The pattern of the words that make poems fun to say and easy to remember is not there by accident. Poets arrange their words in a certain way to create these patterns. Depending on the poet and the poem, it might be simple or more complex.

How is rhythm created?

Using syllables

Rhythm is often created through the use of syllables. When we speak, we naturally emphasize some syllables over others. Longer syllables are “stressed,” and shorter ones are “unstressed.”

For example, the word “review” can be split into “re” and “view.” However, when we speak, we emphasize the second syllable, the “view” part. This means “view” is stressed.

Poets use these natural stresses to help form this rhythm, almost like a beat in music. For example, if you put a word in a sentence and read it aloud, you can easily see which words are stressed.

Creating a meter with a pattern of syllables

The pattern of stressed and unstressed parts of words is known as the meter. It is the arrangement of words in regularly measured, patterned, or rhythmic lines or verses.

This can even be measured in metrical feet. A metrical foot tends to be formed with one stressed syllable and two unstressed syllables. In some types of poetry, such as Haiku, the writer counts the number of syllables in each line. Yet, in rhythmical poetry, poets count the number of feet instead. Poems can have any number of feet in their lines, but you would stick to the pattern when writing poetry.

Poets tend to use different meters for different effects. A frequently used meter is Iambic pentameter, especially common in Shakespeare’s sonnets. There are five metrical feet in the lines of Iambic Pentameter, which is thought to follow the sound of natural conversation. Poets using this metric usually try to create a conversational or natural feel to the poem.

This doesn’t mean poets can only use this metric style, though. There are lots of different rhythms poets can use. A diameter contains two metrical feet; a trimeter contains three, and a tetrameter includes four. Poets and authors may switch between different styles to emphasize certain people’s words. Shakespeare does this in Macbeth, where the witches use trochaic tetrameter.

Why is rhythm important in poetry?

Rhythm plays a role in creating emotions and a sense of balance in writing. However, it is what makes it unique when read aloud.

It can strengthen the meanings and ideas in a poem. Different rhythms can create moods and tones that might reflect the ideas and thoughts expressed in the poem.

How to teach rhythm in poetry

Teaching rhythm in poetry can sometimes feel challenging as it is hard to define. Yet if you teach rhythm hands-on, your children will likely understand it quickly and have lots of fun while learning.

Let the music play

Most children love music. It is something they will come across pretty much every day, so it should be easy for them to understand. Play different genres of music and get children to tap into the beat. For example, explain to them how heavy rock music tends to have a very different rhythm than pop. Then read some poems and see if they can also tap the rhythm.

Show them a video

Showing children videos can also help them understand how poems sound out loud and the role rhythm has to play.

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