Make a Poem at Home: 5 Poetry Lessons for Covid Times


Several times a year, before Covid-19 arrived, I visited the preschool where I used to teach. These visits involved me taking dictation of a poem from each child, reciting and reading poems, and talking about poetry. Instead, this April, I put together the first of these at-home poetry activities. There’s no reason why they couldn’t be implemented in classrooms, once they are open again.

Please, scroll down for the newest lesson.

What I describe is my approach. Add and subtract as suits your purpose.



I start by reading and reciting a model poem (or two, in this case) several times, asking the children to join me in reciting as soon as they think they have any of the words. This gets us into the music, and everyone feeling the rhythm, inside. 

Here, it is also to show how a recipe/definition poem can be constructed, that they don’t have to be about food. The Rossetti is fun to act out.

Mix a Pancake by Christina Rossetti

Mix a pancake,

Stir a pancake,

     Pop it in the pan;

Fry the pancake,

Toss the pancake–

     Catch it if you can.


How to Make a Morning by Elaine Magliaro

Melt a galaxy of stars
in a large blue bowl.
Knead the golden sun
and let it rise in the East.
Spread the sky
with a layer of lemony light.
Blend together
until brimming with brightness.
Fold in dewdrops.
Sprinkle with songbirds.
Garnish with a chorus
of cock-a-doodle-doos.
Set out on a platter at dawn
and enjoy. 

I like to point out that the verbs are telling the reader what to do. Your child’s poem is to tell readers how to do something, to make a kind of food or something abstract, like the morning. 

When I meet with each child, I ask, Do you know what you want your poem to be about? If not, I suggest things with questions. Is there some kind of food you really like that you’d like it to be about? What about a thing? Do you want to tell how to be: strong, brave, patient, loving, kind, silly, friendly, happy, etc…? Or how to be a friend, how to build a tower, how to comfort Baby Sister, etc…?

Once they’ve chosen the thing, I write down their words, verbatim, as they tell me their answers to, What ingredients do you need to make ____? How much of each do you need? (I return to each ingredient to insert this.) What do you have to do to the ingredients–this is where I might say, Remember in making the morning, the poet blended, and folded, and sprinkled? How long do you have to do that? (As in “until brimming with brightness.”) How do you tell when you’re finished making it? 

Stick to imperatives! (Mix, stir, fry, toss, catch, and so forth.) When that’s not how it comes out of the child’s mouth, I ask, How would you tell someone how to do it? 

For a final line, I often like to ask the poet for a turn, maybe something funny or unexpected. The final line could be to tell the reader what to do once the recipe is finished–as in, “Eat it!”

I read back the dictated material and ask if the poet wants to add anything, repeat anything, move anything around, take anything away. Then read it back again. I usually pick the line breaks and format.

Capable writers may wish to scribe for themselves. They may wish to crib the shape of these example poems as templates. If they choose this approach, please, encourage them to add, “After How to Make a Morning …”

I’d be thrilled if you wished to share any products in the comments section, below.



Poetry collections I often read from when teaching poetry:

The Bill Martin Jr Big Book of Poetry: Various

Forget-Me-Nots, Poems to Learn by Heart selected by Mary Ann Hoberman and

The Bill Martin Jr Big Book of Poetry with a forward by Eric Carle.

Fiction about Poetry: Both of these are beautiful books. 

The Bat-Poet    This is a Poem that Heals Fish: Simà on, Jean-Pierre

The Bat-Poet by Randall Jarell, pictures by Maurice Sendak. It is longer than a picture book, shorter than a chapter book.

This Is a Poem that Heals Fish by Jean-Pierre Simeon (a picture book). It is a child’s journey to understanding what a poem might be so he can give one to his fish who is dying of boredom.




Look outside or think about what is outside your home. Choose something not made by people as the subject of your poem. A dog? The sky? Humidity? A tree? Ask yourself why you picked this thing. What do you know about it? How do you feel about it? What do you wonder about it? Why is it important to you? Why might it matter to someone else? You could make each answer a line of your poem, follow this template, or go your own directions!

1st line: Name a true thing about it. (For example: color, shape, location)

2nd line: Name another true thing about it.

3rd line: Say how you feel about it. (A strong emotion or wish.)

4th line: Ask a question about it.

5th line: Say why it might matter to someone else.

An Outside-the-Window Poem by Emily Dickinson


To make a prairie

It takes a clover and a bee,–

One clover and a bee,

And revery.

Revery alone will do

If bees are few.


A nifty website about writing poetry with a lesson on writing outside:



If a cento is a patchwork made of lines from other people’s poems, then a partial cento is a poem that sews in one line from someone else’s poem or story.

Choose a place where you wish you were. It might be where you are. It might be a place in your imagination. It might be a place you are unable to get to right now. Maybe you’d like to draw the place to think about it more and to prompt your poem.

To build this poem you can follow the same steps as with “AN OUTSIDE-THE-WINDOW POEM,” above, by making your answers to these questions into the lines of your poem, using the template, or going your own directions. Each step of the template might involve more than one line of your poem.

What is the place? Why did you pick this place? What is it like? Hot? Sunny? Wild? Near? Made up? How do you feel about it? Have you been there? When do you go there or when do you think about going there? What do you wonder about it? Why is it important to you? How is it different to be there instead of where you are?

  1. Name the spot, as if you are in it.
  2. Describe the place with colors or smells or three things you find there.
  3. Say how you feel about this place.
  4. Say when you will next go there.
  5. Say what might be the same or might be different the next time you are there (in reality or your imagination).

When you have your lines, at random open the book you are reading. Put your finger on the page. Do you like this line? If so, use the words from this spot as a line in you poem. If not, repeat the process until you find a line you like. (I just did this and my finger landed on “I had trouble with this place.” !!!!)

Now read over/listen to your lines. Are they in the right order for you? Arrange them. Rearrange them. Try various orders until you like the sound and look of your poem. Some poets cut their lines into strips for this part.

A Wish-I-Were-There Partial Cento

Pond by Rosemary


The final line of Rosemary’s poem comes from Dr. Seuss’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go! The illustration is hers too. Rosemary began by painting a place where she wanted to go. She was a student of mine many years ago. This image and her poem appeared in “Writing Poetry with Preschoolers” in Teaching Young Children.

Billy Collins describes how to write a conventional cento:



Blotto or Gobolink is a poetry game from the 19th century. Players make up poems about what they see in inkblots and then read them to each other. Details are here.

Make your own inkblots, use this one,


or find some here.

If you don’t have ink and want to make your own blots, try runny paint, a dark juice, tea, or coffee.

Study your blot. What do you see in your chosen blot? Can you name some shapes, sizes of shapes, numbers of shapes? (For example: dozens of teeny dots, seventeen circles, many small moons). What does the blot remind you of? How does the blot (and what it reminds you of) make you feel? If it could tell you something, what would that be? How would you answer? What will you do next? You could make each answer a line of your poem, follow this template, or go your own directions! Each step of the template might involve more than one line of your poem.

  1.  Pretend you are in the blot. Say where you are.
  2.  List what you see around you.
  3.  Say how the blot makes you feel.
  4.  Say what the blot reminds you of.
  5.  Say what the blot would tell you, if it could.
  6.  Say what you would answer.
  7.  Add a surprise that isn’t about the blot.

Arrange your lines. Decide which belongs first, last, and so on.

The Somethings

by Ruth McEnery Stuart And Albert Bigelow Paine

from Gobolinks or Shadow-Pictures For Young and Old available here from the Gutenberg Project.

The Somethings

A Something met a Something
In the mists of Shadowland.
They ran against each other,
And came quickly to a stand.
“And who are you?” said Something One.
And Something Two, said he,
“That’s just the very question that
At once occurred to me.


AhmmmAAAzing inkblot video of a favorite song of mine.


Wonderful ink blot activities: from Margaret Peot. I just bought her book:

BooksGallery03Inkblot: Drip, Splat and Squish Your Way to Creativity
(Boyds Mills Press, 2011)






This is the excellent book from which I learned about Blotto, the 19th century poetry game:




This poem could be about a dream you remember or a wish for the future.

Dreams take us to places inside ourselves.

What did you see? What colors? Are you alone? Do you know where you are? What are you feeling? Why do you think you’re feeling this way? What are you doing? How are things (people, places, sights, smells, sounds, etc.) the same or different from here and now? You could make each answer a line of your poem, follow this template, or go your own directions! Each step of the template might involve more than one line of your poem.

  1. Shut your eyes for a moment and think of your dream
  2. Name something you see in your dream. Give it a color or size or both.
  3. Name another thing you see. Give it a color or texture or both.
  4. Tell if you are alone or with others.
  5. Say how the dream makes you feel.
  6. Tell what you wish about the dream. (That it last longer, never happened …)
  7. Describe a smell or taste or sound from your dream.
  8. Name a strange/magical thing from the dream.

Dream Song
Walter de la Mare

Sunlight, moonlight,
Twilight, starlight.
Gloaming at the close of day,
And an owl calling,
Cool dews falling
In a wood of oak and may.

Lantern-light, taper-light,
Torchlight, no-light:
Darkness at the shut of day,
And lions roaring,
Their wrath pouring
In wild waste places far away.

Elf-light, bat-light,
Touchwood-light and toad-light,
And the sea a shimmering gloom of grey,
And a small face smiling
In a dream’s beguiling
In a world of wonders far away.

This is one of my favorite dream poems, by Langston Highes


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