Word Play

Way back in elementary school, we all made acrostic poems. These were the go-to move for teachers who needed us to make something (anything!) for Mother’s or Father’s Day. You remember. The result was always a rather cheesy poem, something like:
motherMy students have experienced the same acrostic lameness, but it’s my mission to convince them that the poetic form also has sophisticated uses. Take, for instance, this ode to Edgar Allan Poe:

Evil comes, reaching and creeping
Darkness leaving you, shivering and weeping
Gray shadows fall, they bring doom
All around, trapping you in the room
Ready to claim you, as you scream

And you realize that this is no dream
Life almost deserts you, you’re left alone
Lonely thoughts are chilling you to the bone
Almost as the nightmare starts becoming true
Now you feel the horror striking out at you

Panic begins stabbing inside your head
Out there come those you believed long dead
Endless laughter comes from a solitary raven

Using this poem as inspiration, I built an acrostic poetry assignment to re-introduce the technique to my juniors and inspire their creativity. This student handout includes advanced acrostic poetry writing tips, three excellent examples of the acrostic style of poetry, and a writing assignment. Also included are four separate themed topic assignment sheets, including popular film titles, U.S. presidents, characters from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, and noted authors of American literature. If none of these topics work for your classes, you could easily brainstorm assignment topics to go along with whatever unit your students are currently studying.

After looking at the structure/rhyme/meter of the examples, I then host a lottery of topic selection by tossing all of the topic slips into a brown paper bag and having each student chose his/her own topic. When I use this in my American Lit. class toward the end of the semester, I have students build an acrostic based on a famous American writer that we’ve studied. The student who draws the name “Amy Tan” from the sack is always thrilled (“Just a six-line poem? Yes!”), while the student who chooses “Ralph Waldo Emerson” has a bit more work to do and receives condolences from classmates. The lottery aspect, I’ve found, increases the drama and fun spirit of the assignment.

I’ve included four different pages of assignment themes you could use, but this lesson really could complement any unit of study. Just create topic slips, have students choose one from the bag, and watch your young poets get to work.

This poetry activity is achievable for reluctant writers while still challenging for your more-advanced students. I also like to reserve the computer lab on my campus for the writing time, since acrostics just beg for distinct font and formatting treatments. Hope your kids enjoy this exercise.

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