A page from the "Poetry through the Ages" exhibit...

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Level: High School-College
Time for Activity: 2 weeks for high school and college; 3 weeks for middle school.
Recommended Forms to Combine: College – Free verse, ballad, villanelle, ode, rondeau
High School – Free verse, sonnet, tercet, canzone, lyrics
Middle School – Ballad, anacreontic, lyrics, tercet, triolet, Concrete poetry
Materials Needed:
  • Plentiful examples of forms that students will use, taken from "Poetry through the Ages" exhibit, source materials and poetry anthologies
  • Podium and microphone for classroom readings


To write a series of poems built around a single theme, using more than one different form presented in "Poetry through the Ages." Poetic suites are wonderful components within the poetry collections of authors who write them. They feel like refreshing trips down side trails during long walks, with "ecosystems" and experiences all their own. A suite is much easier to write than an entire collection, but it gives the writer a sense of how themed collections come together, and how poetry is often composed in bunches. As teachers, please be mindful of your students. proficiency level when inviting them to write in specific forms. For example, a difficult form like rondeau may not be suitable for seventh-graders, while some sophisticated college students might find canzone too simple in its expressions of courtly love.

This lesson will result in a small collection of poems for each student. Because the entire class will be writing on the same theme, you will also be able to put together a classroom anthology as a result of this lesson.

These steps could be formed into a printable take-home sheet for students to fill in the brainstorming sessions and follow the reading steps.

Action Steps:

  1. As a class, decide on a theme or subject that everyone will write about. This subject can be anything from "Chairs" to "Painting." As the teacher, you should feel justified in mandating a theme, but you may also want to come to a class consensus about the theme. This theme should be able to be broken into several parts (for "Painting," the poems can be about "Houses," "Lips," "Ocean Scenes," etc.") Try to make this theme or subject as concrete and tangible as possible. Your students will find it easier to write about abstract ideas through concrete subjects, rather than the reverse.
  2. Have each student sketch out ten ideas for poems that would fall under this theme or subject. After listing ten ideas, have each student cull the list into a group of five poems.
  3. Next, your students should brainstorm 10 abstract ideas and emotions they would like to write about. These can range from "love" to "death." Once these themes are brainstormed, have them cull this list of ten ideas into a shorter list of five ideas. Then, have them pair the items from the list of five subjects with the list of abstractions.
  4. Ask students to go into the "Poetry through the Ages" exhibit, and pick out two or three forms that they would like to try. Your students should study the forms, read the examples aloud, then ask someone – a friend, parent, boyfriend or girlfriend, fellow dormie– to read the examples to your students while they close their eyes and feel the rhythm of the words and lines.
  5. As the reader continues to read to your student, tell your students to call forth the list of five subjects while feeling these images rise from deep within them. As teachers, you may want to model this experience for the students. Read a poem to them and have them close their eyes and write notes on a separate piece of paper while feeling the rhythm of the language.
  6. Once the reading is complete, have the students spend 15 minutes writing whatever comes to their mind. Then, have them form this material (along with any new material) into a draft of a poem written in the same form that was just read aloud.
  7. Have students repeat these steps of reading aloud and free writing for one or two more forms.
  8. Then, ask students to revise the poems, focusing on every word, image, and syllable until fits the form and reads exactly how they want it to read.
  9. Then, have students collect the final drafts of their poems, arranging them until they flow into each other. What you may find is that, in compiling this exercise, you wrote all of the poems in one constant flow–which makes the arrangement much easier.
  10. Present your poems to your class in an oral reading.