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How to Write a Sonnet

A Poetry-Writing Lesson for Kids

William Shakespeare

The sonnet is one of the most common traditional poetic forms. They have been written for hundreds of years with some of the most well-known sonnets written by William Shakespeare.

Though the sonnet was originally created in Italy, with the earliest sonnets written in Italian, they have been written in English, French, Dutch, German, and many other languages as well.

In the English language, there are two main kinds of sonnets: the “English” (or “Shakespearean”) sonnet and the “Spenserian” sonnet, named after the poet Edmund Spenser.

In this lesson, you will learn how to write an English sonnet because this is the most common type of sonnet.

The Rules of the Sonnet

In poetry, a “form” is a set of rules describing how to write that kind of poem. English sonnets have these rules:

  • They are fourteen lines long.
  • The fourteen lines are divided into three groups, or “stanzas,” of four lines each, followed by a final two-line “couplet.” (A four-line stanza is also known as a “quatrain.” A couplet is two lines together that rhyme.)
  • Each of the fourteen lines is ten syllables long.

In addition to the number of lines, and the number of syllables per line, sonnets also have a special rhyme scheme:

  • Each of the three stanzas has an ABAB rhyme scheme. This means that the first and third lines of each stanza rhyme with each other, and the second and fourth lines rhyme with each other.
  • The final couplet has an AA rhyme scheme, meaning that those two lines rhyme with one another.

Lastly, the first line of a sonnet should state the “theme.” In other words, it should say what the sonnet is about. And the final couplet should give the reader a “conclusion” or ending to the poem.

Because of all these rules, sonnets can be more challenging to write than shorter, simpler poetic forms such as haiku, diamantes, or cinquains. But it can also be more rewarding to know that you can write a poem like Shakespeare did.

Getting Started

The first thing you need to do to write a sonnet is figure out what you want to write about. You can write a sonnet about anything, but it’s easiest to write about something you know. Since you now know all the rules for writing a sonnet, why not write a sonnet about that? Here’s an example:

My Teacher Said to Write a Sonnet Now

My teacher said to write a sonnet now.
She told me, “It should be a work of art.”
I’d like to but I’m really not sure how.
I wish someone would show me where to start.

I heard the rhymes should be ABAB,
which means I can’t rhyme every single word.
The second and the fourth lines rhyme, you see.
And you should rhyme the first line with the third.

The first three stanzas all have four lines each.
The final couplet? That has only two.
A sonnet’s not an easy thing to teach.
I guess that’s what this poem aims to do.

It seems that starting was the hardest part.
I hope the teacher likes my work of art.

Another good thing to write a sonnet about is something you like. For example, I like my dog, so I thought I’d write a sonnet about him. However, since I also like funny poems, I decided to make up a funny – not true – story about him. Here it is:

My Dog Is Not the Smartest Dog Alive

My dog is not the smartest dog alive.
He says that submarines know how to dance.
He seems to think that two plus two is five.
He’s sure Japan’s the capital of France.

My dog declares that tigers grow on trees.
He tells me that he’s twenty-nine feet tall.
He argues only antelopes eat cheese,
then adds that ants are good at basketball.

He swears the sun is made of candy bars.
It seems to me my dog is pretty dense.
He says he’s seen bananas play guitars.
He talks a lot but doesn’t make much sense.

Although I love my dog with all my heart,
I have to say, he isn’t very smart.

Your Turn

Now that you know how to write a sonnet, why not give it a try yourself? Write one about your favorite game or pet or food, about your friends or family, or even about how hard it is to write a sonnet. And, most importantly, have fun!

Worksheet

Poetry Writing Lessons for Kids

Poetry Writing Lessons for Kids

There are many different ways to write poems as well as lots of techniques you can learn to help you improve your writing skill. Here are many of the poetry writing lessons for children that I have created to help you become a better poet, including how to write funny poetry, poetic rhythm, poetic forms and other styles of verse, as well as lesson plans for teachers and video lessons.

How to Write Funny Poetry

Rhythm in Poetry

  1. The Basics
  2. You Can Scan, Man
  3. I Am the Iamb
  4. Okie Dokie, Here’s the Trochee
  5. More than Two Feet

Poetic Forms

A poetic “form” is a set of rules for writing a certain type of poem. These rules can include the number of lines or syllables the poem should have, the placement of rhymes, and so on. Here are lessons for writing several common poetic forms.

Other Poetic Styles

There are many different styles of poems. These are not “poetic forms” because they don’t usually have firm rules about length, syllable counts, etc., but they are common enough that many well-known children’s poets have written poems like these.

Reciting Poetry

Other Poetry Writing Lessons

Poetry Lesson Plans for Teachers

Video Poetry Lessons

Poetry Dictionaries and Rhyming Words Lists

When reading these lessons, you may come across some unfamiliar words. If you see a poetic term and don’t know what it means, you can always look it up in the Poetic Terms Dictionary. Poetry4kids also has a rhyming dictionary and a list of rhyming words you can use to help you write poems.

Other Useful Poetry-Writing Lessons

There are loads of websites on the Internet that offer helpful lessons for children on how to write poems. Here are a few you may find useful:

That Doesn’t Sound Right to Me

When you read poems, you will sometimes come across things that don’t sound right to you. Often, this is because people pronounce some words differently depending on where they grew up. The writer of the poem may have grown up somewhere that they pronounce things a little differently than you do.

Probably the most well-known example is the word “tomato.” In Britain, this word is pronounced “toe-MAH-toe,” whereas in America it is pronounced “toe-MAY-toe.”

Similarly, “pajamas” is pronounced “puh-JAW-muhz” (rhymes with “llamas”) in Britain, but can be pronounced either “puh-JAM-uhz” (rhymes with “panoramas”) or “puh-JAW-muhz” in America. And, in America, “dance” rhymes with “France,” while in Britain “dance” is often pronounced “dahns.”

I once wrote a poem for a publisher in India where I rhymed “face” with “vase.” (In America, these two words rhyme with one another.) My publisher was very confused because in India, as well as Britain and much of the world, “vase” is pronounced “vahz” (rhymes with “jaws”).

When I read poems by British authors, sometimes I am surprised by their rhyme choices. For example, I recently saw “speedier” rhymed with “media” because Brits often do not pronounce the r’s at the ends of words.

Dealing with different pronunciations

In general, it’s a good idea to think about who your readers might be. When you run into a word that your readers may pronounce differently than you, you may want to choose a different rhyme. For example, instead of saying:

I like to sing and dance.

You might say:

I like to dance and sing.

A syllable and a half

Another problem you might encounter has to do with the number of syllables in a word.

Many types of poems require counting syllables, or counting “feet,” which are groups of syllables. For example, haiku usually have five syllables on the first and last lines, and seven syllables on the second line. Sonnets normally have five feet of two syllables each, ten syllables total, on each line.

When I write poems, I not only think about the rhymes, but also the rhythm, or “meter” of the words. I usually count feet rather than syllables, but it still requires knowing how many syllables are in any given word.

For most words, the number of syllables is pretty easy to count. “Cat” is clearly a one-syllable word. “Mother” is easy to identify as two syllables. But not every word in English is pronounced the same way by everyone.

Depending on where you live, you may pronounce things a little differently than people in other places. Sometimes this can change the number of syllables you hear when you pronounce certain words.

For example, take the word “poem.” Depending on where you live, this might be pronounced “POE-uhm,” “poe-EHM,” or even “pome.” If you pronounce it “pome,” you might rhyme it with “home,” but this might sound wrong to people in other parts of the country or world. Regardless of how you pronounce it, because other people might pronounce it with a different number of syllables, which would make the rhythm different to them than it is to you.

When a word can be correctly pronounced with one syllable or two, I call these “one-and-a-half-syllable words.” Other examples include words such as “orange” (which some pronounce “OR-uhnj” while others say “ornj”) and “fire” (which many would argue is a one-syllable word, while others say it rhymes with “higher,” which is definitely two syllables.

Similarly, there are many “two-and-a-half-syllable words,” such as “family” (which can be correctly pronounced with either two syllables — “FAM-lee” –or three — “FAM-uh-lee”) and “chocolate” (“CHOK-lit” or “CHOK-uh-lit”).

Dealing with different syllable counts

When you discover that other people may pronounce a certain word differently than you, you can fix the problem in one of two ways.

Substitute a different word

One easy way to solve this issue is to avoid the word by substituting a different one, such as “mother” or “father” in place of “family.”

Change the placement of the word

Another way to fix the problem is by placing the word where it can be pronounced either way without affecting the rhythm.

For example, instead of saying:

My family is very nice.

You might say:

I really like my family.

This way, regardless of whether your readers pronounce “family” as two syllables or three, it doesn’t affect the rhythm of the line.

Whenever you encounter words that others might pronounce differently than you, it’s good to keep these words in mind when you are writing poems that require rhythm or syllable counting so that your poems can be read more easily by everyone, no matter where they are.

Our Teacher’s Like No Other Teacher

Our teacher’s like no other teacher we’ve seen.
She likes to wear costumes from last Halloween.
While shouting a sonnet she’ll dance with a broom,
then sprinkle confetti all over the room.

She asks the opinions of Mr. Levesque,
the mannequin head that she keeps on her desk.
She jokes with the hamster and claims he can talk.
She wrestles erasers and argues with chalk.

She likes to make sculptures from typewriter parts
and brings us her heavenly blackberry tarts.
For homework, she says that we have to go play,
and watch no T.V. for the rest of the day.

Our teacher is either completely insane
or some kind of genius with oodles of brain.
But whether it’s madness or cerebral powers,
we don’t think it matters; we’re glad that she’s ours.