This is part of a series of lesson plans on word stress, timing, and intonation. Click here to read a short introduction.
You might Read this Teaching Strategy on using limericks in the classroom before doing this lesson plan. You’ll find some limericks you might use at the beginning of the lesson.
Time: 1 hour
Prep Time: You’ll need to get a few limericks beforehand. (Here’s some.)
Materials: Some limericks
Primary Objective: Improve timing and word stress skills
Other Benefits: Practice counting syllables
Present Some Limericks (15 minutes): Present three short limericks of the AABBA structure. Write them on the board one at a time. Discuss what they mean. Mention the number of syllables in each line of the poem and that they rhyme.
Writing Pomes as a Class (15 minutes): Now you’re going to write some new poems as a class. First, ask the class for a short sentence. Write it on the board. On a separate piece of the board, write the last word. Then ask the students for a bunch of words that rhyme with it. Write those on the board too. Now, ask the students for another short sentence that ends in one of those words. (Don’t worry about the syllable count just yet.)
You should end up with something like this…
Short sentence: I went to the store to buy a red dress.
Dress: Mess, Confess, Less, Guess, etc.
Second Short sentence: When I eat I make a mess.
Repeat the process to get the third and fourth lines of your poem
Now get one more sentence that rhymes with the first line.
Now, you should have something like this:
I went to the store to buy a red dress.
When I eat I make a mess
I hate using a spoon.
I hope you come soon.
When I buy things I want to pay less
It’s not a great poem, but it doesn’t matter. You’re just working on the form.
You’re almost done. Next, count the syllables in each line with your class. Change the sentences as needed to make the lines that rhyme have the same number of syllables. You can easily change the syllable counts in sentences by adding adjectives and adverbs. (e.g. I bought a book à I really bought a green book.)
Now you should have something like this:
I went to the store to buy a dress. 9
When I eat I really make a mess. 9
I hate using a spoon. 6
I hope you come home soon. 6
When I buy things I want to pay less. 9
Congratulations! You and your class have written a limerick. Now, write two more.
Write Poems in Groups (30 minutes): Finally, put the students into groups and have them write a few poems of their own.
Extension: Ask the students to draw a picture related to one of their poems and then present it to the class.
Ideas for Homework: Send the students on a hunt for limericks on the internet. At the beginning of the next class they can share them in groups.
Using Limericks to help students improve intonation, timing, and word stress.
A limerick is a humorous, five line poem where the first, second, and fifth lines rhyme. The third and fourth lines rhyme too (i.e. AABBA rhyming). Often, the lines that rhyme also have the same number of syllables.
After the bear caught the fish 7
A genie gave him a wish 7
The bear didn’t know what to say 8
So, he sent the genie away 8
“I already have the fish!” 7
Limericks (and other poems) can be great for helping students improve speaking skills. They give English a little bit more structure and repetition makes it easier to feel intonation, timing, and word stress patterns.
When students write enough of their own poems, they’ll begin to instinctively write lines with the same number of syllables. This is when you know they’re really getting English patterns down.
Moreover, if students are paying attention to the syllable counts, they’ll begin to see how we can play with English to create new effects. Exceptions to rules drive students crazy, but not native speakers. We use and create exceptions to make English work for us. To wit: subjects don’t have to come at the beginning and words like “everyone” can be pronounced with three or four syllables.
The only problem is that limericks often have so much new vocabulary and strange grammar that teaching them can be tricky. So, with apologies to actual poets, we wrote four limericks that you might use in the classroom. Can you add anymore? Post in the comments!
There once was a sad man with a beer 9
From the side of his face fell a tear 9
Yes he was so sad, 5
His heart felt so bad, 5
When he saw his face in the mirror! 9
The rain fell upon the once dry ground 9
And sent everyone running around 9
They didn’t want to be wet 7
So they were filled with regret 7
For warm summer sunshine they moaned 9
Tim rode his blue bike to school 7
Brad took his time like a fool 7
Judy wandered alone 6
Bobby talked on the phone 6
Tim was all alone at school 7