What Am I? Teaching Poetry through Riddles
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Good riddles rely upon creative use of metaphor, simile, and metonymy; concrete imagery; and imaginative presentation and description of an object or concept. Because they are games, riddles are an excellent vehicle for introducing students to poetry and poetry writing. Students begin their exploration of riddle poems by reading sample riddle poems and guessing the answers. They then analyze the riddle poems to find the techniques used in the poems and to define what makes a good riddle poem. Students then write a riddle poem together as a class and conclude by writing riddles poems individually and sharing them with the class.
Writing Riddle Poems: This student interactive uses a think-aloud process to walk students through all the stages of writing a riddle poem, from brainstorming through draft.
Exploring Riddle Poem Techniques: This sample analysis of a riddle poem will help students in analyzing riddle poems on their own.
From Theory to Practice
Because riddle poems are games as well as poems, they provide an easy and fun way to introduce students to poetry and poetic technique. Moreover, as riddle poems are usually about mundane, concrete objects, they provide an opportunity to write in a poetic genre that avoids getting bogged down in the normal student poetry-writing angst: the belief that poems must be about grand ideas, use grandiose phrases, and make use of end-rhyme.
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.
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.
- 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).
- Selection of riddle poems for all students to read and discuss
- Riddle Poem Features handout, which defines useful figurative language terms, rhetorical devices, and poetic sound techniques
- Exploring Riddle Poem Techniques handout. The questions, modified to work with any riddle, are also available.
- Writing a Riddle Poem handout
- Stapleless Book Planning Sheet
- Riddle Planning Sheet
- Student Self-assessment handout
- explore, analyze, and discuss how metaphor, simile, and metonymy are used in riddle poems.
- use metaphor, simile, and metonymy to write original riddle poems.
Session One: Reading the Poems
- Give each student a copy of the sample riddle poems handout and have them get out a separate sheet of paper to write on.
- As a class, read the first sample riddle poem. You can read it or have a student read it, and you can use an overhead to display the poem or just have students read along from their handouts.
- After you've read the first poem, ask the students to guess the answer to the riddle. You may want them to spend some time and write possible answers down or you may just call on students immediately.
- Once they've guessed the answer, have them write it down on their handouts and repeat, working through each of the sample riddle poems.
Session Two: Discussing the Poems
- Ask the students to look back at the first poem and talk about what they notice about it, what it does, how it works, what techniques it uses, and how it both gives hints and obscures the answer. Encourage them to comment upon anything they notice.
- Work through each poem in turn and have students take notes.
- Ask the students to discuss the poems as a whole with an eye towards defining what makes a good riddle poem. At the very least, you'll want to discuss the use of metaphor, simile, and metonymy.
- Distribute the Riddle Poem Features handout and ask the students to use it to analyze the riddle poems, and/or have them work through Exploring Riddle Poem Techniques.
Session Three: Writing a Class Poem
- Distribute the Writing a Riddle Poem handout and go over it as a class or ask the students to work through it individually online.
- Then, as a class, use the steps to collectively write a class riddle poem.
Session Four: Writing Riddle Poems
- Using the guidelines and strategies established by the class and tested through the process of writing the class poem, have the students write some riddle poems. If they write in class, walk around the room and look for good examples of poems and parts of poems.
- Students can also do this individually online using the Student Riddle interactive. They can plan their poems using the Riddle Planning Sheet.
- Have the students peer-review their poems with each other in small groups, focusing on the features you've emphasized, and choose a few for further revision.
- Have the students share their poems, either with the whole class or in smaller groups. Remind the class that the peer-review group members should not answer each other's riddles as they already know the answers!
- Have the students publish their poems or create a class riddle poem anthology.
- Students can use the Stapleless Book student interactive to create their own riddle poem collection. They can map out their books using the Stapleless Book Planning Sheet.
- Students can use construction paper to make cards with the poem on the outside and a picture (drawing, clip art, cut-out from magazine) of the answer on the inside.
- Students may also choose to create PowerPoint anthologies.
- The ReadWriteThink lesson plan What Makes Poetry? Exploring Line Breaks can help students think about how and when to use line breaks as they write their own riddle poems.
- Riddles have a long history and exist in most cultures. Extend this lesson by investigating the traditions of riddles in other cultures, including Lithuania.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Observe students’ involvement in thinking and discussing the poems. Are the students interested and engaged in the process?
- Observe students’ involvement in the composing and peer-review process. Do they seem to understand the riddle poetry genre and the techniques the class has identified and discussed? Are they able to offer useful feedback during the peer-review process?
- Handout the student self-assessment and have students use it to check their riddle poems.