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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


Student Objectives

Instruction & Activities

Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • understand that poetry differs from prose; poets use line breaks to create rhythm or sound, to signal meaning, and sometimes to give poems a particular appearance.

  • explore various poems and think about why lines are broken where they are in poetry.

  • experiment with line breaks and how they affect rhythm, sound, meaning, and appearance, and can substitute for punctuation in poetry.

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Instruction & Activities

  1. Ask students to brainstorm characteristics of poetry (e.g., they may say "descriptive" or "rhyming"), and, one at a time, to write their ideas on the board or chart paper. Ask students to elaborate on their contributions, if possible, saying anything they think they know about rhyming or description, for example, or where their attitudes about poetry might come from, if these come up in the discussion. Be sure to explain that the brainstormed list represents our ideas now. We will find that our ideas about poetry change as we learn more about it and that everything on the list may not be accurate. Explain that today we will focus on one defining feature of poetry—line breaks. If this is not already on the list in some form, add it, and ask students to tell what they think it is. Most basically, this is what makes poems look different from prose.

  2. As a group look at the poem "Bubbles" on chart paper or online. Tell students to notice the line breaks. Why are they where they are? Emphasize that this is the authors’ decision. Talk about how the poem might be different (appearance, meaning, emphasis, how you read it aloud) if the line breaks were different. Try rewriting it and reading it aloud with the same words but different line breaks suggested by the students. See what happens to the sound, meaning, and appearance. Notice the shape (round like a bubble). Do you think the author did this on purpose? Is there any punctuation? Why or why not?

  3. Next students will work in small groups looking at two poems—"Ninjas" and "Daughter, Mother, Daughter"—as has just been modeled in the large group: reading them aloud, discussing the line breaks, and experimenting with changing them. Circulate and support small group work. As groups finish, or as follow-up, students can explore the Line Break Explorer where they can move words around and manipulate line breaks in a poem online. To reset the words, students can refresh the page.

  4. After about 10–15 minutes ask each small group to share with the whole class what they noticed or discovered about the line breaks. Add anything they may not have noticed, for example, that some poets use line breaks instead of punctuation and others use both, or that line breaks create rhythm. Share any books or poems you might have gathered that offer other good examples of how line breaks function (see Resources section). Students may peruse these independently or in groups to reinforce and extend their understanding of how line breaks function.

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  • Observe students' involvement in looking at and talking about the poems presented. Are students engaged, interested, and trying to do the activities?

  • Listen to children's contributions. Do they all contribute background knowledge about poems and form hypotheses about line breaks? Do each one's comments reflect understanding of:

    • Line breaks as special to poetry?

    • Line breaks as a deliberate choice by the poet?

    • How line breaks affect a poem's sound, meaning, and appearance?

    • How line breaks can substitute for punctuation?

  • Look at students' writing. Do they experiment with line breaks? Do their line breaks contribute to the sound, meaning, or appearance of their poems? Can they explain why they broke the lines the way they did?

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