Poetry Primer Part 2: Counting Words

For some reason many students come into my class thinking more writing is better writing. They will be proud of all the words they have written on a page. They love to count their words. Many young writers think a poem is well-written if it is long (and of course, rhymes).

After students have had time to work on the fluency of writing and have a folder full of pieces written during writing workshop, I begin lessons on word choice. With word choice I rely on poetry as one effective writing model.  If a theme or image can be conveyed effectively in few words to a reader, a poet has done their job. When teaching word choice I alway return to William Carlos Williams. This poem carries a punch with few words.

The Red Wheelbarrow 
by William Carlos Williams

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

After reading poems like this I then allow students to reexaine their word choice. What words are the most 

important to the reader. Which words carry a punch? Which words can be replaced with another stronger words? 

This poem is an example of how word choice, sound, and arrangment of lines can help convey a strong image.


 A mouthful of language to swallow:

stretches of beach, sweet clinches,

breaches in walls, pleached branches;

britches hauled over haunches;

hunched leeches, wrenched teachers.

What English can do: ransack

the warmth that chuckles beneath

fuzzed surfaces, smooth velvet

richness, plashy juices.

I beseech you, peach,

clench me into the sweetness

of your reaches.

-Peter Davison



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