Using Poetry to Teach: Characterization





Describing Characters With Poetry

Describing characters in a story is an essential component of reading comprehension.  When readers use clues from the text to determine what a character is like, they begin to make connections, inferences, predictions, and analysis.  Even young readers can learn about characters based on the dialogue, illustrations, and events that occur in a story.

Poetry provides a fun and engaging way for students to describe a character’s traits, while making careful word choices expanding their vocabulary.  There are several forms of poetry that can be used for this activity, and the structure or form can be modified for additional support or enrichment as needed for the individual students.

One type of poetry is called the Clerihew.  This is a short, specific form with a clear outline for students to follow.  The poem consists of four lines. The first two rhyme with each other, and the last two rhyme with each other.  There are no syllable restrictions to a Clerihew.

How to Begin

Introduce the topic by choosing a character from a story that the class has read together during an interactive read aloud or other whole class activity.

1. Ask students to brainstorm what they know about the character

2. Then ask students to explain how they know this about the character-

  • What do other characters say or think about him or her?
  • What is the character saying?
  • What is the character thinking?
  • What is the character doing?

3. Ask what the dialogue or actions tell the reader about the character – not just what a character looks like, etc.

4. Give students the outline for the Clerihew poem and model the activity for the class by choosing traits from the class-made list and writing the lines with the students’ help.

5. Ask students to chose a character from a story or assign a character to the students for this activity. Students nay work independently or in pairs.

6. Give students a worksheet with the steps listed for writing a Clerihew.

7. At the end of the activity, allow students to share their poems with the class.

Check out Big Universe Learning for a library full of great books online filled with interesting and unique characters.

1663ELA Common Core Standards for Grades 3 and 4

    1. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.3 Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events
    2. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.3 Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character’s thoughts, words, or actions)


Example of How To Write a Clerihew

1. Write two lines that rhyme about a character’s personality or something the character is good at/likes to do:



2. Write two lines that describe what the character is like ie: selfish, stubborn, shy, friendly, etc. Give a list of descriptive words to use and encourage them to write one detail from the story that supports their description of the character.



Provide lines at the end of the worksheet for student to rewrite their edited or peer-edited poem.


Harry Potter

Was a magical plotter

At Hogwarts he became a master

After many a goof and disaster.

by Paul Janeczko


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