Poetic Syllables

Contributor: Morgan Haney. Lesson ID: 13363

You may know that poems rhyme, but did you know that in order to write some poems you also have to count? Learn about counting syllables in poetry, and write your own poem!



English / Language Arts
learning style
Auditory, Kinesthetic, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Do you like Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss?

Watch GREEN EGGS AND HAM | Dr. Seuss Raps over Dr. Dre Beats from Wes Tank:

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This is silly and fun to watch, but there is a really good reason why Wes Tank can rap Dr. Seuss books so well, and it has to do with counting.

Today, you'll learn what a syllable is and how to count them to create some popular types of poems.

What is a syllable?

A syllable is a part of a word, and all words are made of syllables.

Watch this Syllable Lesson Video, from LearningGamesForKids, to learn more about syllables and three ways you can count the syllables in a word:

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  • What are the three ways to count syllables?


Try clapping these words to find out how many syllables they have:

  • pancake
  • hummingbird
  • goat


Speak like a robot to figure out how many syallables these words have:

  • house
  • panda
  • coathanger

Hand under your chin

Put your hand under your chin and feel how many times it moves to find out how many syllables these words have:

  • treehouse
  • bat
  • battery

Why do syllables matter in poetry?

When poets like Dr. Seuss write a poem, they often use a certain amount of syllables in each line. This gives their poem a steady rhythm, which is why you could rap them!

Count how many syllables are in each of these lines from Green Eggs and Ham. You can use clapping, robot-speak, or a hand under your chin:

I would not like them here or there.

I would not like them anywhere.

I do not like green eggs and ham.

I do not like them, Sam-I-Am.

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Now try to say the four lines with a steady rhythm.

  • See how the beat of this poem is steady, and how every line has the same number of syllables?

Some kinds of poems can have any number of syllables on any line, but some poems have very specific rules about how many syllables can be in each line.

Here are a few types of poems with special syllable rules.


A haiku is one of the most well-known types of poems, and it comes from Japan.

Haikus are short with only three lines. The first line has five syllables, the second line has seven syllables, and the third line has five again.

Here is an example of a haiku by a famous poet named Matsuo Basho. It is called An Old Silent Pond:

An old silent pond…

A frog jumps into the pond,

splash! Silence again.


A tanka is another type of Japanese poem similar to a haiku, but it's a little longer with a total of five lines.

The first line and the third line have five syllables each while the second, fourth, and fifth lines have seven syllables each.

Here is an example of a tanka poem by Holle Abee. Use your favorite syllable-counting trick to count each line!

the pink pearly shell

half buried in the brown sand

I bend to pick up

the clammy foot inching out

I give it back to the sea


A limerick is a type of poem that was first created in Ireland, and it has a total of five lines just like the tanka.

It's a little different though. In a limerick, the first, second, and fifth lines have eight syllables, and the third and fourth lines have five syllables.

Limericks are also usually silly poems!

Here is an example of a limerick by Edward Lear called There Was an Old Man With a Beard. Count the syllables in each line!

There was an Old Man with a beard,

Who said, "It is just as I feared! --

Two Owls and a Hen,

Four Larks and a Wren,

Have all built their nests in my beard."

Now that you know how to count syllables and you've learned about a few types of poems with special syllable rules, move on to the Got It? section to test your syllable-counting skills!

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