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Couplets and Quatrains, by Lee Bennett Hopkins

These basic forms of poetry can help unleash the inner poet in your students

A question I am constantly asked as I meet with teachers across the country is, "How can I get my students to create their own original poetry?" My answer always is, "Start at the beginning. Teach the craft of writing poetry."

During the course of this year, "A Poetry Workshop in Print" will present rhyming patterns, verse forms and devices used to create poetic imagery. Get students started thinking about poetry with two of the simplest rhyming patterns — the couplet and the quatrain.

The couplet, one of the oldest rhyming forms, contains two lines that rhyme. An example is "Happy Thoughts" from Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child Garden of Verses, available in many editions:

The world is so full of a number things,
I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.

Another is the adage that many children are familiar with due to mothers and fathers reciting it for generations of before-bedtimes:

Good night, sleep tight,
Don't let the bedbugs bite.

The quatrain is a stanza of four lines that can be written in many different patterns. The easiest form to teach uses two, four or more couplets strung together to make a complete verse. An example is this anonymous verse:

I often wish that I
Could be a kite up in the sky,
And ride upon the breeze and go
Whichever way I choose to blow.

Many Mother Goose rhymes appear in the quatrain form, including "Humpty Dumpty."

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.

After introducing these basic forms, have students find examples in collections and anthologies of poetry. While searching, they'll be acquainting themselves with a host of poets and poetry. Kids can create their couplet or quatrain on any subject they choose. Finished poems can be illustrated and placed on a "We're Writing Poetry" bulletin board display.

Reference Shelf
Exploding Gravy: Poems to Make You Laugh by X.J. Kennedy (Little Brown, 2002) Divided into eight sections, this book contains 86 poems, many in the couplet and quatrain patterns I discussed in my column this month. Who else but a master-wit could rhyme "an active volcano...like a sink full of Drano..." or provide young readers with the great advice found in the last stanza of "Stevie the Internet Addict":

It's nice to gaze on worlds afar,
But notice sometimes where you are.

The Scholastic Rhyming Dictionary of Over 15,000 Words by Sue Young (Scholastic, 1994; also in paperback).

There are many rhyming dictionaries available but this is one I highly recommend to both students and adults. This easy-to-use volume is a must for all.

Lee Bennett Hopkins is a celebrated poet and anthologist. His recent book of original poems is Alphathoughts: Alphabet Poems (Boyds Mills Press, 2003).