About poetry text types

Poems can have many different purposes, such as to amuse, entertain, reflect, convey information, tell a story, share knowledge or pass on cultural heritage.

Often written or spoken for an intended reader, poems may also be composed for a personal outcome because the concise and powerful nature of poetry conveys emotion particularly well. Like oral storytelling, poetry has strong social and historical links with cultures and communities. Some forms of poetry are associated with certain purposes, such as prayers to thank, celebrate, praise; advertising jingles to persuade; limericks to amuse. Although a poem may share the same purpose as the text type it is related to (e.g. to recount), the context for writing does not always mean that a poem is the most appropriate choice of text type.

Typical features and conventions

Poems are often grouped or anthologised by theme, structure, form or language features. Poetry has an extremely wide range of structural variety, from poems that follow a rigid structure to those that have only a visual or graphic basis.

Structure

The most common structures include patterns of rhyme (e.g. ABABCC) or metre (e.g. di-dum di-dum di-dum). Structures based on syllable counts are also common. Other structures rely on repetition of grammatical patterns. Some list poems, dialogue poems and question-and-answer poems follow a specific structure even though they don’t include rhyme or follow a pattern of line length.

Language

Poems use the same language features as other text types but each feature is often used more intensively to achieve a concentrated effect, such as mood, humour or musicality (e.g. frequent alliteration, use of imagery or repetitive rhythm). Rhyme is used almost exclusively by poetic texts. The language features used depend on context, purpose and audience and also on the intended style of a poem. Different poetic forms tend to use different language features. The most common are rhyme, metre and imagery. The language effects found in poems can be different across time and cultures because poems reflect the way that language is used by people.

Rhyme

  • Many traditional forms use particular rhyme patterns, usually described using an alphabetic system.
    • AABBA is the typical rhyme pattern of a limerick.
    • Other common patterns in children’s poetry are AABB and ABABCC for each verse.
  • The usual order of clauses or words is sometimes deliberately rearranged to create a rhyme at the end of a line (e.g. Did he smile his work to see? Did he who made the lamb make thee? William Blake, ‘The Tyger’).

Playing with rhyme and creating nonsense poems is an important element in exploring and manipulating language. Children also need to learn how to avoid the danger of ‘forced rhyme’ where they use a word simply because it rhymes, not because it is what they want to say.

Metre

These features include rhythms, stress patterns (e.g. dum-di dum-di, or di-dum di-dum) and syllable patterns (e.g. 5–7–5 syllables in the three lines of a haiku).

Imagery

These include similes, metaphors and personification. The effective use of imagery is often a key ingredient in powerful, memorable poetry. Children usually begin using imagery by comparing one thing with another and by saying what something was like.

When a poem does not use rhyme at all, it is often the distinct combination of metre, imagery and vocabulary that distinguishes it from prose.

Vocabulary choice

  • Rich vocabulary, such as powerful nouns, verbs, adjectives, invented words and unusual word combinations.
  • Sound effects can be created from various word choices, such as:
    • alliteration
    • assonance (repetition of the same vowel phoneme in the middle of a word, especially where rhyme is absent: cool/food)
    • onomatopoeia (where the sound of a word suggests its meaning: hiss, splutter).

How to write poetry

The fact that poetry often plays with words and sounds makes it an attractive text type for children and one that they experiment with in their early language experiences. As children become familiar with a wider range of poetic forms and language techniques they can make increasingly effective use of wordplay to explore and develop ideas through poetry.