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Poetry in the Classroom

Poor understanding of pentameter and stress results in bad formal poetry and funky song lyrics. For students grappling with a Shakespeare play— such as Othello, Hamlet, or MacBeth—the underlying rhythms hold the key to deeper comprehension of the texts.

The previous sentence was a quatrain of iambic pentameter, by the way. But you caught that, right? Good job!

Our classroom worksheets provide a systematic approach to iambic pentameter. They start with single words, then phrases, then lines. Students hum, they clap their hands, they tap their pencils…and slowly they discern the hidden sounds. Nearly 50 (fifty!) short questions allow teachers and educators to assess who is getting it and who needs some help. For further practice, we offer sonnet puzzles, a fun way to involve children with kinesthetic learning styles.

Iambic Pentameter Worksheets (PDF)

Foundations of the Sonnet: Iambic Pentameter starts from a basic question:

Do you pronounce the word invent as "IN-vent" or "in-VENT"?

It builds from there with nearly 50 exercises designed to get high-school and advanced middle-school students thinking about stress, intonation, and rhythm. No prior experience with sonnets or poetry is presumed.

This is a free download for non-profit, classroom use only. To obtain an answer key, teachers must write to us from their official school E-mail accounts. We will take common-sense steps to verify your identity before we send answer keys. These answer keys are coded to each teacher. (The existence of SparkNotes has not escaped our notice.)

Sonnet Puzzles (PDF)

Possibly the best idea we've ever had, sonnet puzzles allow students to experiment with the structure and rules of a traditional Shakespearean sonnet without the added stress of writing a sonnet (that comes later).

Puzzle sets will take about 10 minutes of prep time before class. Each puzzle set will occupy a group of 3-5 students. Teachers will need a decent laser or ink-jet printer, pastel office paper or cardstock (cardstock recommended), and a pair of scissors. All necessary instructions are on the PDF. Sonnet puzzles offer students an unforgettably fun classroom activity that helps them apply their worksheet exercises to a canonical work of English literature. You are seriously missing out if you pass these up!

Other resources

Of course, we're not the only source of great content to help introduce high school and middle school students to classic English poetry and prosody. Here are some links that may be of use to teachers and educators.


Great books for sale!

Tandem 1

Tandem, Volume I

Tandem represents an unprecedented marriage of the print and performance poetry traditions in the San Francisco bay area. The journal highlights not only exceptional local talent, but also new work from nationally-recognized featured poets such as Jamaal May, Gypsee Yo and Tara Hardy. (Learn more)

Additional titles available in our bookstore.