Word Explorations

Below are a few ways to explore poetry writing. Have fun!


Renga, like haiku, is a traditional Japanese form of poetry. However renga are written by a group of poets as a collaborative effort. The first poet writes a three line haiku of 5-7-5 syllables. The second poet adds two lines, each of seven syllables. The third poet adds another haiku. The fourth adds another two lines, each of seven syllables, and so on. This structure repeats until the poem is finished, by the agreement of the poets.

It is also possible to adapt the renga into a less formal linked poem. The basic rule for this collaborative project would be simple. One person writes a line of poetry and a second person writes the next line. This process continues as above, but without concern about the number of syllables.

To get students started it often works best to give them a beginning line. For example, “I opened the door and walked into a forest,” or “As I walked down the street, a lion appeared.” The instructions can be left as plain as that. I often find, though, that students do this assignment most comfortably if they are given an additional rule by the teacher, that each line must have one specified element. For example, a color, a sound, a body of water. If you break the class into a number of groups, each group creating its own renga from the same initial line and the same additional rules, it is interesting to share the finished poems. Students can then hear how each group developed the initial line and responded to the rules. There are usually huge and surprising differences between the versions.


Give the poets certain elements or “ingredients’ which each poem should have, for example: a time of day, a room in a house, a piece of clothing, a road or street. The ingredients can be used to create a pattern. For instance:
Line 1—time of day
Line 2—a room in a house
Line 3—a piece of clothing
Line 4—a road or street
This pattern can then repeat for one or more stanzas:
Line 5—time of day
Line 6—a room in a house
Line 7—a piece of clothing
Line 8—a road or street.

Another option for a recipe poem is to specify ingredients, but no pattern.


The pantoum is a slightly more complex poetic form. The poem is composed of four-line stanzas. The second and fourth lines of each stanza become the first and third lines of the next stanza. It’s quite a bit of fun to get into the rhythm of a pantoum.
Below is the design for a pantoum:

Line 1
Line 2
Line 3
Line 4

Line 5 (repeat of line 2)
Line 6
Line 7 (repeat of line 4)
Line 8

Line 9 (repeat of line 6)
Line 10
Line 11 (repeat of line 8)
Line 12


Here’s a poetry game, which I used to play with my own children.
1. Find 6 bowls and create 6 categories, for example, a type of weather or season (sunny, rainy, cold, winter), the name of a street, an historical figure or character from a book or movie, etc. Each bowl will now represent one category.
2. Choose 10 words or phrases for each category. Write each word or phrase on a small slip of paper and then fold it over so it cannot be easily read. Put it in the appropriate bowl (e.g., “sunny” would go in the “weather” bowl).
3. Each poet playing the game chooses a single word or phrase from each of the 6 bowls. She or he then uses these words or phrases to create a poem. Some additional words (i.e., ones not chosen from the bowls) can be aded as the poems are created.