Poetic devices are literary techniques not exclusively limited to poetry. Poetic devices are used by good writers in all professions, from novelists, to journalists, to advertisers. This is because poetic devices are pleasing to hear. The use of poetic devices is separate from the study of poetic devices. For example, someone can have an advanced perception of what words sound good next to each other without knowing the technical terms applied to these techniques (perhaps you can think of a musician to whom this description might apply). Conversely, one might have mastery of the technical terms without any ability to create original poetic assemblages.
Poetic devices are often lumped together with figurative language techniques (simile, metaphor, personification, understatement). Often, state tests evaluate both skills simultaneously, but I find that it’s better to teach these skills in separate units as the material is more digestible if taken in small bites. I will define each poetic device and provide an example or two, as well as offer some worksheets and activities to help you or your students review.
Alliteration is the repetition of the initial consonant sound in words. An easier (though less exact) way to say this is that alliteration is when the first sounds in words repeat. Alliteration often works with assonance and consonance to make phonetically pleasing arrangements.
Notice the repetition of the “j” sound in the first example? Alliteration is not always so jarringly obvious. Sometimes it is very subtle, such as in the following example:
Though this example is still pretty obvious, it shows that even when one word starts with a “k” and another word starts with a “c,” it is still considered an instance of alliteration. When we study alliteration, we are concerned with the sounds of the words, not just the letters.
Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds. It is often used in combination with consonance and alliteration.
- He saw the cost and hauled off.
- Will she read these cheap leaflets.
- The snow in the rose garden groaned.
Notice the repetition of the “awe” sounds in the first example, the “e” sounds in the second example, or the “o” sounds in the third example? Assonance can be subtle and may go unnoticed if you’re not scanning for it.
Also known as near rhyme, off rhyme, or slant rhyme, consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the middle or at the end of words. Using consonance is a sophisticated poetic technique that can create subtle yet beautiful lyrics or lines of poetry. Here is an example of consonance:
- Her finger hungered for a ring.
- The satin mittens were ancient.
- You could paddle through the spittle in the bottle.
Though the first of the above examples is also an example of personification, we are interested in the repetition of the “nger” and “ng” sounds. If nobody is around you right now, say out loud, “hungry and angry.” Notice how similar the words sound? What you are hearing is consonance, or the repetition of the “ngry” consonant sounds.
Enjambment is when the writer uses line breaks meaningfully and abruptly to either emphasize a point or to create dual meanings. When a poem is read, the reader will conventionally make a slight pause (shorter than a comma) when transitioning from line to line. When a writer uses enjambment, he or she uses this space to spread an idea over more than one line, either creating an alternate interpretation of the lines or drawing attention to the enjambed words.
- Rolling through the field in the
When the word “dead” is placed on a line in isolation, it invites the reader to focus on that idea. Surrounded by empty space, the idea may resonate powerfully. Though enjambment could be used during a speech, the term “enjambment” is generally applied to the study of poetry.
Imagery is when the writer or speaker uses their descriptions to access the senses of the reader of listener. Sometimes this is called, using sensory details. When I say “senses” or “sensory,” I am referring to the five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell.
- An old lump of snow melted in the corner.
- The chirping crickets filled the empty night air.
- I was awoken by the pleasing scent of the bacon as it wafted down the hallway.
As you read the first example, you might be visualize snow melting, because the description accesses your sense of sight. When you read the second example, you may imagine the noises that crickets produce, as the imagery in the text references this sound. And as you encounter the third example, you may recall the aroma of bacon based on the imagery in the sentence. Good writers don’t just tell you things, they show you things by using imagery.
Repetition is when the writer or speaker knowingly repeats a word or group of words for effect. This is a strong rhetorical technique that can also be used to build a theme in a speech or poem. It is important to note that it is not considered using repetition when a writer or speaker repeats essential articles, prepositions, pronouns, or conjunctions that are frequently used unintentionally as the mechanics of language dictate.
- Nobody, oh nobody can make it out here alone.
- Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
- Love is a red, red rose.
In the first example, only one word in the sentence is repeating: nobody. Nonetheless, this is still considered repetition. A poet, writer, or speaker may also repeat more than one word to have a greater impact or to highlight the importance of an idea, such as in the second example. In the second example a whole group of words repeats: Free at last. Each method of repetition can effectively embolden a message.
Rhyme is when the end or final sound of two or more words are identical. If the end sounds are not identical, then the speaker or writer is using consonance or assonance instead. Rhymes can also occur internally or on the inside of words or lines of poetry. A rhyme may also be monosyllabic (a one syllable rhyme) or polysyllabic (rhyme two or more syllables), such as in the following examples:
- I left my punch card on the lunch yard.
- I drove a race car to the space bar.
- We saw a butter fly flutter by.
This is the technique that students most often associate with poetry, but I encourage my students to try writing free or blank verse, as it takes much poetic skill to freely maneuver within the confines of a rhyme scheme.
Rhythm is when the arrangement of words creates an audible pattern or beat when read out loud. A good way to check to see if a passage of text is using rhythm is to just hum the sounds that the words make rather than clearly pronouncing them. If you can hear a song or identify a form in the sounds, then the text is rhythmic.
- There once was a guy from Chicago / Who drank away all of his problems.
- I know it is wet and the sun is not sunny / but we can have lots of good fun that is funny.
- Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Instead of just reading these examples, trying humming them. Do you hear how they sort of bounce? This is a rhythm.
Poetic Devices Worksheet – Help students reinforce their skills with onomatopoeia, rhyme, rhythm, repetition, alliteration, and consonance. Students identify the techniques and explain their answer.
Poetic Devices Worksheet RTF
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Identifying Poetic Devices Worksheet – Students identify poetic techniques and uses of figurative language in examples from poetry and speech. Also, students should explain their answers. 4 pages – over 25 problems.
Identifying Poetic Devices Worksheet RTF
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Poetic Devices Lesson – Teach students about the sounds of poetry with this PowerPoint slide show. Covers onomatopoeia, rhythm, rhyme, repetition, alliteration, and consonance.
Poetic Devices Lesson PowerPoint
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Poetic Devices Illustration Project – Students will define poetic devices and create an example showing understanding. They will then illustrate their examples. Great artifacts for displaying on a bulletin board.
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Common Core State Standards Related to Poetic Devices
Expand to View All Common Core State Standards Related to Poetic Devices
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.4 – Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.5 – Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
ELA Standards: Literature
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including those that allude to significant characters found in mythology (e.g., Herculean).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.5.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative language such as metaphors and similes.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.7.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of rhymes and other repetitions of sounds (e.g., alliteration) on a specific verse or stanza of a poem or section of a story or drama.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.8.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including analogies or allusions to other texts.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.9-10.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.4 – Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone, including words with multiple meanings or language that is particularly fresh, engaging, or beautiful. (Include Shakespeare as well as other authors.)
ELA Standards: Language
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.3.5 – Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships and nuances in word meanings.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.4.5a – Explain the meaning of simple similes and metaphors (e.g., as pretty as a picture) in context.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.4.5b – Recognize and explain the meaning of common idioms, adages, and proverbs.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.5.5a – Interpret figurative language, including similes and metaphors, in context.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.5.5b – Recognize and explain the meaning of common idioms, adages, and proverbs.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.6.5a – Interpret figures of speech (e.g., personification) in context.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.7.5a – Interpret figures of speech (e.g., literary, biblical, and mythological allusions) in context.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.8.5a – Interpret figures of speech (e.g. verbal irony, puns) in context.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.5a – Interpret figures of speech (e.g., euphemism, oxymoron) in context and analyze their role in the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.5a – Interpret figures of speech (e.g., hyperbole, paradox) in context and analyze their role in the text.