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Teaching Poetry Rhyme Scheme to High School Students


Though students learn how to identify rhyme scheme in elementary school, high school teachers help their students to delve deeper into the topic. Besides traditional rhymes, poets use different degrees of rhyme as well as set rhyming patterns. Identifying rhyme scheme provides a low-key way for high school students to approach complex poetry by the likes of Shakespeare and Chaucer. Tying the pattern to the power of a poem allows teenagers to reflect on the poet's craft.

Types of Rhyme

Teach students the different types of rhyme so that they can identify the patterns of rhyme schemes. Explain that a true rhyme happens when the final syllables sound the same, as in "although" and "outgrow." When the last syllable is accented, as in the previous example, it is called a masculine rhyme, which is the most common rhyme in English. Sometimes words rhyme within unstressed syllables, such as "painted" and "acquainted." These are called feminine rhymes. Rhyme schemes often rely on slant rhyme as well: "Moon" and "on" are slant rhymes, as the vowel sound is not the same, although the final consonant is.

Rhyme Schemes

Explain that the pattern of end rhymes, or rhymes at the end of a line, is called rhyme scheme. To describe rhyme scheme, each rhyme is represented by a letter of the alphabet. Choose a poem with a strong rhyme scheme, read it aloud while the high-schoolers follow along, using letters to mark the rhyme scheme they hear. Highlight the fact, though, that many poems rely on slant rhymes. These get represented by the same letter; "moon" and "on" are considered rhymes for marking rhyme scheme. To make the exercise more relevant to their personal lives, have the students mark the rhyme scheme of their favorite songs.

Set Rhyme Schemes

Point out that different styles of poetry have set rhyme schemes. Sonnets traditionally feature a set pattern, and the pattern denotes what type of sonnet the poem is. For example, a Shakespearean, or English, sonnet features the following rhyme scheme: ABABCDCDEFEFGG. A Petrarchan sonnet rhymes differently: ABBAABBA followed by CDCDCD or CDEEDE; Elizabeth Barret Browning's "How Do I Love Thee?" follows this pattern. High-schoolers studying ballads need to know about rhyme royal, the rhyming stanza Geoffrey Chaucer introduced into English poetry: ABABBCC. Starting by marking rhyme scheme provides an entrance into these complex poetic forms.

Teaching Rhyme Scheme

High-schoolers tend to enjoy limericks. Seemingly simple, limericks in fact have strict rules: AABBA rhyme scheme with a specific meter and a cause-effect relationship within the rhyme scheme. Edward Lear popularized the form and offers classic examples for the classroom. Have students write their own limericks after studying the form. Students can also make observations about repetitive rhyme schemes, such as those in villanelles. Encourage students to react to Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night" by considering what the highly structured pattern adds to the power of the poem. By looking deeper into rhyme scheme and reflecting on its power, high school students transcend what they learn about rhyme in elementary school.

About the Author

Nadia Archuleta has a B.A. in English writing. She spent five years working abroad and has traveled extensively. She has worked as an English as a Foreign/Second Language teacher for 12 years.

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