What Are the Basic Elements of Poetry

Children sometimes struggle to grasp the elements of poetry because there are so many different types of poetry. It may help your child if you break basic poetry down into elements of style and prose so your child understands what makes a poem a poem instead of a story or a song.

Poetry Style
There are many styles of poetry, each of which dictate a different structure, flow and impact. A haiku is short and simple; a narrative poem can go on for pages and pages telling a detailed story. A limerick always has the same cadence and structure; a free verse poem can flow any way your child desires. If you show your child examples of the different styles of poetry and write out simple rules to accompany them, your child will be able to make an educated choice as to what forms of poetry speak to him or her.

Forms of Prose
Poets make use of specific forms of literary prose more so than the average writer writing informative articles or literary prose. The poet may make use of similes, metaphors, personification, onomatopoeia and alliteration. The following are quick definitions of these commonly used forms of prose:

  • Simile: To compare an object to another using "like" or "as." Example: Her smile is like sunshine.
  • Metaphor: To compare an object to another using a direct comparison. Example: He's a bull in a china shop. The person in this metaphor is not a bull; he is clumsy.
  • Personification: To speak of an inanimate object as if it were alive. Example: The moonlight danced upon the water.
  • Onomatopoeia: Using a word that sounds like the word being described. Example: The bee buzzed around the bush. The word "buzz" sounds like the actual sound made by a bee when flying.
  • Alliteration: The use of several words in a row that all start with the same sound or letter. Example: Dirty dogs don't dare. Alliteration can be used to playfully call attention to a detail in a poem.

Poetry Tips
When teaching your children about poetry, encourage them to try the following suggestions:

  • Choose a style of poetry the child understands and believes she can master.
  • Find an example poem for the child to refer to while working on his own poem.
  • Keep a list of poetry terms and definitions available for reference.
  • Choose a topic the child enjoys. Humorous poems appeal to most children, as do poems about actual experiences.
  • Encourage the child to illustrate the poem. Sometimes the illustration process will inspire additional prose or tweaking of the written words.
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