Break into Song to Help Your Students Write Rhyming Poetry

by Timothy Tocher

As all teachers know, the easiest way to teach something new is to base it on knowledge your students already possess. Writing rhythmic, rhyming poetry is a daunting challenge for most students, but running through their heads are dozens of songs. Here's how to capitalize on the familiar tunes your students sing in music class.

Stand in front of your classroom and sing, "Row, row, row your boat." Have your students respond by finishing the four-line lyric. Print the first line on the board, and point out that all the words have one beat or syllable. Next, brainstorm one-syllable action verbs: ride, walk, run, jump, etc. Before you know it, your students will create new first lines such as:

Ride, ride, ride your bike
Walk, walk, walk the dog
Drink, drink, drink your milk

Print the rest of the original "Row Your Boat" lyrics on the board as a model for students to follow. As students write new lyrics, they will hear the song running through their heads. This will help them find not only the rhyming pattern but also the rhythmic structure of each line.

What are some other good tunes to use? I've had success with "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." My students have asked to be taken out to the "bookstore," "arcade," "state park," "playground," and "food court."

It's been a long time since many Americans could truthfully sing "I've Been Working on the Railroad," but thanks to music class, kids still know the song. Sing a line, and before you know it, your class will be "building with their Legos," "playing with their best friend," or even "writing silly verses" all the live-long day. Here's an example:

I've been writing silly verses,
all the live-long day.
I've been writing silly verses,
having fun in ELA.

Here's a poem Bruce Lansky based on a song:

Class Dismissed
(sing to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic")

We have broken all the blackboards
so the teachers cannot write.
We have painted all the toilets black
and all the lockers white.

We have torn up all the math books
and we've locked the school's front door.
There won't be school no more.

Glory, glory hallelujah!
School is closed now, what's it to ya?
There won't be no more homework
and there won't be no more tests.
There won't be school no more.

© 1997 Bruce Lansky, reprinted from No More Homework! No More Tests! published by Meadowbrook Press

One final point: Don't worry if you can't sing in key. The great thing about teaching elementary school is that the worse you sound, the more hilarious the kids will find your performance. So loosen up those vocal cords and help your students write rhythmic, rhyming poetry.

--Timothy Tocher

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