What are the Best Rules to Writing Poetry that Teachers Need to Know?

All writing has rules and it’s these clear rules that we teach to our students.  The state standards tell us that our students need to know the rules of the different forms of writing.  We need to teach the rules of writing so that our students will pass the state tests.  Did I mention that there are rules? But thankfully, the rules for writing poetry are different.

How I Fell in Love with Poetry and Writing

Like many middle school girls, I picked up journaling, but unlike most, I also started reading my Bible regularly.  I don’t say this to brag or push, but it’s important because the Bible is full of poetry.  I loved to read and write just for me and that’s probably the only reason I became a decent writer.  I was reading a complicated text regularly and writing too.  

It’s not surprising that after reading so much poetry I started writing it too.  I started to write about my thoughts and feelings through poetry. I liked that I could write what I was thinking without just saying it.  It made me think more deeply.

Journaling and writing poetry was one of the first times I like writing after starting to dislike school.  I didn’t know that it was helping me become a better writer.  I just enjoyed it.  I wrote using rhyming and free verse.  I like the challenge of rhyming my poems while expressing my feelings.

Did Poetry Writing Help You?

Did you journal in middle school too?  Did it ever take the form of poetry?  Did you sometimes say things without saying them flat out just in case a sibling read it?  Maybe none of this applies to you or you found some other part of writing that was all for you.  There were no rules or grades attached to what you created with your words.

It’s the connection to our writing that makes it meaningful and powerful.  I happen to find that in poetry and I think our students can too.

It’s More Than Rules to Writing Poetry

Everyone is a poet because everyone has a story to tell and feelings to share.  But we are all introduced to poetry in different ways.  For many of us, it’s through music and the books we read as children.  Some of us have a teacher who is passionate about poetry and integrates it into the curriculum well.  After we are exposed to poetry as consumers we start to create it.

There are no set rules to writing poetry.  Poetry cannot be confined to one way that is right, or a simple set of rules to follow, it’s more complex.  The complexity of poetry can improve all other writing our students create. 

When a poet writes they must connect with their creation in a meaningful and deep way so that the audience connects. Not all poetry is going to be like that, especially in school. But students will start to connect to their poetry more every time they write.

Outside the Box Rules to Writing Poetry

Poetry would be easier to write and teach if it consisted of a set of rules to follow 100% of the time.  As a teacher, I think you must find the rules of poetry you feel your students must add to their writing and focus on those.  Here are a few websites that break down the rules for writing poetry in other ways.  These sites are geared more towards adult writers but will give you a feel for the rules to writing poetry that you are trying to guide your students towards in the long run.

  1. Rules for Writing Poetry
  2. 4 Poetry Rules Every Poet Should Break Immediately
  3. How to Write Poetry: 11 Rules for Poetry Writing Beginners
  4. 7 Fundamental Rules of Poetry

What are the Requirements for Good Poetry?

These tips are probably not what you expected to read and that’s a good thing.  I hope they surprise you and show you how poetry can change your writing block.  Teaching these to your students will challenge them in different ways.  If all of this seems like too much then pick one rule that you think will really benefit your students as writers and focus on that.

How Do You Write a Poetry?

More than anything else poets need to connect.  They need to connect to themselves, their audience, and other poets.  There are a few things that a poet can do to connect better. 

The most important of the rules to writing poetry is that the poet needs to be honest.  They need to share the raw and honest truth.  The truth can be described through literary devices leaving it open for the reader’s interpretation. But if poetry isn’t honest the writer and reader will not connect with it.  When people read poetry they are often looking to connect to the poet on an emotional level.  They are looking for someone who has and understands similar emotions.

Poets need to share big ideas.  There has been a movement in at least the United States where people are telling and sharing their truth with others.  They are sharing their thoughts, feelings, ideas from a unique point of view.  The truths that people are sharing can be hard and scary for them to share.  They are also often full of big ideas they just want others to listen to.  Poetry that’s full of big ideas is impactful and lasting.  Just look at The Hills We Climb by Amanda Gorman. 

Poets can tell a story.  There is nothing wrong with telling a story through poetry.  There are entire books written through poems.  There’s that one guy, Shakespeare.  Have you heard of him?  Poetry has been used to tell stories often. Those stories often reveal many truths and big ideas that the reader can relate to.

The Rules to Writing Poetry That Teachers Need to Know

Now that you know how poetry can impact feelings when the poet is connecting to the audience let’s look at the rules to writing poetry.  Poetry has so many rules and no rules at the same time. 

There are so many forms of poetry that you can write.  I have some favorites I like to teach like acrostics, odes, haikus, free verse, and two-word poems. If you want a full breakdown, check out these articles: Seven Types of Poetry To Teach and Poetry For Upper Elementary and Middle School.

It’s great to start with just a few forms of poetry to teach your students so they can learn and understand the rules to writing poetry in each form.  Some of the rules they might learn and experiment with are how free verse is different, line lengths, and blank space. They can learn how free verse works.  Free verse is a form of poetry that allows them to express stories, emotions, and thoughts without complete sentences or paragraphs. 

Poets use lines in very different ways.  You can teach them why line lengths are important and why lines often don’t go to the end of the page.  Sometimes lines are cut short to make the reader think.  A sentence may not be complete or the line changes to keep rhythm and rhyme.

They can also learn how stanzas and white space break up a poem and take the reader on a journey.  Stanzas are the paragraphs of poetry and can keep ideas organized.  Stanza also helps maintain rhyming patterns and make poems more readable. Having a lot of blank space on a page can make the reader interrupt the poem differently. There are so many reasons why poets use blank space and stanzas. Think of all the blank space around Shell Silverstein’s poems. 

Does poetry need punctuation?  As teachers, we want punctuation in all writing.  How many times have you reminded your class to put a period at the end of their sentences before turning something in and Jimmy still has zero periods? Punctuation clarifies poetry just like it does essays.  Punctuation can help your reader follow the poem better.  It can help them keep the rhythm or take breaks where intended.  Punctuation in poetry is like white space.  It’s a tool that helps the poet create an impactful poem.  As students read poetry I feel like they start to understand punctuation better than they do while writing a traditional piece, because understanding the pauses and connections it creates is key.

Once your students learned about a few forms of poetry you can start to have them break the rules.  Poetry is constantly evolving and changing as poets break the rules.   Many poets find a form they like, then adapt and change it so they can share their big ideas with the world.

Teaching Poetry is Teaching Writing

Writing poetry will help your students become better writers in everything they write.  Poets try to do what teachers have been saying for years, “Show, Don’t Tell.”  I’ve said it, have you?  Especially when poetry is short, poets need to describe with clear imagery what they want their audience to see and understand, rather than tell it.  Imagery is a key aspect that allows poets to show their thoughts, feelings, and stories.  They use imagery that paints a detailed picture that opens the readers’ minds with their words.

Literary devices are another poetry tool.  There are several literary devices and you can create poetry assignments around.  These assignments can help you focus on teaching your students one literary device at a time.  Alliteration, onomatopoeia, similes, and metaphors are great literary devices to teach your students and they help poets connect their poems to their audience.  Rhyming is another fun part of poetry that can be used to make a poem more impactful but is not required.

Finally, teaching students to use a few tools to support their writing will teach them valuable skills. A few great tools to start with are thesaurus, dictionary, and rhyming dictionary. These are obvious writing tools, but I have felt like I am letting my students cheat by using them.  But that’s just not true.  If your students can use these tools to write a better poem that will impact their audience more, then they are learning.  They are learning to use writing tools to write better. 

Does poetry need to rhyme?

Now that you know how to help your students successfully write impactful poetry here are some things that you don’t need.

  1. Poems do not need to rhyme.  Rhyming can be an effective tool, but it’s not required.  This is a common misconception.  Rhyming depends on the form of poetry you are having your students write.  As you teach your students various forms of poetry they will learn how and when to use rhyming in their own poetry.
  1. Avoid cliches.  The grass is greener on the other side has been said so many times that it’s not meaningful or groundbreaking anymore.  Also, It’s someone else’s words.  How can the poet be completely honest while using someone else’s words?  Poetry should be the original thoughts and ideas of the poet.
  1. Don’t obsess over perfection. I like to think of poetry as finding the beauty in our imperfections.  Poetry is often about the hard moments that help us grow and learn as people.  Something is amazing about those hard and imperfect moments that lead to more beautiful people.  It doesn’t need to be perfect if it’s honest and connects to the reader.  However, while you are teaching your students specific forms they do need to meet the requirements on the rubric.
  1. Don’t overdo anything.  Don’t force literary devices. Don’t force line lengths or perfection.  Keep it simple and honest when you are writing poetry.  What makes poetry real and impactful is that it connects with the reader.   Some poems you assign to your students emphasis a writing skill because that is what you are teaching through poetry.  If you are assigning an Alliteration Poem, then they will have to be over the top in their alliteration to meet the grading requirements.

When you are teaching your students to write poetry you are teaching them the forms of poetry, the rules, and how to break them.  Poetry is about the feelings and stories it tells more than any of the other stuff.  There are going to be a lot of teachable moments you have during revision conversations with your students.  

How The Rules to Writing Poetry Refocus Our Writing Goals

If you teach your students poetry with these tips at the heart of it they are going to learn how to write in a more impactful way.   Sometimes I think the rigor we put behind writing makes it difficult for students to connect to their work.  If they aren’t connected, then it isn’t meaningful and what they learned will not be retained.

Your students’ writing will be transformed when they start writing poetry because poetry has so much flexibility it’s easy to enjoy creating and connecting to it.

Poetry Lesson Ideas to Kick-Start Poetry in Your Classroom

Now that you know the rules to writing poetry you might be looking for forms of poetry to teach your students.  Here are two articles that are all about my favorite forms of poetry to teach.  I’ve also linked the process I use for designing poetry lessons.

Seven Types of Poetry to Teach

Poetry For Upper Elementary and Middle School

What’s the Best Process and Prompts for Writing Poetry in the Classroom?

Introducing Poetry and Writing to Your Students

Now that you know the most important rules to writing poetry I want to help you get started.  Here is an entire lesson for FREE.  My Our School Poem guides students through using sensory language to describe their school. The step-by-step directions guide your class through the writing process with all the necessary worksheets make this the perfect lesson for your classroom.

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