Standard Lesson

Using the Four-Square Strategy to Define and Identify Poetic Terms

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Day 1: 60 minutes<br>Day 2: 30 minutes
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Poetry can seem intimidating to many students, but the four-square graphic organizer strategy gives students a tool they can use to explore and analyze any poem. In this lesson, students will learn the definitions of alliteration, assonance, simile, and rhyme. Using these definitions and a graphic organizer, they will search through a variety of poems for examples of each poetic element. Finally, students will use what they've learned to perform an in-depth reading of Mary Oliver's poem “The Esquimos Have No Word For ‘War'” and participate in a variety of extension activities.

Featured Resources

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

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

Materials and Technology

Several poetry books




1. Reserve an overhead projector and time in the computer lab. Bookmark "The Esquimos Have No Word for 'War'" on the computers or print out a copy for each student. You may also want to bookmark the other poetry sites listed under Resources.

2. Photocopy the Four-Square Graphic Organizer: Defining and Identifying Poetic Terms for each student and create a transparency for use on the overhead projector. Also, make copies of the Four-Square Graphic Organizer for "The Esquimos Have No Word for 'War'".

3. Ask each student to bring a poetry book to class for the next two days. Have a variety of poetry books on hand from your library/media center as well.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Use a four-square graphic organizer as a strategy for defining, organizing, and identifying poetic terms

  • Define alliteration, assonance, simile, and rhyme

  • Identify and explore the use of these four poetic terms in a variety of poetry selections

  • Evaluate the poem "The Esquimos Have No Word for 'War'" for use of the four poetic terms

Day 1

1. Identify the main concept for the day’s activity—poetic terms. Explain that poets create “word pictures,” using special tools to evoke strong visual and sensory experiences for the reader.

2. Distribute copies of the Four-Square Graphic Organizer: Defining and Identifying Poetic Terms. Explain to your students that they will be examining four poetic terms. They will first learn how to pronounce the terms, and then find and record definitions from poetry sites on the Internet. Finally, students will search for and record examples of each of the four terms and share their findings with the rest of the class.

3. Pronounce each of the four terms to be studied on the four-square sheet, carefully enunciating each syllable, consonant, and vowel. Lead students through pronouncing each term—say it alone, say it with them, say it alone, and say it with them again. While this may seem "elementary," it is a valuable exercise for creating comfort using the language.

4. Have each student sit at a computer and search for definitions of the poetic terms on the following websites.

Allow 15–20 minutes for students to gather their information. Monitor the class to keep students focused and on task. Students will see many other poetic terms as they identify the required definitions. Perusing other definitions is good, but accomplish the task first!

5. Ask students to consult their own poetry books, or the ones you have supplied, to locate examples of each of the four types of poetic language they have just researched. In the corresponding squares of the graphic organizer, students should record their examples and identify the related poems by title, author, book, and page number.

6. Call the class together and create working definitions of the poetic terms to record on the overhead transparency of the four-square graphic organizer. For each of the four terms, ask students for their definitions and record their responses on the overhead. Encourage students to amend the definitions on their own copies of the graphic organizer as well.

7. Following completion of the definitions, ask students for examples of the four poetic terms from their research. Allow time for as many students to share their findings as possible and record their examples on the overhead in the corresponding squares. Encourage students to add these examples to their copies of the four-square graphic organizer as well. As students offer examples, repeat the language, and then have the students repeat it with you. Ask them, “Is this an example of alliteration?” Have them say the terms aloud and reread the definitions.

8. End the session by encouraging students to continue to search for more examples of the four terms in their poetry books for homework.

Day 2

1. As a whole class, briefly review the definitions from Day 1. Ask for any additional examples of the poetic terms that students may have located for homework or during independent work time.

2. Distribute the Four-Square Graphic Organizer for "The Esquimos Have No Word for 'War'" and have students access the online poem "The Esquimos Have No Word for 'War'".

3. Explain to the class that they will not only be reading the poem, but also analyzing it for the use of the four poetic terms defined on Day 1. [Note: Before reading, mention to students that the poet has chosen to use a nonconventional spelling of the word Eskimo in her poem.]

4. Preview the poetry selection by asking students what they think the poem is going to be about. Brainstorm words in the English language that mean “war.” Your ESL students may have some interesting contributions, as well.

5. Prepare students to look for vivid language in the poem that creates visual and sensory images. Explain that poets create “word pictures” and “word sensations.” By carefully selecting language, a poet is able to move the reader to both see and feel an experience. For example, through simile, an uncommon image can be easily pictured; or, through assonance and alliteration, the repetition of sounds can create an artful flow of language.

6. Read the poem to students, and then have students reread the poem together as a class. Have a number of students take turns reading the poem. Encourage students to read through to the punctuation to better understand the content. Remind students that poetry is meant to be read aloud.

7. Have students work independently or in pairs to identify and record examples of each of the four poetic terms in the poem on their four-square graphic organizers.

8. Come together and ask students to share examples of each of the four poetic terms. Record responses in the four-square format, either on whiteboard or on an overhead projector. The identification of these terms has allowed students to extend their understanding of the Mary Oliver poem, as well as prepare them for further exploration into the world of poetic language. The four-square strategy may be repeated as often as you like with additional poetic and vocabulary terms.


  • Reinforce identification and understanding of the four poetic terms by examining additional poetry selections.

  • Extend knowledge to include additional poetic terms, such as personification, sight rhyme, metaphor, and so on.

  • Have students compose their own poems incorporating the four poetic terms studied in this lesson. Encourage students to imitate the style and format of "Esquimos." This poem is an excellent example of irony, so extend student knowledge to include an exploration of irony.

Student Assessment / Reflections

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