Lesson Plans: Poem of Instruction

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Grades: 5-12 > College Level 

Objective — The student will:

  • write a free-verse poem based on providing an "instruction" (direction)

  • utilize the skill of providing detailed instructions  

  • learn to explore for and/or identify  opportunities to create poems from simple, everyday verbal or written instructions. (Ex. How to Bake Bread, How to Walk to School)

  • become aware of everyday language that has merit as poetry. 

  • exercise decision in creating line breaks and the placement of appropriate "first words" at the beginning of lines in "rebuilding" the instructions into a recognizable poetry form.

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Hint: For lower grades consider writing short, simple instructions in paragraph form.  Then ask your students to separate the lines and words into a 10 line poem.  
See Example #1 Below


Poem of Instruction / Framing a Poem 

Write a poem which satisfies all of the following criteria:

1.      The poem reads like a set of instructions.

2.      The poem describes an activity which you know well, something most people are familiar with, but

3.      Instead of giving the reader literal instructions, you are trying to capture in words the feel of the activity by:

Hitting the reader with surprising metaphors and similes

. Selecting a few details which comprise the essence of the experience

Incorporating details which, though seemingly unimportant or unspectacular, are actually part of the hidden lore of the activity: (For example, if you were writing about how to get through a boring class you might recall things like deliberately making one leg go to sleep or crossing your eyes; if you were describing a snowball fight, you might talk about the moment when a harmless snowball begins to become an "ice-ball.”)

4.      The poem must not be end-rhymed.

5.      The poem must be titled.


How to Eat a Cookie
(in paragraph form)

Go to the store and find some Oreos.  Buy them and put them in a sack. Then go home and get some milk, sit down at the table and eat them. Dip them in the milk first.

Rewrite in poem form.

How to Eat a Cookie

Go to the store
and find some Oreos. 
Buy them and put
them in a sack.
Then go home
and get some milk, sit
down at the table
and eat them. Dip
them in the milk

Continue the lesson by asking your students to come up with and write their own personal set of instructions in poetry form.  With older students, expect more complex instructions.


How to Play Night Baseball


A pasture is best, freshly

mown so that by the time a grounder’s

plowed through all that chewed, spit-out

grass to reach you, the ball

will be bruised with green kisses.  Start

in the evening.  Come

with a bad sunburn and smelling of chlorine,

water still crackling in your ears.

Play until the ball is khaki—

a moveable piece of the twilight—

the girls’ bare arms in the bleachers are pale,

the heat lightning jumps in the west.  Play

until you can only see pop-ups

and routine grounders get lost

in the sweet grass for extra bases.


                              -- Jonathan Holden



Stealing the Christmas Greens


Fifty miles down the road you can give

five bucks to some guy

with a thread-riddled nose

like a road map of Vermont

and get a symmetrical tree.

Not me. Third growth pine

is best, where sand farmers have failed

and where it was recut

to fire a try-works in whaling days.

A broken puzzle of snow on the ground,

wear a coat long enough to bootleg in

a saw. This bottom as Ned

McLaughlin's, those mounds

are where he spaded his dead

horses. Look close

and you might see a wicket of ribs

stick up like a rotting skiff.

Now look for a tree

whose northeast side isn't flat

with wind off George's Bank.

Be sure to top it high and light enough

so you can drag It back. Keep off the roads,

or if you really have to move,

being seen, balance it easily over

one shoulder. It's more than likely

once you set it up you'll see the top

won't point, but forks,

imperfect as a life, no pinnacle

for an angel. A green bow

and a chocolate Santa Claus

dressed in red foil will camouflage

that gray spot on the trunk.

Now plug it in, no talk of ritual,

get out the bourbon (each sip's

Christmas Eve), and rinse a glass clean

                                         --Brendan Galvin

Example 4


How to Bake Bread


You must believe in the yeast.

Faith is the beginning of leavening.


Be distant, but careful, with the eggs.

An egg speaks only to other egg,

but complains loudly to the entire dough

if you break a yoke

before its time.


Shortening must be persuaded

to take part. You have to push it

from the spoon. Even then

it clings to the hand.


Explain the scalding to the milk.

Pain is easy when the reason is clear.


Kiss the sugar quickly;

it is eager to lose itself in the milk.


Speak kindly to the flour.

One good word is worth the sifting,

eases the stiffness of the stirring.


You can depend on the salt,

it you don't forget it. Toss it in

over your shoulder for luck.


Give a gentle hand to the kneading.

Let the dough know your palm;

it will remember your touch

in the final shaping.


Find it some warmth for the rising

and an hour's peace.

The baking is its own reward.


                                         -- Elizabeth Banset


Example 5

For Brothers Everywhere


There is a schoolyard that runs

from here to the dark's fence

where brothers keep goin to the hoop, keep

risin up with baske'balls ripe as pumpkins

toward rims hung like piñatas, pinned.

like thunderclouds to the sky's wide chest

an' everybody is spinnin an' bankin

off the glass, finger-rollin off the glass

with the same soft touch you'd give

the head of a child, a chile witta

big-ass pumpkin head, who stands

in the schoolyard lit by brothers--postin up,

givin, gain, taking the lane, flashin off

the pivot, dealin behind the back, between

the legs. cockin the rock an 'glidin

like mad hawks--swoopin black with arms

for wings, palmin the sun, throwin it down,

and even with the day gone, without even

a crumb of light from the city, brothers

keep runnin-gunnin, fallin away takin

fall-away j's from the comer; their bodies

like muscular saxophones body-boppin

better than jazz, beyond summer, beyond

weather, beyond everything that moves-­

an' with one shake, they're pullin-up

from the perimeter, shakin-bakin,

brothers be sweet pullin-up from

the edge a' the world, hangin like

air itself hangs in the air;

an' gravidy gotta giv'em.up: the ball

burning like a fruit with a soul

in their velvet hands, while the wrists

whisper backspin, an' the fingers comb the rock

once--givin it up, lettin it go, letting it go

like good news because the hoop is a well,

a well with no bottom, an' they're

fillin that sucker up!


                                         -- Tim Seibles

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