Three Poetry Exercises

If you want to exercise your creative muscles more in the new year, here are some poetry exercises:


This French poetry form can be used with any cultural group or skill level of English.  My beginning ESL students love it.  The format is:

Line 1: States a subject in one word (usually a noun)
Line 2: Describes the subject in two words (often a noun and an adjective or two adjectives)
Line 3: Describes an action about the subject in three words (often three infinitives, or a three word sentence)
Line 4: Expresses an emotion about the subject in four words.
Line 5: Restates the subject in another single word that reflects what has already been said (usually a noun)

Example (in French and English):

Optimiste perpetual
Attend son maitre
Il entend des pas…

Perpetual optimist
Waiting for his master
He hears steps

Form Poems

(from Zee)

Compression channels one’s creativity.  It’s a syllabic poem, 2-4-6-8-2 syllables per line.


The Courtship of Medusa

He came
up behind her
and braided her wild locks.
“Who are you?” She turned to see him

Poetry slams


Nijma, I’m not a typical slammer…I’ve slammed sonnets…yes, trust is key. We found starting with one’s name helps. Also, a fellow poet friend of mine has an awesome “breathing” exercise.

Inhale nose, exhale nose = air

inhale mouth, exhale nose = fire

inhale nose, exhale mouth = water

inhale mouth, exhale mouth = earth

Each energy has its benefits

Each in turn is a good warm up.

More from Zee about Poetry and Slams:

  • The reason poetry works better for me is that I polish as I go. I painstakingly read each page of my novels aloud several times and spit-polish. That “get the rough draft out” doesn’t work for me. I wish it did.
  • As far as the exercises, the ones in our workshop were all centered on Emily Dickinson’s work, so that might not work for you or your students? The next workshop will be centered on song-writers.
  • If you go to open mics (Slam Poetry started in Chicago, after all!) you will hear a LOT of “identity poems” (I am black, I am gay, I am a woman, I am an incest survivor, I am, I am, ad nauseam) and also a lot of poems about songs and famous musicians. Both of these work well for kids, if you need exercises for students.
  • Besides exercises in form and meter, you might try either imitating a style of a poet, or trying to cast it in an “opposite” light (different setting, different tone, etc.) For an “identity” poem, try asking the students to write an introduction to themselves. (When working with really young kids and performance we had them simply stand up and shout their name in an introductory call and response, they love it!)
  • For students with language barriers (English as a second language) we had them read their short poems in both English and their native language, and they felt very empowered.
  • For a language-based exercise you might try working with cliches and common sayings, either as inspiration, or to twist them around.
  • For an experience-based exercise, try writing about a “transition” one faced.

Thanks Zee, via

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