Poetry: Exploring sound devices with couplets

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Poetry is a special form of writing that allows a student to express ideas, emotions, or experiences directly through words in verse.  It is probably the most artistic of all genres of writing because of the delicate juggling act of (a) rhythms, (b) sound devices, and (c) subject matter

The sounds of the words in a line of poetry make a rhythm that is similar to the rhythm in music.  This rhythm is established by stressed and unstressed syllables.  The pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem is called its meterIt’s important to pay attention to rhythm because it’s key to understanding the full effect of a poem.

Some poets use sound devices as a strategy to create an emotional response by the listener.  Sound devices are special tools the poet can use to create certain effects in the poem to convey and reinforce meaning through sound.  The four most common sound devices are repetition, rhyme, alliteration, and assonance.

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Subject matter for any form of poetry writing is limitless.  Subject matter is the topic that is being written about and serves as the foundation for the text. 

Are you aware that incorporating poetry lessons throughout the school year can actually improve your students’ writing in other genres?  Poetry writing helps students develop language, vocabulary, and word choice skills.   Each word in a poem is packed with meaning to show instead of tell, so good poets carefully choose each word for the effect its meaning and sound will have on the listener.  They choose words that will bring about sensory images in the imagination and emotional responses in the heart.   

Personally, I think couplets are a fun way to begin teaching students about the basics of rhythm and rhyme, using any subject matter of interest.  A couplet refers to two successive lines of poetry that rhyme and have the same meter.  A couplet can consist of only two lines, or it can have multiple rhyming stanzas, consisting of two lines each.

Take a look at these examples:

I do not like green eggs and ham
I do not like them Sam I am.

 - Green Eggs and Ham, Dr. Seuss

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again!

 - Nursery Rhyme

Here’s some more information you need to understand about couplets:  Couplets may be formal or run-on.  A formal (or closed) couplet has a grammatical pause at the end of each line or verse.  On the other hand, a run-on (or open) couplet allows the meaning of the first line to continue to the second line.  This is also called enjambment.


Couplet Writing Activity:

Divide into small groups.  Each group selects a subject based on the current season. (For example, if the season is fall, a group could select Halloween, football, falling leaves, etc.) Each member of the group writes a couplet with multiple rhyming stanzas, consisting of two lines each to declare the chosen subject matter.

Then, each group creates a mural or collage to celebrate the chosen subject matter.  Each group tells about its subject in both the poem and artwork.  Discuss the artwork and couplets and how they made you feel about the selected subject matter.  Be sure to follow the Rules for Discussion and the Guidelines for an Oral Presentation:

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Writing Extension: The acrostic poem delivers insight!

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Are there times when you wonder, “what is my child thinking?” Well, let me clarify...

Are there times when you wonder, “what are my child’s thoughts on a particular topic.”  (Yes, that’s better phrasing.)

I find that this question usually hits me around the holidays. While the pageantry, hustle, and bustle of the holiday season surrounds us, I have a desire to know, "what are you thinking?!?" I have found a great way to “tune-in” with acrostic poems.

In an acrostic poem, the letters that begin each line spell the subject of the poem. To write an acrostic poem, simply think of an event, person, animal, or thing to describe. Write the letters of your topic vertically. Beside each letter, write an adjective or short phrase that starts with that letter to describe the person or thing.

Here’s one example of an acrostic poem for Thanksgiving:

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Remember, this is a great time to review similes, metaphors, and personification.  Don’t forget, you could also discuss parallelism in writing. When you apply parallel structure, it improves readability and understanding. Why not try starting each line with verbs? Next time, start each line with nouns. (This is a great segue into outlining, but that's another topic for another day.)

So, this holiday season, I encourage you to have your children compose their own acrostic poem.  It truly is a fun, insightful activity for everyone! 

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Kim Shurley

Kim Shurley is a wife, mother, educator, and wanna-be rockstar. She graduated with honors from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock with a degree in Marketing in 1999. Upon her graduation, Kim joined the Shurley Team, where she collaborates on product development and promotion with her mother-in-law, Brenda Shurley.

Kim believes wholeheartedly in the work she does in curriculum development, which is why she homeschools her two children in the summer months using the Shurley method of instruction. After all, educating children is what this family-run company is all about.

In her spare time, Kim can be found adventuring in the mountains of Colorado with her family.