Standard Lesson

Theme Poems: Writing Extraordinary Poems About Ordinary Objects

3 - 5
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Two 60-minute sessions
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Writing poetry enables students to reflect on their everyday experiences, express their perceptions and observations, and craft powerful images. In this lesson, students write theme poems using their content knowledge and sensory awareness of a familiar object. Students first learn about the characteristics and format of a theme poem. They then engage in an online interactive activity in which they select a graphic of a familiar object (e.g., the sun, a heart, a balloon), build a word bank of content area and sensory words related to the object, and write poems within the shape of the object. Finished poems are printed and displayed in class.

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Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Computers with Internet access
  • Markers and chart paper, a whiteboard, or chalkboard
  • Projection device (to share website pages with the whole class)
  • Related nonfiction texts and picture books [e.g., Apples by Gail Gibbons (Holiday House, 2000)]



1. Arrange for the use of a computer with Internet access and a projection device for Session 1.
2. Determine student accessibility to computer workstations with Internet access for Session 2. Bookmark the Theme Poems interactive on all computers so that students can easily and quickly access the online activity.
3. Preview the online Theme Poems activity and determine which shape will be used for modeling the activity and writing a class poem. The apple graphic is used as a model in this lesson. Prepare a short list of words related to the shape that may be appropriate for the word bank.
4. Collect markers and poster-sized paper, or plan to use the chalkboard or whiteboard to record additional word bank suggestions from your students during the whole-class brainstorming session.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Recognize the characteristics and format of a theme poem
  • Compile a list of content area terms and sensory images (collaboratively as a class and also independently) that relate to a shape or object, as part of the process of brainstorming a word bank for their theme poem
  • Apply spelling knowledge and strategies when brainstorming words for the word bank and writing and revising their theme poem
  • Formulate a main idea for their theme poem and incorporate words and phrases from the word bank that relate to the poem's main message
  • Organize words and phrases in the theme poem to express a logical flow or sequence of ideas

Session 1

1. Begin the lesson by introducing the shape or object that you have selected for the whole-class writing activity. An apple is being used for the whole-class poem in this example.
2. If possible, plan for a hands-on experience by allowing students to conduct a sensory exploration of the physical object. Encourage students to use their five senses (i.e., see, smell, hear, taste, and touch), and to record related sensory words in a simple chart.
3. To increase an insightful response and connect to content area instruction, you may also encourage students to view illustrations of the object in nonfiction texts, such as their science or social studies books, and in picture books. For the apple, the picture book Apples by Gail Gibbons would be an appropriate book for students to read before beginning the class poem.
4. Display the opening screen of the Theme Poems website (using a computer with Internet access and a projection device) and identify the whole class in the space for name.
5. Show students how to navigate through the activity by selecting the "Continue" button. This takes students to an example of a theme poem. Read aloud the sample poem about an apple. Ask the class to compare this poem with their original ideas about theme poems. Is a theme poem what the class suggested it was?
6. After discussing the characteristics and format of a theme poem, choose the "Select a Theme" option and briefly note the variety of shapes offered. Click on the shape that you have selected for the class poem or the object that students have already been exploring earlier in the session.
7. Invite students to brainstorm a list of words or phrases related to the object, drawing upon their hands-on experiences with the object and the nonfiction texts and picture books they have examined. Record students' words in the eight spaces on the "Think of Words" screen in the order that students suggest them.
  • It is often helpful to record phrases as well as single words since the students' suggestions often include poetic devices, such as alliteration.
  • There is a limit of 20 characters for each of the eight word spaces. When recording students' ideas, omit words such as a, an, and the. Also consider using two word spaces to express complex ideas, images, or information.
  • Group words when possible so that students can emphasize descriptive elements and see the visual relationship. For example, if students offer a cause and effect relationship, connect the words with a dashed line. Indicate word opposites with a slash. The type of punctuation is not critical, but the students' understanding of how the words are related is important.
  • Take advantage of the opportunity to reinforce students' spelling knowledge and strategies during the brainstorming activity.
  • Use chart paper, the chalkboard, or whiteboard to record additional suggestions that exceed the eight spaces available within the online activity. Even as students' suggestions begin to diminish, encourage divergent thinking to gather words related to a wide variety of categories, such as famous people/events, scientific principles/terminology, and sensory words. An example of Class Brainstorming for the Apple Poem is provided.
8. Ask students to make connections among the words and phrases that are listed.
  • Which words relate to the sense of sight?
  • Which words relate to the other senses?
  • Which words describe how apples grow?
  • Do any of the words connect to an experience or memory you have about apples?
This questioning process allows students to make connections between general factual information about the object and their personal and emotional experiences with it.
9. When the brainstorming is complete, move to the next screen by selecting "Continue." Ask students to choose a main idea for the poem, or the main thing that they would like to share with the reader of their poem (e.g., the science behind an apple's growth, praise to John Chapman, the joy of apple eating, the parts of an apple, the purposes of apples).
10. Next, have students select words from the brainstormed list that are associated with the main idea and begin to build phrases, typing them into the apple's outline. This is an excellent opportunity for students to engage in word play, to experiment with rhyme, and to develop a rhythm with syllables. Caution students against randomly selecting words from the list and writing them as a poem because that approach will not create a logical flow of ideas or an image that represents their feelings about apples for the reader.
11. Before finalizing the poem, read the poem aloud and review the arrangement of words and phrases. Can any of the words be rearranged to create a stronger image or to foster a better understanding of the poem's main message? Demonstrate for students how to use the cut and paste function to make revisions within the poem. (Younger or less experienced students may be unfamiliar with the cut and paste function and may, therefore, need more assistance moving text in the poem from one location to another.)
12. Make sure to either save or print the class poem before you exit the activity. If you print it, the poem can be proudly displayed in the classroom and duplicated for students to use as a model when writing their own poems during Session 2.

Session 2

In this session, students will be writing their own theme poems using the online activity. Depending upon the skill level and interests of your students, you may have students use the same shape and class-generated word bank from Session 1 or allow students to choose different shapes and independently create their own word banks for their poems.

1. Direct students to the online Theme Poems activity using the bookmarks you have set on their computers.
2. Instruct students to type their names on the opening screen and to select "Continue."
3. Review how to navigate through the activity as students choose "Select a Theme," and then select either the same shape used for the class poem or a different shape of their own choosing. If you are using the latter option, briefly have various students volunteer two or three related words or phrases (e.g., a proper noun, a sensory word, a word linked to a personal experience or connection) for each of the shapes. Encourage students to select a theme with which they have a deep, rich connection as these ideas and feelings can enrich the meaning and impact of the poem.
4. On the "Think of Words" screen, remind students of how they made connections with the shape in the first session. Students can fill in the eight fields using words from the class-generated list in Session 1 or new words that express their personal ideas, experiences, and feelings. If students have been allowed to choose different shapes for this writing activity, you may give them the opportunity to gather with other students who have chosen the same shape to share their words banks and add other ideas to their own list of words.
5. Give students time to use their brainstormed words and phrases to write poems about the object within the outline of the shape. Remind students to choose a main idea for their poems first and to make sure that the words used in the poem support the main message. Encourage students to also use previously learned spelling knowledge and strategies to ensure the correct spelling of words in the poem.
6. Ask students to review the arrangement of words and phrases in their poems. Should any of the words be moved to create a stronger image or to foster a better understanding of the poem's main message? As students are revising their poems, they may also ask another classmate to respond to the following questions:
  • What is the message of this poem?
  • What feeling do I have after I read this poem?
If the classmate's answers match the student's original intent and there are no other questions about the meaning or structure, the poem may be ready for publication.
7. Remind students to either save their poems or print them before exiting the online activity. Students who are less experienced with the computer may need one-on-one assistance in using the web browser to save or print.
8. After evaluation, the published poems can be displayed in the classroom or placed in the students' portfolios.


  • Expand the scope of the writing activity by combining shapes and having students write two-part poems. For example, have students use both the sun and the leaf to develop more complex poems about the connections between the two shapes (e.g., the sun influences the changing colors of leaves in the fall). The two shapes can be displayed side by side to show the relationship.
  • Select two shapes (e.g., sun and moon, leaf and apple, heart and apple) to use for a comparison and contrast poem. Begin by having students explore the ReadWriteThink Comparison and Contrast Guide to learn how to develop a comparison and contrast piece. Then have students use the interactive Venn diagram to organize their ideas and compose poems that compare the two shapes. The printed theme poems can be displayed side by side to emphasize the relationship between them. Students could also write their compare/contrast poem in the form of an antonym Diamante Poem.
  • Expand the selection of themes by tracing (or having students trace) other familiar objects that match students' interests or the content area topics you are covering in class. Poetry writing can thus be integrated into all areas of the curriculum.
  • Use the online Theme Poems activity to introduce students to other poetry forms, such as an ABC poem, a 5W poem, or a cinquain (see student examples). The Educational Technology Training Center has an extensive list of Instant Poetry Forms, as well as models for the various formats. Encourage students to compose their theme poems in a particular format.
  • The following ReadWriteThink lessons provide additional extensions for poetry writing:

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Students can reflect on their experiences during this lesson by responding to the following journal questions:
    • What did I learn about poetry as I wrote my theme poem?
    • How will this writing experience help me write other poems?

  • The Theme Poem Rubric can be used to evaluate the student's individual poems.

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