Poetry Writing Assignment Middle School

On By In 1


GradesK – 12
Calendar Activity TypeHoliday & School Celebration





Each year the month of April is set aside as National Poetry Month, a time to celebrate poets and their craft. Various events are held throughout the month by the Academy of American Poets and other poetry organizations.




In honor of National Poetry Month, introduce your students to a variety of poetic forms. Assign one or two students each day as "poet of the day" for the month of April. Then provide students with several models for creating different forms of poetry. You might use Theme Poems, Acrostic Poems, Diamante Poems, or other Poetry Types to do this.

Have each student select one form of poetry and write an original poem, which he or she can also illustrate. On their assigned days, have students read their poetry out loud to the class.

  • National Poetry Month

    This website from the Academy of American Poets includes information on the history of National Poetry Month. Find out what happens during National Poetry Month on the frequently asked questions page.

  • The Poetry Learning Lab from the Poetry Foundation

    The Poetry Learning Lab is a great source of knowledge, including a glossary of poetry terms, links to public domain poems, and inspiring essays on poetry from writers and educators.

  • Writing With Writers: Poetry

    Scholastic offers this poetry resource for grades 1–8. There are tips from authors of children's poetry, a teacher's guide, step-by-step workshops, and more.

  • Favorite Poem Project

    The Favorite Poem Project, cosponsored by Boston College and the Library of Congress, is dedicated to celebrating, documenting, and encouraging poetry's role in Americans' lives. Watch or listen to citizens read poems they love.

Lesson Plans

Grades   3 – 5  |  Lesson Plan  |  Unit

Compiling Poetry Collections and a Working Definition of Poetry

This unit introduces students to a variety of poetic forms and elements, as they compile their own collections of poetry.


Grades   9 – 12  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Poetry: Sound and Sense

Students' groans about studying poetry may disappear with this lesson in which students read poetry from various writers and use these poems to examine the sounds and sense of language.


Grades   3 – 5  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Poetry from Prose

Working in small groups, students compose found and parallel poems based on a descriptive passage they have chosen from a piece of literature they are reading.


Grades   3 – 5  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Dynamite Diamante Poetry

Introduce gerunds and review nouns, adjectives, and verbs through engaging read-alouds; then apply these concepts through collaborative word-sorting and poetry-writing activities.


Grades   3 – 5  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Letter Poems Deliver: Experimenting with Line Breaks in Poetry Writing

Students explore letter poems and experiment with writing letters as poems, using the placement of line breaks to enhance rhythm, sound, meaning, and appearance.


Grades   3 – 5  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Theme Poems: Writing Extraordinary Poems About Ordinary Objects

Students select a familiar object online, build a bank of words related to the object, and write theme poems that are printed and displayed in class.


Grades   4 – 8  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Lonely as a Cloud: Using Poetry to Understand Similes

Students identify similes in poetry and gain experience in using similes as a poetic device in their own work.


Grades   3 – 5  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Seasonal Haiku: Writing Poems to Celebrate Any Season

After listening to haiku poetry, students use seasonal descriptive words to write their own haiku, following the traditional format. They then publish their poems by mounting them on illustrated backgrounds.


Grades   3 – 5  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Color Poems—Using the Five Senses to Guide Prewriting

Students use their five senses as a prewriting tool to guide their poetry writing as they compose free-form poems using imagery to describe a color.


Grades   7 – 12  |  Lesson Plan  |  Unit

Crossing Boundaries Through Bilingual, Spoken-Word Poetry

Students explore the idea of "crossing boundaries" through bilingual, spoken-word poetry, culminating in a poetry slam at school or in the community.


Grades   1 – 3  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Theme Poems: Using the Five Senses

Students write theme poems in a flash using the picture book Flicker Flash by Joan Bransfield Graham and the online, interactive Theme Poems tool.


Grades   K – 2  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Poetry Portfolios: Using Poetry to Teach Reading

Teach your students about sentence structure, rhyming words, sight words, vocabulary, and print concepts using a weekly poem.


Grades   3 – 5  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Composing Cinquain Poems with Basic Parts of Speech

Reinforce student understanding of parts of speech through the analysis of sample cinquain poems followed by the creation of original cinquains.


Grades   6 – 8  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

What is Poetry? Contrasting Poetry and Prose

Students often find poetry frustrating and meaningless. By helping students think critically about the differences between poetry and prose, this introduction sets the stage for different strategies for comprehending poetic texts.


Grades   6 – 8  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Using Classic Poetry to Challenge and Enrich Students' Writing

This lesson sets poetry in motion when students experiment with poetic styles to improve their writing skills and enhance their understanding of poetry.


Grades   9 – 12  |  Lesson Plan  |  Minilesson

Is a Sentence a Poem?

Students use their own poetry to analyze syntax, imagery, and meaning in a one-sentence poem by a canonical author to decide what makes it a poem.


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Student Interactives

Grades   K – 12  |  Student Interactive  |  Writing Poetry

Acrostic Poems

This online tool enables students to learn about and write acrostic poems. Elements of the writing process are also included.


Grades   3 – 12  |  Student Interactive  |  Writing Poetry

Haiku Poem Interactive

Students can learn about and write haiku using this interactive that guides them through the writing process.


Grades   K – 5  |  Student Interactive  |  Writing Poetry

Theme Poems

Formerly known as Shape Poems, this online tool allows elementary students to write poems in various shapes.


Grades   3 – 12  |  Student Interactive  |  Writing Poetry

Word Mover

Word Mover allows children and teens to create "found poetry" by choosing from word banks and existing famous works; additionally, users can add new words to create a piece of poetry by moving/manipulating the text.


Grades   K – 12  |  Student Interactive  |  Writing Poetry

Diamante Poems

This online tool enables students to learn about and write diamante poems.


Grades   3 – 8  |  Student Interactive  |  Writing Poetry

Line Break Explorer

The interactive explores the ways that poets choose line breaks in their writing. After viewing the demonstration, students are invited to experiment with line breaks themselves.


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Mobile Apps

Grades   3 – 12  |  Mobile App  |  Writing Poetry

Haiku Poem App

Students can learn about and write haiku using this app that guides them through the writing process.


Grades   3 – 12  |  Mobile App  |  Writing Poetry

Word Mover

Word Mover allows children and teens to create "found poetry" by choosing from word banks and existing famous works; additionally, users can add new words to create a piece of poetry by moving/manipulating the text.


Grades   K – 12  |  Mobile App  |  Writing Poetry

Diamante Poems

In this app, users can learn about and write diamante poems, which are diamond-shaped poems that use nouns, adjectives, and gerunds to describe either one central topic or two opposing topics (for example, night/day or winter/spring). Examples of both kinds of diamante poems can be viewed online or printed out.


Grades   K – 5  |  Mobile App  |  Writing Poetry

Theme Poems

Users learn about and write theme poems, a poem written within the shape of the subject of the poem.


Grades   K – 12  |  Mobile App  |  Writing Poetry

Acrostic Poems

Learn about and write acrostic poems, a poetry form that uses the letters in a word to begin each line of the poem. All lines of the poem relate to or describe the main topic word.


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Calendar Activities

Grades   K – 12  |  Calendar Activity  |  October 3

United States Congress officially adopted the position of Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry in 1985.

Students investigate the website of a past Poet Laureate's project and use it as a model to celebrate poetry that appeals most to them.


Grades   9 – 12  |  Calendar Activity  |  December 10

Poet Emily Dickinson was born in 1830.

Students discuss Dickinson's poem "This Is My Letter To The World" and use it to focus on how audience affects voice.


Grades   3 – 6  |  Calendar Activity  |  April 26

Participate in Poem in Your Pocket Day!

Students select a poem and create a Stapleless Book using the interactive tool.


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Professional Library

Grades   9 – 12  |  Professional Library  |  Book

Accent on Meter: A Handbook for Readers of Poetry

Accent on meter: A Handbook for Readers of Poetry offers practical ways of teaching students about the close connections between the meaning, rhythm, and meter in poetry.


Grades   9 – 12  |  Professional Library  |  Book

Teaching Poetry in High School

Albert Somers offers teachers a vast compendium of resources for teaching poetry in a highly accessible format.


Grades   6 – 8  |  Professional Library  |  Book

Living Voices: Multicultural Poetry in the Middle School Classroom

Jaime Wood offers middle school English language arts teachers material for teaching poetry by Nikki Giovanni, Li-Young Lee, and Pat Mora; the text includes graphic organizers and other resources.


Grades   7 – 12  |  Professional Library  |  Book

Wordplaygrounds: Reading, Writing, and Performing Poetry in the English Classroom

O'Connor offers new approaches to teaching poetry in middle and high school with more than 25 writing activities that can constitute an entire course or work as individual lessons.


Grades   3 – 5  |  Professional Library  |  Journal

Poetry on the Screen

Find practical suggestions for using technology to enhance the love of poetry.


Grades   3 – 8  |  Professional Library  |  Journal

Poets in Practice

This article discusses the need to engage students and teachers in active poetry writing.


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Activities & Projects

Grades   3 – 5  |  Activity & Project

Write Theme Poems

Use shape and theme poems, or poems that look like the things they describe, as a fun way to introduce children to poetry.


Grades   K – 2  |  Activity & Project

Add Seasons to Rhyming Poems and Songs

Choose favorite rhyming songs or nursery rhymes then replace the rhyming words with seasonal themes.


Grades   5 – 8  |  Activity & Project

Write a Gem of a Poem

Learn about diamante poems, and then consider the idea of cause and effect before working it into the diamante poem format.


Grades   6 – 8  |  Activity & Project

Finding Poetry in Pleasure Reading

After reading a book or magazine, children and teens can choose a section and transform it into what's known as a "found poem."


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Tips & How-To's

Grades   K – 6  |  Tip & How-To

Help a Child Write a Poem

Encourage creativity and word play by helping a child recognize the elements of a poem and explore different ways of writing one.


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Grades   3 – 8  |  Printout  |  Writing It Out

Make a Magnetic Poetry Set

Children can make their own magnetic poetry set. Watch as the refrigerator becomes a space for literary art.


Grades   6 – 8  |  Printout  |  Word Play

Writing a Found Poem

This printout will help a child learn how to take an ordinary text and turn it into a poetic masterpiece!


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Podcast Episodes

Grades   K – 5  |  Podcast Episode

Playful Poetry Books to Share

In this episode, Emily and guest Sylvia Vardell explore fun ways to read poetry with children.


Grades   6 – 12  |  Podcast Episode

Celebrating Poetry for Teens

In honor of National Poetry Month in April, tune in for recommendations of a variety of poetry books for teens.


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The Chain Poem, a Way of Breaking the Ice

By:Ingrid Wendt
Publication: The Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 2
Date: Spring 2003

Summary: Wendt claims poems are boring only when they fail to surprise. "Surprise me," she tells students. In this description of the "chain poem," she shows how teachers can help their students achieve surprise.


"Mr. Stafford," someone asked of the famous American poet, "When did you become a poet?"

"When did you stop?" he replied.

Here are three poems written in response to the same assignment. All are first drafts; each was written in a classroom setting, in about ten minutes, by writers who had written few (if any) poems before. Each was written after less than half an hour of preparation by me, the visiting writer.


You can't keep your self-image
abstaining from self-criticism.
The vanity of life –
actions without consequences!
What's the reason for it all?
—A teacher in Haltern, Germany

As I look in the mirror
I reflected about last night.
I began to remember
a thought that I came up with.
A joke came to mind.
It was making fun of someone
or ridiculing them.
I decided to do away with that joke.
—Todd B., Indian Hills Middle School, Sandy, Utah

As I look in the mirror
I say it's morning
too early
way before sunrise
not time to think about running on a beach
or the chattering seagulls
like airplanes
soon to be hijacked.
—Barb M., Newport High School, Newport, Oregon

What is this writing assignment? How can it be introduced in the classroom—not in a specially designated creative writing class, but in your average elementary, middle, or high school class that, like most classes, has had little previous contact with poetry and may not like it?

The "chain poem" is one way to break the ice. I call my invention a chain poem, because it relies for its structure on a string of spontaneously generated words. I introduce this structure usually during the first part of a longer poetry unit. Writing chain poems gives nearly all students some measure of success, especially when they know in advance their words will not be graded, corrected, or criticized—for this is an experiment, after all, and who knows how it will turn out?

Writing a chain poem is an activity in stream of consciousness or free association. One idea links with the next, and the next, and the next. In writing chain poems, we practice thinking the way poets think, focusing, in the rough draft, more on process than product, trusting the unconscious mind to come up with its own internal, intuitive kind of logic, developing confidence that we can get past writer's block if we learn to relax and let ideas flow.

Setting the Tone

This is a warm-up activity. I tell the students what they write may turn out looking like a poem, or it may not—that's OK. What matters is that we wake up and encourage our poor, neglected, "right brains," from which metaphors and intuition come. I tell students, "Practice letting the mind wander. Daydream. Get credit for it. Discover that you can start with the same idea as everyone else, and your own unique creativity can shine through."

I make sure that students understand that poems, unlike correctly constructed prose paragraphs, sometimes begin with one idea and get, surprisingly, off the subject.

At about this point, someone will say, "Poetry is boring."

I respond, "Yes some poems are boring; it's true. But some people are boring. Why? Maybe some poems fail to surprise us. Maybe those people have forgotten how to be surprised." I tell my students, "Surprise me. Say something we don't expect—even if it doesn't make sense. Use your right brain, the place where the crazy ideas are. Don't let it dry up like a raisin. Don't become another boring adult."

This kind of talk is essential at first, freeing students from the obligation to be profound or entertaining, or from trying to "psych out" the teacher.

Sometimes the mechanics of writing get in the way of creativity. It helps to put the following "rules" on the board:

  1. Don't plan in advance how the poem will end.

  3. Write quickly—don't censor—include everything!

  5. Don't rhyme, unless it's accidental

  7. surkel werds yu kant spill

Explain, if necessary, that the mind goes faster than the pen, the typewriter, or the mouth. Capture on paper as much as possible. We can always take things away. Or add.

Rhyming poems are wonderful, but for now, let's use the words that come to us first. Let's not interrupt the flow by looking in the dictionaries. If we don't know how to spell something, let's circle it and find out later.

Introducing the Activity

Now to the poem itself. The poem begins with a free association of words. I ask students what word comes to mind when they hear the word party. They brainstorm. I encourage many different answers. "Friends," maybe. Or "food," "games," "fun." "Politics." Sure, why not? Some answers (usually, not many) may bear no obvious connection at all. What if someone, hearing the word party, says "fence"? No matter. I tell young writers we trust them to offer only those words that, in their minds, make genuine connections, however personal, however difficult to explain.

I then move this process into closeup. I pick out something in the room—a door, maybe. I ask, "What word does this remind you of? Maybe paint because your front door at home needs painting. Or the word closed." I encourage students to do some daydreaming. I hold up a piece of chalk. "You might be thinking about how chalk gets on your pants, and how you hate that. And that reminds you of how you got a stain on your shirt last night from spaghetti." Sometimes, these daydreams I create are kind of silly. That's good, too. The class needs to loosen up, to know that anything goes—within the boundaries of good taste, of course. Poets often play with ideas, with words. That's part of the process, playing. Robert Frost said, "A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom." Writing poems in the classroom is somewhat the same. Serious ideas often lurk behind silly ones. Let's take what comes.

I place the word clock on the board, up high. (Other good words to start with are door, window, fence, light, and of course just about any other noun.) I ask someone what word comes to mind when they think about the word clock. I write that word directly under the first word.

I encourage variety. If someone says "time," I ask what other words could have been used. There are no right answers and no wrong ones. I continue this way until I have a list of six to eight words—just a column of words down the center of the board. The last word will probably be a long distance in meaning from the first word. If it isn't—for instance if the first word is clock and the last word is watch—I do the activity again.

Then I ask each student to draw a line at the top center of his piece of paper. On this line, each student will write the same word, for instance mirror (remember the three introductory poems?). Or they can choose a word of their own. Students now make their own lists. Quickly! No right answers. Eight to ten words.

While students are writing, I quickly make sentences with the words on the board, in the order they appear. I can add words on either side of the list, or I can leave spaces before and after some words. I can change the tense of the verb, turn singular nouns into plurals, that sort of thing. My poem (rough draft, of course) might turn out like this:

When my alarm clock gobbled up all of my best time to dream,
my thoughts began racing, it was
the sun competing with the moon,
it was success calling to me,
"Come, join my team."

Or this:

When my inner clock, that I took to the
mountains, clicked off and stilled the insistent
       mouse of desire,
      &nbspthe cheesey dreams of success,
what a soufflé of unexpected silence.
How could disaster happen on such a day?
Does sun crash into night?

What if I get stuck? I ask students to help me. I always try to make something come alive. That is, I use personification in my model, as above, where the clock has a big appetite. When students see me using figures of speech, they may try doing the same.

Also, I purposely make my model messy. I don't erase mistakes; I draw lines through them. I circle words I'm not sure of. I stick in some afterthoughts, above and between words.

I read my poem to the students and ask them to write one of their own, using their own lists. Keeping the words in the same order, they should add words on either side, to make something that looks like a poem. Students can be serious or silly. Logical or not. They should let the language take them where it wants to go. They might say things they never thought before, or uncover topics for future poems just waiting to be found. There is no right answer.

And if a poem gets "off the track," that's fine. Publishing poets will tell you they seldom know the ending of a poem until they get there, and it's often somewhere they weren't expecting to go. Experiencing "right brain" logic is one of the delights of chain poems! In the third of my three opening examples, we saw the word mirror eventually lead to the word hijacking. The effect of internal logic at work—the poet's awareness of vulnerability, perhaps, or of the transience of something as simple and lovely as running on a beach, under the chattering seagulls—comes precisely from this semantic disjunction.

But we don't want to analyze examples with our students or to make our students self-conscious. The important thing is that surprise often happens in ways that are poetically satisfying. Writing quickly, spontaneously, often gives a boost to our intuitive sense. Learning to trust our instincts, we can pull words together in ways that communicate to ourselves and to our readers.



When I'm looking at me
I'm trying to feel self-respect
in the search of a certain attitude, but,
knowing that the first impression
can make you stand alone . . .
how to find somebody to love
how to find happiness
until that, unconsciousness

—Sigrun F., high school, Freigericht-Somborn, Germany


Looking in the mirror
I see my face, my
smile reviling
my teeth,
which the dentist will soon be tamper- ing with.
From the office,
my dad will be picking me up,
smoking as usual,
his cigarette lighted, and glowing
at the end.
Many butts sit in the ashtray.
He says he's going to stop, but we know he never will.

—Debbie M., freshman, Newport High School, Oregon

Don't fence me in,
for the gate is locked, and there
is no other door.
Not even a window to look through.
Let me see. Help me recover
from blindness. I have
no imagination.

—A.S., fourth grade, Dunn Elementary, Eugene, Oregon

The fence sits
by a stick, guarding
the garden of
blue grapes changing
to wine over
chilled ice.
Peaches burn to
a city of raspberries.

—L.H., fourth grade, Dunn Elementary, Eugene, Oregon


Other examples of chain poems written for the "Mirror" assignment.

Responding to Student Work

I collect the poems and read them aloud—anonymously, if students are shy. Here's a secret code I use. If the student puts a name at the top, I can read the name. Name at the bottom, I won't.

Hearing the poems read aloud is an important last step. It demonstrates how different the poems are from each other, and in how many directions one word can travel. Chances are that the poems will also display some natural rhythms, or patterns of repetition, or musical sounds.

I resist the temptation to show students how to improve what they've written. That kind of activity comes later, after much more practice in writing, when students show you they are willing and eager to improve. Remember what Grampa, in the comic strip "For Better of For Worse," says about music lessons: "Playing an instrument is like falling in love. It's only when you're committed to the relationship that you're willing to accept the work." The same can be said for writing poems.

I also resist the temptation to analyze these spontaneous writings for purposes of therapy, or to think a student's secret, inner life is automatically revealed in these fragments of images and ideas. Chain poems take shape a bit like dreams do, blending snatches of this and that from who knows where: real-life memories and media fantasies; everyday facts and deep-seated concerns; news reports and chocolate chips. The same student, writing two different chain poems in quick succession, will often produce two entirely different poems: different as night and day, in content and emotional tone.

Because the poems are coming from a spontaneous place, the words may refer to dark things. That's OK. I don't dwell on this. I think of such writing as catharsis: something that needed to be said, has found its way into words. At the most I'll say, "Hmm, I bet you didn't know you were going to write about that today!" or "Maybe you'd like to return to that subject later on, when we write poems again."

I reinforce, in my response, the student's success in "letting go" and letting the act of writing be the act of discovery. I point out fresh uses of metaphor or strong rhythms. We're finding out that we can begin with nothing at all—or with just one word—and have more to say than we ever imagined.

I'm lavish with praise. I delight in the amazing and unpredictable adjective-noun combinations. I notice where the language sings. With my students, I enjoy all the wonderful surprises these poems give us.

And if you try a chain poem with your students, similar revelations may very well be available to you and to them.

About the Author Ingrid Wendt's twenty-five years with arts-in-education programs have taken her into hundreds of classroom in the northwestern United States. She is a regular presenter at the Oregon Writing Project in Eugene, Oregon, and has recently presented at writing projects in California, Utah, and Washington.

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