This is a great way to deepen your students’ vocabulary. Take words they already know, and see how many different ways those words can be applied. Some words have multiple meanings or connotations. Others can be different parts of speech. Let your students have fun with these words by writing a poem.
If your students are creative and like poems, this can be done individually or in pairs. Otherwise, it might be worth trying to do this as a class.
Choose your words
Select five words that 1) are rich in meaning and 2) can be grouped together in a context. It may help to decide the subject of your poem first (but some people may want to let the subject arise from words chosen). By rich in meaning, I mean that a word’s meaning can fluctuate depending on the context or on tone. ‘Washcloth’, for instance, only means one thing, so that’s not a great word, while ‘open’ is a rich word because it can mean ajar, unlocked, available, or vulnerable and can be either a verb or an adjective.
For this reason, you may want to wait until you do a unit that has such vocabulary before beginning this project.
Also consider words that can fit different tones. Can you use it in both a positive an negative fashion? Can you use it in a happy sentence, a sad sentence, an angry sentence, a confused sentence, an anxious sentence, etc. This exercise may be worth doing with your whole class with a number of different words.
Craft your style
Once you know your five end-words and have an idea of your subject, think a bit more about what you want to write. Do you want the poem to describe a place or a thing or a person? Do you want it to tell a short story? What emotions do you want it to evoke? Are you drawing inspiration from memories or hopes? Should there be any difference in tone or in voice between the very first line and the very last line?
For each end-word, write a few short phrases that can go with your subject/tone. If your word is a noun, what different adjectives might you place before it, giving the noun a different focus each time? (the same with verbs and adverbs.) What are different noun-verb pairs you can do.
Then think about how your end-words relate to each other. Is one often affected by another? Do two of them tend to be experienced at the same time? Which ones contrast with each other? Answering these question will help you fill the rest of the lines – the gaps between one end-word and the next.
Write your poem
Put everything together in full sentences. Each line should be roughly ten syllables long, but don’t worry about hitting that precisely. A sentence can last multiple lines, or you could have two sentences in just one line. Each line needs to end with one of your end-words, but that doesn’t have to be the end of a phrase, clause, or sentence; the end of a line is not a stopping point when you read it (especially out loud).
One you’ve linked together your end-words in a sentence or a few for the first verse, do it again. This time, show a slight change in what the speaker is doing, observing, or feeling. Also, the first line’s end-word should not be one that was used in the first line of previous verses. The same goes for the last line of each verse. By the time you finish, each word should be find in the first line of exactly one verse and the last line of exactly one verse.
Once you’ve done five verses, do your closing. This is just two lines long and uses all your words once again, except they don’t have to be at the end of a line this time.
As a teacher, you’ll need to decide how much to focus on creating good poems. If you’re primarily practicing using vocab words in different ways, the first draft of the poem may be enough. If you want to practice poems or creative writing more, maybe you could work on polishing the poems for a second or third draft. You can figure that part out on your own.
If you didn’t do the whole thing as a class, have your students share their poems with one another. Listeners/readers should chose at least one of the end-words try to identify how the same word is used in different ways. Then add it to your collection of class poems!
Technically, the ordering of a pentina is more strict than how I’ve described it, but that’s probably too challenging for our purposes. For ambitious students, there’s also a sestina, which has six verses of six lines with six end-words.