Teachers’ File Drawer: Corny Quatrains

Valentine’s Day is coming next month, and this is one of my favorite lessons I taught for Valentine’s day. It’s a “one-shot” lesson. We just spend the one day on it. Because of that, it often provided a fun break in the midst of a longer unit. It also provided a mini review on some poetry terms.

To start, present your students with this old gem:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet,
And so are you.

Ask your students if they can identify what form this poem takes. Hopefully someone will come up with the term quatrain or stanza. If no one does, move on to the next step.

Remind your students that poems can be written with a specific rhythm or rhyme schemes, and that poems can be divided into stanzas. It helps to liken a stanza of poetry to a paragraph of prose.

Ask your students how many lines in the initiating poem? Obviously, they’ll say, “four.”

Explain that stanzas with four lines are called quatrains. In addition teach or remind your students of the term couplet and explain that a stanza written in couplet form would have two lines. You may introduce the terms tercet (a three-line stanza) and quintain, quintet, or cinquain (a three-line stanza) in addition if you wish so that your students will understand that not all poetic stanzas have to take the form of a quatrain.

Next discuss rhyme schemes.

Go back to the original poem and ask the students which lines rhyme with which. Show them how to note the rhyme scheme by labeling each line with a letter denoting its unique end rhyme. Go over the original poem and label the lines together.

  • Roses are red,      A
  • Violets are blue,   B
  • Sugar is sweet,     C
  • And so are you.   B

Explain that a quatrain can have other kinds of rhyme schemes as well, for example AABB, or ABAA…

If your students are keeping learning journals, you might have them jot down the terms stanza, quatrain, couplet, and rhyme scheme along with their definitions as you introduce this material. However, please try to keep this introductory material to less than half the class period, because the second half of the lesson is where the fun comes in.

Write a couple of corny quatrains as a class. Start your first one with the traditional “Roses are red…” line.

Then write a second one starting with a different noun/adjective pair. Here’s one I wrote:

Candy is sweet,
Chocolate divine.
Please say you will
Be my valentine.

Now by this point, inevitably, someone in the class will get silly and suggests a not-so-nice valentine. That’s okay. Keep your sense of humor.

Then…challenge your students to write their own corny quatrains. First, require them to write something sweet (after all we began by talking about corny quatrains). Then allow them to write something “sour”—one of those not-so-nice valentines.

Remind them that good poetry plays with sound and rhythm, and employs specific word choices to express strong ideas with a minimal number of words.

Then pass out an instruction sheet that includes both the instructions and scoring criteria for the lesson.

Let your students write and share their quatrains with their neighbors. When you’re down to ten or fifteen minutes of class time, invite students to share their quatrains. This is usually a lot of fun, and after the first brave person or two shares, everyone else wants to as well. Praise the strengths of the quatrains shared.

Collect the quatrains and score according to the following criteria:

  • 1 Sweet Quatrain:   3 pts.
  • 1 Sour Quatrain:     3 pts.
  • Ideas and Content: 2 pts.
  • Word Choice           2 pts.—Lesson total: 10 pts.