Definition Poems

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Language Arts, Writing, Writing Process, Traits of Writing

Grade 3- 5


Students will write definition poems, which are free verse poems using metaphors to describe the topic.



  1. Tell students that a definition poem uses a conceptual topic--something that is not an object, person, or place, but is instead an emotion, feeling, or way of being.
  2. On a chart, chalkboard, or overhead projector, help students brainstorm possible conceptual topics. Possible concepts include freedom, jealousy, love, friendship, hope, anger, sadness, independence, time, fear, death, life, etc.
  3. Share the student sample, "Hope is . . ." (page 83). Read the poem once for students to gain an idea of the form of the poem, which is free verse.
  4. Read the poem a second time, asking students to list each item that the author compares to hope.
  5. Review the term metaphor with students. Ask students why the author compared hope to each of the items. For example, after reading, "Hope is a tissue, wiping away your problems and fears," ask students, "Why does the author think hope is like a tissue?"
  6. Have students select a topic for their poems from the list the class brainstormed during prewriting. (Note: Depending on the skill level of your students, you may wish to have students work in groups to write this challenging poem.)
  7. Using the Definition Poem Web worksheet, have students make comparisons between their topic and other objects. The web is designed in two tiers: the first offshoot from the topic is for students to write the objects to be compared; the second offshoot is for elaborating on the comparison.
Once students have generated several comparisons and elaborations, instruct them to begin drafting their definition poem. Review student sample, Hope is . . . (see the link to the activity pages below) to show students a possible format for their poem.
Since a definition poem is free verse, students could take liberties with the structure of the poem as long as the metaphors are included and complete.
  1. When the poem is drafted, students should share their definition poems with peer responders. Provide the Definition Poem Response and Assessment Sheet for this purpose. Peer responders should check to make sure that the topic is compared to several items without using like or as, that each comparison is elaborated for explanation, and that each comparison makes sense.
  2. Following peer response, students should make any necessary revisions before writing a final copy of the poem.
Obtain several old dictionaries that can be torn apart or photocopy pages from a dictionary. Have the students use the dictionary pages as backgrounds for their poems since they are writing a type of definition. They should each mount the final copy of their poem on the dictionary page background.


  • copies of Definition Poem Web worksheet (see the link to the activity sheets below)
  • copies of Definition Response and Assessment Sheet (see the link to the activity sheets below)
  • several old dictionaries or copies of dictionary pages

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