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Lesson Plan

Letter Poems Deliver: Experimenting with Line Breaks in Poetry Writing

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Letter Poems Deliver: Experimenting with Line Breaks in Poetry Writing

Grades 3 – 5
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Two 40-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Julie Wollman, Ph.D.

Julie Wollman, Ph.D.

Worcester, Massachusetts


National Council of Teachers of English



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From Theory to Practice



Letter poems are a particularly apt medium for exploring a defining characteristic of poetry—line breaks. As students work to transform narrative-style letters into poetic format, they are forced to think carefully about where to end each line. Students begin by discussing letters they have written and working with an online tool as an introduction to letter poems. As a group, students look at a letter form of “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams and add line breaks to turn it into a poem. They then compare the poem they created with the original, discussing why the poet made the line break choices he did. Next, they work in small groups to rewrite another letter as a poem and then compare the various groups' results with the original poem. Students then use a Venn diagram to compare letters and poems. Finally, they compose their own letter poems.

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“This is Just to Say”: William Carlos Williams’ poem is an excellent example of a letter poem.

Letter Poem Creator: This online tool demonstrates for students how to rearrange words from a letter to make a poem.

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Dunning and Stafford (1992) assert that: "Poetry is part of everyday life and can be created from everyday experiences, language, and thoughts, as are found in letters." Poetry is made accessible to children by helping them understand its special characteristics and how these work. Poetry celebrates self-expression and can bring much pleasure to readers and writers. Poetry, because it is generally brief and vivid, is appropriate for all children in a classroom, despite diverse reading and writing ability levels. This lesson capitalizes on the students' familiarity with the genre of letters to make poetry more accessible.

Further Reading

Dunning, Stephen, and William Stafford. 1992. "Found and Headline Poems." Getting the Knack: 20 Poetry Writing Exercises. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

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