Category: Lessons

How to Write a Traditional Nursery Rhyme

Humpty Dumpty

Some of the best known children’s poetry in the English language are the “nursery rhymes” of Mother Goose. Though no one knows for certain if Mother Goose was a real person, her rhymes have been popular with young children since the 1600’s. Some of the most popular Mother Goose rhymes include “Humpty Dumpty,” “Hey, Diddle Diddle,” “Little Bo Peep,” “Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater,” and many others. In fact, Mother Goose is credited with writing several hundred nursery rhymes.

But did you know that Mother Goose isn’t the only writer of nursery rhymes? “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” was written by an English woman named Jane Taylor. Many of the short nonsense poems of Edward Lear would qualify as nursery rhymes. And some, such as “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” are “traditional,” meaning we don’t know who wrote them.

In the past few decades, a number of children’s poets have also begun writing new nursery rhymes. For example, Canadian poet Dennis Lee has authored a number of books, including Alligator Pie, Jelly Belly, and Bubblegum Delicious, that are filled with new nursery rhymes. American poet Jack Prelutsky followed suit with books such as Ride a Purple PelicanBeneath a Blue Umbrella, and The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders.

Many authors have even started writing funny “fractured” nursery rhymes, taking well-known Mother Goose poems and updating them with humor and modern ideas.

In fact, even you can write your own new nursery rhymes, and it’s not that hard. All you need is a pencil, a piece of paper, a little time, and your imagination.

Rhyming Cities, States, Countries

Rhyming Places List

If you ever find yourself writing a poem that involves geographical locations — cities, states, countries, etc. — you may find it helpful to have a list of places that rhyme with one another. Here are some that you could use:

  • Alaska / Nebraska
  • Albania / Lithuania / Mauritania / Pennsylvania / Romania / Tasmania / Transylvania
  • Albuquerque / Turkey
  • Algeria / Assyria / Iberia / Liberia / Nigeria / Siberia / Syria
  • Altoona / Laguna
  • Anapolis / Indianapolis / Minneapolis
  • Anatolia / Mongolia
  • Andorra / Aurora / Sonora
  • Angola / Hispaniola / Pensacola
  • Arizona / Barcelona / Daytona / Pomona / Ramona / Verona
  • Armenia / Sardinia / Slovenia
  • Aruba / Cuba / Dinuba
  • Asia / Australasia / Eurasia / Malaysia
  • Astoria / Peoria / Pretoria / Victoria
  • Austin / Boston
  • Australia / Vidalia / Visalia / Westphalia
  • Azerbaijan / Bhutan / Ceylon / Iran / Kazakhstan / Milan / Oman / San Juan / Saigon / Taiwan / Tehran
  • Bahrain / Biscayne / Champlain / Fort Wayne / Maine / Spain / Ukraine
  • Baku / Guangzhou / Kalamazoo / Kathmandu / Peru / Thimphu / Timbuktu
  • Bali / Raleigh
  • Bavaria / Bulgaria
  • Bombay / L.A. / Malay / Monterey / Saint Tropez / San Jose / Santa Fe / Taipei / USA
  • Botswana / Ghana / Guyana / Tijuana
  • Brazil / Capitol Hill / Seville
  • Bruges / Baton Rouge
  • Brunei / Chennai / Dubai / Mumbai / Shanghai / Uruguay / Versailles
  • Caledonia / Catalonia / Estonia / Macedonia / Patagonia / Slavonia
  • Casablanca / Minnetonka / Sri Lanka
  • Chicago / Santiago
  • China / Indochina / North Carolina / South Carolina
  • County Cork / New York
  • Copacabana / Fontana / Indiana / Louisiana / Montana / Santa Ana / Savannah / Susquehanna
  • Crimea / Eritrea / Korea / Sofia / Tanzania
  • Gambia / Zambia
  • Goa / Krakatoa / Samoa
  • Gobi / Lake Okeechobee / Nairobi
  • Greece / Nice / Tunis
  • Guam / Vietnam
  • Illinois / Troy
  • Indonesia / Micronesia / Polynesia / Rhodesia / Tunisia
  • Isle of Capri / Tennessee / Waikiki / Washington D.C.
  • Isle of Man / Cannes / Japan / Saipan / Spokane / Sudan
  • Jakarta / Puerto Vallarta / Sparta
  • Libya / Namibia
  • Malta / Yalta
  • Martinique / Mozambique
  • Milwaukee / Nagasaki
  • Minnesota / North Dakota / Sarasota / South Dakota
  • Montreal / Nepal / Senegal
  • North Pole / Seoul / South Pole
  • Oklahoma / Point Loma / Sonoma / Tacoma
  • Prussia / Russia
  • Reno / San Bernardino / San Marino / Torino
  • Rwanda / Uganda
  • Serbia / Suburbia

Click here for other lists of rhyming words.

Five Ways to Overcome Writer’s Block

How to overcome writer's block

“Writer’s block” is an expression that describes how it feels when it seems like you can’t write. Maybe you’re working on a particular poem and then you just start to feel stuck, not knowing how to finish it. Or maybe you sit down to write and you just can’t think of anything at all to write about. Either way, writer’s block can feel pretty discouraging.

The good news is that there are lots of easy ways to break free from writer’s block and start writing again. Next time you feel blocked, give one of these tips a try:

1. Get Goofy

Writer’s block can make you feel very serious, so one way to break free is to get silly. Try to write the most awful, ridiculous poem in the world. Write a poem complaining about how you can’t possibly write a poem right now because of all your terrible problems. Or write your poem from the point of view of your dog, or your lunch, or the dust bunnies under your bed.

2. Make a List

Sometimes it helps to forget about writing in a poetry format for a while. Instead, just list all the things you want someone to know about what your poem will be like after you write it. Or, if you don’t like making lists, just start writing or typing the words “This poem is going to be about…” and then finish the sentence. Try to keep writing without stopping for at least five minutes. When you’re done, you’ll have lots of ideas about how to finish your poem.

3. Try Something Different

Maybe you need a totally different way to write for a while. Instead of writing a free verse poem, try your hand at rhyming couplets. Or instead of sitting at your desk to write, stand up. If you’re really stuck, stand on one foot, or write with the opposite hand for a change. Or get outside of your usual writing place to sit in a park, in the passenger seat of a car, or in a bookstore or library.

4. Go for a Walk

Physical activity is really good for busting you out of a writing rut and resetting your brain. So is a change of scene! You can go for a walk in your neighborhood, or take a bike ride, or jump on a trampoline, or even take a dance break—anything to get your body moving and distract your brain. You can come back to your writing in a few minutes, or even another day, and you’ll have fresh ideas.

5. Be a Reader Instead

Sometimes you can take the pressure off and inspire yourself at the same time. How? By picking up another writer’s work and enjoying it. It doesn’t even have to be poetry. You could read a short story, a graphic novel, or any kind of writing that reminds your brain what great writing can do. Reading can be a great warm-up for anytime you want to write a poem, or it can be a break from writing when your mind feels stuck.

Need More Ideas for Overcoming Writer’s Block? has an excellent article/infographic entitled “Beating Writer’s Block: 11 Awesome Tips” with even more suggestions on ways to break through your writer’s block.

No matter what you decide to try for your writer’s block, keep in mind that the best way to get un-stuck is to do something different. Start anywhere! Even a very small change can help a lot, and you’ll be writing poems again in no time.

Rhythm in Poetry – Okie Dokie, Here’s the Trochee

Edgar Allan Poe

In the last Rhythm in Poetry lesson, we talked about the “iamb,” a two-syllable poetic foot with the stress on the second syllable. The reverse of the iamb is called the “trochee” (pronounced TRO-kee). Like the iamb, the trochee is a two-syllable foot. But instead of being stressed on the second syllable, trochees are stressed on the first syllable. For example, the word “today” is an iamb because we emphasize the “day” not the “to.” (That is, we say “to-DAY,” not ‘TO-day.”) But the word “candy” is a trochee, because we emphasize the “can” and not the “dy.” (It’s pronounced “CAN-dee,” not “can-DEE.”) Look at it like this:

Rhyming Musical Instruments and Terms

If you ever find yourself writing a poem that involves music, especially a list poem, you may find it helpful to have a list of musical instruments and musical terms that rhyme with one another. Here are some common ones that you could use:

  • Autoharp / harp / sharp
  • Bach / rock
  • Band / baby grand / band stand / grand / music stand
  • Bang / clang / rang / sang
  • Baritone / microphone / saxophone / tone / trombone / xylophone
  • Bass / instrument case
  • Blare / snare
  • Bong / gong / singalong / song
  • Cacophony / euphony / key of C / symphony / tympani
  • Castanet / clarinet / cornet / duet / minuet / quartet
  • Chime / rhyme / time
  • Choir / lyre
  • Chord / record / musically scored
  • Clap / rap / tap
  • Cymbal / timbal
  • Drum / harmonium / hum / strum
  • Flat / high hat / rat-a-tat / scat
  • Flute / lute / toot
  • Glide / elide
  • Group / music loop / troupe
  • Guitar / rock star / sitar
  • Hear / play by ear
  • Juke / uke
  • Mandolin / violin
  • Nat King Cole / rock-n-roll
  • Note / throat
  • Piano / soprano
  • Pianola / Victrola / viola
  • Psalm / tom
  • Ring / sing / string / swing

Click here for other lists of rhyming words.


How to Write an “I Can’t Write a Poem” Poem

I Can't Write a Poem

Here’s a type of poem that absolutely anybody can write, even if you’re sure that you have no idea how to write a poem. That’s because it’s a poem about not being able to write a poem! You won’t even have to think up a title for this poem, since you can use the very first line as the title.

The key to success in writing this type of poem is to let your imagination go wild. Your poem might start off with an ordinary excuse, but as the poem goes on, the excuse can get crazier and crazier.

Here are a few different first lines you could use to begin your poem:

Rhythm in Poetry – I Am the Iamb

William Shakespeare

When poets write rhyming, metrical poems, they usually count “feet” instead of syllables. A foot is a group of syllables that, most of the time, contains a single stressed syllable. (Read Rhythm in Poetry – The Basics, and You Can Scan, Man for more information about stressed syllables and poetic feet.)

Meet the Iamb

The most common poetic foot in the English language is known as the “iamb.” An iamb is two syllables, where the first syllable is unstressed and the second syllable is stressed. For example, the word “today” is an iamb because the stress falls on the second syllable, like this:

- /

When a poems is written using iambs, we say that it is “iambic.” For example, the following line is iambic.

- /   - /   - /  -   /
Today I had a rotten day.

Rhythm in Poetry – You Can Scan, Man

Scansion in Poems

As I explained in Rhythm in Poetry – The Basics, some syllables in English are “stressed” – pronounced louder or with more emphasis than others – while other syllables are “unstressed,” meaning they are not emphasized. Knowing this, you can create patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables in your writing to create a rhythm in the words. Having rhythms in your poems make them more fun to recite and easier to remember.

To make it easy to spot the stressed and unstressed syllables in the examples I gave, I wrote them in UPPERCASE and lowercase letters, like this:

my PUPpy PUNCHED me IN the EYE.

The trouble with using this method is that it is awkward to write or type this way, and it makes the poem more difficult to read. Also, if you have a poem that is already printed on paper, you wouldn’t want to have to rewrite the entire thing just to show the rhythm.

Wouldn’t it be better if could make marks to show the stressed and unstressed syllables? Indeed, there is such a system that is commonly used, and it’s called “scansion” (pronounced “scan-shun”). The process of marking the stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem is called “scanning.”

Rhythm in Poetry – The Basics

When you read rhyming poetry, one of the things you might notice is how the words often have a nice rhythmical quality. That is, there is a pattern to the rhythm of the words that makes them fun to say and easy to remember. Sometimes the rhythm is a simple one, and sometimes it’s more complex, but it’s not there by accident. Poets arrange their words in such a way as to create those rhythmical patterns.

When rhyming poems also have a rhythm in the words, they are much more fun to read. By contrast, rhyming poems that do not have a rhythm are usually not as enjoyable to read.

Over the next several lessons, I’m going to show you how to identify the rhythms in poems and how to write rhythmical poems of your own so that others will enjoy reading them.

How to Write an Alliteration Poem

Writing Alliteration Poems

A fun and easy kind of poem to write is what I call an “alliteration poem.” Alliteration is when you repeat the beginning consonant sounds of words, such as “big blue baseball bat” or “round red robin.”

Writing alliteration poems is a terrific creativity exercise. Not only is it an easy way to write a poem, it’s a great way to get your brains working. You’ll need to think of a lot of alliterative words, and then form them into rhyming sentences.

Writing an Alliteration Poem in Five Easy Steps

Step 1: To write an alliteration poem, first pick a consonant. It can be any letter of the alphabet except for the vowels a, e, i, o, or u. For example, let’s say you choose the letter “B.”