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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.”

Printable Poetry Activity Worksheets for Kids

I thought you might like to know that I’ve started putting printable poetry activity worksheets for some of my poems on the website. You’ll find them on the Poetry Activities page under the heading “Worksheets.”

You can use these worksheets at home or in class to give kids a few more fun activities to do beyond just reading the poems. By answering questions, writing, and even unscrambling words, kids will get a little more practice to help improve their comprehension and literacy.

huge thank you to Primary Leap for creating a number of these wonderful activity worksheets! Visit their website for thousands more printable activity worksheets for kids organized by grade level and subject.

Here are direct links to the activity worksheets I’ve posted so far. Enjoy!


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.”


Poetry Minute

During the past few months, since becoming the Children’s Poet Laureate, I have been hard at work on a new project: A brand new website called, and I would like to tell you about it so you can start using it in your classrooms.

Over the years that I have been reading and writing children’s poems, I have noticed that many, possibly most, poems written for children can be read in an average of about one minute. Because of this, I have always encouraged teachers to share a poem with their students every day. It only takes a minute of the entire school day, and yet it gives students a break from their routine in a way that also encourages them to want to read and write, and improves their fluency and literacy.

I call this a “Poetry Minute.” It’s one minute out of your school day for poetry. And now it’s easier than ever.

Words with Wings by Nikki Grimes

Words with Wings by Nikki Grimes

As Children’s Poet Laureate, one of my jobs is to select a collection of poetry each month to feature on the Poetry Foundation’s website. There you’ll find my monthly book picks, and those of the previous Children’s Poets Laureate.

My pick for September, 2013 is Words with Wings, a novel in verse by Nikki Grimes.

Interview with Children’s Poet Nikki Grimes

In addition, I interviewed Nikki about her life as a poet and about her new book. Here is what she had to say.

Kiss, Kiss Good Night

Kiss, Kiss Good Night by Kenn Nesbitt

I’m pleased to announce my newest book, Kiss, Kiss Good Night is now available. This is my first book for babies and toddlers, and also my first bedtime book.

Kiss, Kiss Good Night is a large (9-inch square) “board book” with a soft, squishy cover, rounded corners, and sturdy, baby-proof pages, so your little one can hold the book and turn the pages safely without damaging it.

This charming bedtime book tells the story of how baby animals go to be each night. What happens when they need to rest their little heads? Their mothers tuck them into bed, of course! Read along as baby bunnies, lambs, chicks, kittens, and cubs settle down for a good night’s sleep while their mommies give them nuzzles, cuddles, and good-night kisses! A lulling, soothing bedtime poem perfect for getting little ones to settle down.

When baby bunnies go to bed,
Their mothers kiss them on the head.

Inside their burrows, warm and deep,
They close their eyes and fall alseep.

. . .

Sweet dreams!

Where to Buy

Buy from Amazon
Buy from Barnes & Noble
Shop Indie Bookstores

Interview on Bigfoot Reads

“Tuesdays with Morzant” Interview on Bigfoot Reads

Interview with Kenn Nesbitt I had the pleasure of being interviewed by an alien this week. And not just any alien. I was interviewed on the blog Bigfoot Reads by Morzant, an alien who has been studying earth literature, and who is good friends with Bigfoot and a number of other cryptids.

Bigfoot Reads is one of the most fun children’s literature blogs you will ever come across. The blog posts are written by a crazy cast of characters that includes Violet the Telekinetic Puppy, Norman and Beverly the Half-Invisible Turtles, Penny C. Monster, and many others. Each of them has their own unique personality and laundry list of idiosyncrasies, as you can see from this review of MORE BEARS! written in 2011 by Violet the Telekinetic Puppy.

Today’s interview by Morzant the Alien is easily the most fun interview I’ve done. As you read the interview, you may notice that Morzant is a scientist who is particularly interested in studying Earth literature. He is also interested in snails the tensile properties of Rice Krispie Treats. Occasionally, Norman the Half-Invisible Turtle will tell him something outrageous (such as that the Children’s Poet Laureate award is bestowed on the winner of an arm-wrestling contest). Morzant is somewhat gullible, and usually believes Norman.

My photograph for the interview was taken by Bigfoot himself. Bigfoot tries, but he’s not much of a photographer, so his pictures usually end up blurry.

I hope you’ll take the time to read the interview and explore Bigfoot Reads for more fun author interviews and children’s book reviews and recommendations.

Weekend Children’s Poetry Links

Children's Poetry Links

The Miss Rumphius Effect challenges readers to write a Tanka, a Japanese form of poetry that has been practiced for over 1000 years.

NPR this week published a list of the 100 must-read books for kids aged 9-14. The one poetry book on the list is Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again, a novel in verse about a young girl who leaves Vietnam with her mother and brothers at the end of the Vietnam war to resettle in Alabama.

Ted Scheu, “That Poetry Guy” posted a new video of his “cousin” Luigi reading his poem “Nothing Much.”

Children’s writer Elli Woollard posted a few silly nursery rhymes here and here and a wonderful, more serious poem on her blog, Taking Words for a Stroll.

Sylvia Vardell posted a “back to school” poem called “Underwear Scare” by new poet Terry Webb Harshman, along with a list of Poetry Books for Children About School on her blog Poetry for Children.

Renee LaTulippe hosted the Poetry Friday Roundup, including a first draft of her poem “The Boat,” on her blog No Water River.

M.M. Socks posted a new poem called “Gorilla in a Kid Costume” on his blog The Drawer of M.M. Socks.

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater posted a new poem called “Mittens and Friends” on her blog The Poem Farm.

Poet Eric Ode’s newest book The Boy and the Dragon is now available for pre-order on