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Lesson Plan

What Makes Poetry? Exploring Line Breaks

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What Makes Poetry? Exploring Line Breaks

Grades 3 – 5
Lesson Plan Type Minilesson
Estimated Time 40 minutes
Lesson Author

Julie Wollman, Ph.D.

Julie Wollman, Ph.D.

Worcester, Massachusetts


National Council of Teachers of English



From Theory to Practice



Students brainstorm the characteristics of poetry, then focus in on line breaks. As a group, they analyze the use of line breaks in the poem "Bubbles," noting how they affect the sound, meaning, and appearance of the poem. Students then work in small groups to explore the line breaks in two additional poems, reading them aloud, discussing the line breaks, and experimenting with changing them. Finally, students come together as a group to discuss what they have found.

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In their survey of articles about poetry published in the English Journal, Mark Faust and Mark Dressman identified a significant history of what they termed a populist view of poetry: "Populists see poetry as something to be used, adapted, cut up, borrowed from, parodied, and played with in all sorts of ways. Rather than belonging to the ages, poetry is a popular expression of culture that belongs to anyone who chooses to read it. Students are invited to collect poems and organize them in ways they find meaningful, to read them orally and chorally, to write their own poems, and to otherwise muck around with poetry and poetic language and in the process gain some skill in using the English language by taking pleasure as much in their own as in the poet's cleverness." (117) This lesson invites students to make poetry their own by playing with line breaks. In the process, students learn how line breaks can influence the rhythm, appearance, and meaning of a poem.

Further Reading

Faust, Mark and Mark Dressman. "The Other Tradition: Populist Perspectives on Teaching Poetry, as Published in English Journal, 1912-2005" English Education 41.2 (January 2009): 114-134.

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