Syllable Poetry For Kids April 23 2010

The concept of syllables is a fun and easy one to introduce and review at any time of the year. Teaching your kids these poetry styles provides them the opportunity to master the concept of syllables as well as express their thoughts and feelings about nature and other subjects in creative ways.

Syllable Styles


Haiku poetry originated in Japan in the form of three lines and a total of 17 syllables - the first line has 5 syllables, the second line has 7 syllables and the third line has 5 syllables. This type of poem doesn't rhyme. This style of poetry is usually centered around nature or seasons, and is meant to be light in tone. Here is an example for the Spring season:

Sun shining softly
Dew on flowers glittering
Lovely spring morning


The Tanka form of poetry is similar in origin and format to the Haiku. The difference is that the Tanka has five lines with a total of 31 syllables. Here's a breakdown of the structure:

Line 1 - five syllables
Line 2 - seven syllables
Line 3 - five syllables
Line 4 - seven syllables
Line 5 - seven syllables

And here's an example of a Tanka poem:

Wind invisible
But I can see you exist
Blowing leaves and limbs.
In vain I hold out my hands
But you refuse to be caught.


Cinquains take a few forms, but I like the syllable style the best. The poem is five lines with a total of 22 syllables. It's a bit more complicated since the words used have syllable rules as well as a specific purpose depending on the line. Here's a breakdown of the structure:

Line 1 - one word of two syllables (this is the subject of the poem)
Line 2 - four syllables (describing the subject)
Line 3 - six syllables (showing an action of the subject)
Line 4 - eight syllables (a feeling or observation about the subject)
Line 5 - two syllables (another name for the subject)

When teaching this poem, it might be a good idea to at first limit the subject to something like pets or a specific subject in your present curriculum. Write a couple as a whole group or in small groups to get them used to the specific structure of a poem. Here's mine about my dog:

Jumping, running
Chewing up all my stuff,
But I love her gentle spirit.

How Many Syllables?

Extend the study of syllable poetry by introducing the name of the form of poetry you'll be teaching, such as Haiku, but don't give away any other information about it. Present an example of the form and ask for their observations. What do they notice about each style of poetry?

Have your students figure out the syllable count for each line, then the total number of syllables depending on the style of poetry you're presenting. Explain that these are the structures for these different forms of poetry as you present them, and the structure can't be changed.

Question and Answer

Haiku was once part of the courting tradition in Japan. A man would send a Haiku to his love interest, and if she was amenable, she would write a Tanka in response.

Courting through poetry isn't really on the radar of elementary students. But I like the idea of the Haiku being the question and the Tanka as the response part of a conversation in poetry.

In this spirit - and after practicing both Haiku and Tanka with your students - partner your kids up so that they can create a "question and answer" pair of poems in the form of Haikus and Tankas. Do a couple with the whole group so they can get the hang of the expectations, then have one student in each partner group craft their Haiku question to give to their partners. Using the Haikus, the other person in the partner group writes a Tanka response.

You might want to specify the subject matter, or leave it up to interpretation and see what happens! Here's a "question and answer" example:

I have new legos
I need someone to play with
Will you come over?

And the Tanka:

Your legos sound fun
And I want to come over
To play after school.
I have to do all my chores
And be sure to ask mom first.

Putting Together the Poetry Book

Mother's Day is coming up, and I like to work in a project that kids can create for the mothers in their lives - the Poetry Book. Fill this Poetry Book with a collection of poems your students have learned and practiced. Since this is potentially a Mother's Day project, instruct your students to write some of the poetry forms about their mothers or another special person that they'd like to give the Poetry Book to.

However, Mother's Day can be a little tricky for some of your students who might not have a mom at home. I approach this each year head on. First, I explain to the whole class that a Mother's Day project might not be appropriate since some people don't have a mom at home. I explain that I grew up without a dad, so I understand. Then I say that if this is your situation, change the poetry book from a Mother's Day gift into a gift for someone special who takes care of them. I make sure to follow up with certain kids to see how their poetry books are coming along, and talk about who they'll give their poetry books to when finished.

The Poetry Book is easy to construct from basic materials. I like to use a number of 8 1/2" x 11" sheets of white paper and fold them in half horizontally. Staple two or three times down the middle and you have an instant Poetry Book.

Some students worry about neat handwriting in their books. This is a good opportunity to have students type their poems, cut them out and paste them into their books or use the old-school notebook paper way. Use a black marker to trace over the lines on a piece of notebook paper and place it underneath a page of the poetry book. Students can then write straight and neatly without having to use a ruler.

No matter who they're for, creating Poetry Books is a great project to celebrate an important person in the lives of your students as the year draws to a close.