plant and we attach their favorite poems to it to make Poet Tree. (I know it sounds corny, but years later they still remember the poem they put on the Poet Tree.)

Steve Turtell I always have them write Blessings and Curses. They get to write a wish list of blessings on people they love, and then they get to wish the worst things imaginable on their enemies. I often read one or two of the psalms to help them along, e.g. the 23rd and then the last lines of Psalm 137:

Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.

Elizabeth Hughey This thread is so awesome! I need all of these ideas! I try to offer an option to draw for kids who aren’t ready to write, along with a template/fill-in-the-blank for those who don’t know how to get started. Kids are much better than adults at reading and writing poetry. Kids are much better than adults at pretty much everything. Enjoy!


Matthew Zapruder I’m going to start with a simple template poem and then move to something more complex

Jeff Wright Give them two texts to sample from. I did this with a ballet handbook and a tool catalog and asked them to make metaphors. In conjunction w NYC ballet.

Lizzie Skurnick Kids love found poetry from cereal boxes when you cut them up, or whatever.

Jason Schneiderman ghazals!!

Jason Schneiderman If you do a group ghazal, they get to pick the refrain and then you work backwards

Jason Schneiderman and then they can name their group and address themselves in the last line

Jason Schneiderman and once they get the form, they can work in smaller groups or on their own

Sue Goyette One of the best exercises I continue to use (and for all ages) is pairing folks up and getting one person to write five random unrelated lines that start with “if” while the other person writes five unrelated lines starting with “then”. The deal is they don’t look at what each other is writing and at the end, they read them in the order that they were written. This never fails to produce some wild couplets and is a great way to talk about the collision of words and the spice of the silence they leave in their wake. You are going to have such a blast, kids that age have the best energy!

Fiona Capuano I read a poem and have the kids illustrate a picture based on an element or mood of the piece. And i show a painting and teach the kids to write a poem using their senses (what you see, hear, smell, taste, touch) if you were somewhere in the painting. Amazing poems emerge from such inspirations. Let loose!

Laura Walker I’m sorry, but can’t resist adding on– two quick favorites that haven’t been mentioned yet: 1. personifying emotions (I’m skipping the set-up, but it’s easy to imagine– also involves encouraging them to consider more obscure emotions…) The lesson led to one of my favorite lines, from a 4th grader: “For breakfast Anxiety eats a bowl of sugar-free What-Ifs”…. and 2. gift poems: the idea that in poetry, we can do anything, make anything, imagine anything– Students think about someone and what they love, brainstorm a list, and then give them amazing, fantastic, incredible versions of those things in our poems–(lots of opportunities here to talk about detail and specificity, senses, imagination, setting an image in motion, etc) i often do it for mother’s day, for any caregiver…. it’s amazing what kids come up with, and they get to see how powerful their words and poems can be– many kids have told me their parents cried when they read them 🙂


Matthew Zapruder those are both fantastic Laura … how exactly do you set up the emotion personification? With examples?

Michelle Bitting For Laura’s emotion personification, you could also use the Apples to Apples exercise and/or check out Karen Benke’s chapter called “Real Life Magic” which is what I do and bring in a bag of magic objects (in reference to the content of the chapter of Karen’s book) and then after reading her story talk about the magic inside objects and the magic inside big emotions which translates to poetic imagery. Thus: “bowl of sugar-free What ifs” inside of Anxiety, etc.. For a stellar example from The Canon, read them Lucille Clifton’s “Sorrows”–such a goody. I have some terrific student emotion personification poem examples as well if you want them.

Laura Walker These are great ideas. When I teach this lesson, I tend to begin with a short discussion of feelings– how interesting they are, how we each feel our feelings differently, etc.–there’s a lot of work around feelings in the classrooms i work in. we also brainstorm a list of specific feelings beyond happy/sad/mad…. Then without talking about personification specifically I share a poem example written by a kid (shy), and let them discover and discuss the use of of personification themselves, which is fun. Then we do a group poem– I use “excited”, which is really fun, and we build on each other’s lines. When they’re reading to write their own, I give them a list of questions to think about if they get stuck (Where does your feeling live; who’s their best friend; what’s their favorite food; etc) but most of them ignore my list and just run with their own ideas. I have great sample poems of “Mortified,” “Crushed,” “Guilty,” “Anxious,” and “Prejudice Man”, etc., all from 4th graders…

Stephen Haven Go in with a bag of tricks: writing prompts the kids can pick from a bag or box. Fun things like plastic zebras, finger puppets… Don’t go in alone… You need a box of stuff, Thing 1 and Thing 2!

Sable Litmag i had to do a shakespeare session with 8 year olds for example – I used hip hop artist Akala – hip hop shakespeare – they loved it, remembered it and used it in their writing and some crazy stuff we did in groups I found another great video on you tube that I know can’t find (i’m not a you tube person, but for young people – they often tell me that is the first place they look for information) – but they love Michael Rosen and Benjamin Zephaniah for example. i’m developing an app on Pan Africanism and poetry – i have no idea about apps really – but it’s a proving to be a great learning tool into learning about Pan africanism and poetry (together and separately) that teachers can find info that they want from it to, with reading lists etc. whatever you do, please make it v. visual.
Cecilia Llompart Read a few ancient and/or indigenous poems written in worship of the sun or moon. Then have each student choose between a yellow piece of construction paper or a blue one. If they chose yellow, they draw a big sun on it, and if they chose blue, a big moon. Then have them write a poem about the sun or the moon inside of their own drawing (and they can cut out the shape at the end if they have the time). This activity has generated some of the best, most hilarious, and most profound work any students of any age I have taught has generated. Good luck!

Jenny Pommerant Read them Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Bells” in all your exciting actorly glory.

Matt Kelley Dirty limericks?


Matthew Zapruder applying for a grant to fly you in to guest lecture

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