Poetry is... Boosting Metaphor with Collective Poems


What is Poetry? 

(For a detailed lesson to accompany this post click here.)
Is it..
 “The spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings?”  (William Wordsworth)
“An echo, asking a shadow to dance?” (Carl Sandburg)
Thoughts that breathe, and words that burn?” (Thomas Gray)

Writers throughout history have thrown their own definitions into the poetry ring. Some of those definitions, like Emily Dickinson’s, stand as poems on their own: 

“If I read a book, and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me,
I know that is poetry.
If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off,
I know that is poetry.”

Having students contemplate their own definitions of poetry is a great way to launch a poetry unit.  Especially if you throw metaphor into the mix.  

Poetry is...

Recently, I discovered the perfect picture book to introduce poetry to students and get them thinking metaphorically. It’s called Daniel Finds A Poem, by Micha Archer. In it, Daniel asks “What is poetry?” to several creatures he encounters on his walk through a park.  Each creature answers with a metaphor that compares poetry to something else. Spider thinks poetry is glistening morning dew. Squirrel says its crisp leaves crunching.  I read the book with my students, and we discuss the power of each creature’s answer. By connecting poetry to specific, meaningful images, poetry becomes more tangible. For at-home learning, find a video of Micha reading her book here. 

Before reading Daniel Finds a Poem, I explain the concept of metaphor to my students. We discuss how metaphors are different from similes.

A simile is a comparison of two different things using the words like or as.  
Example: Words poured down like rain.

A metaphor a direct comparison between two different things without the words like or as.
Example:  Words rained down.

Collective Poetry

After reading and discussing Daniel Finds a Poem, I return to the question “What is poetry?” This time, I ask students to write down their own metaphor to complete the statement “Poetry is…” We arrange individual answers into a collective poem, or a poem in which each person contributes a line. Collective poetry is a great warm-up to poetry writing because it invites all students to participate without the pressure of having to compose an entire poem from the get-go. I first discovered collective poetry in Wishes, Lies, and Dream, by Kenneth Koch, which I review here.

 Here is a “Poetry is…” collective poem created by my third-grade class.

                                                           Poetry is..
morning birds chirping on bright summer days,
playing games or doing math,
beautiful like soccer,
playing with friends,
when I’m onstage
singing, acting, dancing,
getting better and having more fun,
and running
and imagination
and drawing,
words that taste like honey,
something calm, flexible,
and unique to each living being,
a late summer night,
a midnight sky shimmering over a silent forest,
a dazzling sight for me to see.

For a standards-aligned, step-by-step lesson on reading and writing “Poetry is…” collective poems with your students, click here.

To extend the practice of thinking and writing metaphorically, try creating collective poems to define other abstract concepts. Students could each contribute a line to a poem entitled “Kindness is…” or  “Family is…”   

Just think of the collection of collective poems your class can create!

About Michelle Schaub

Michelle Schaub is a language arts teacher and award-winning children's poet. She is the author of the picture book poetry collections Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market, (which won the 2018 Growing Good Kids Award and 2019 Northern Lights Book Award,) and Finding Treasure: A Collection of Collections. She also wrote the bedtime STEM book in verse, Dream Big, Little Scientists. Her poems appear in several anthologies, including The Poetry Anthology for Celebrations and Great Morning! Poems for School Leaders to Read Aloud.  Michelle speaks at conferences on the power of poetry to boost literacy. 


  1. This is a wonderful activity! I'm sharing this on my school library twitter feed, @librarymiddle
    Thank you!


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