Memorizing poetry is a fantastic way to make poetry a part of your family’s daily rhythms and expand your horizons with wisdom, beauty, or just a bit of silliness! You don’t have to be a genius with a photographic memory to memorize poems, either. So let’s dive in and memorize some poetry!
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First, why should you memorize poems with your family? When you learn a poem inside and out, it’s easier to appreciate the ideas, emotions, language, and perspectives it expresses. Memorizing poems as a family, especially with young children, makes them stick in the kids’ brains for life! Plus, memorizing poems helps everyone internalize the complex ins and outs of the English language, whether by providing new vocabulary terms or showing sophisticated syntax!
Pick a Poem to Memorize
The first step in memorizing poetry is choosing what poem you want to memorize. Here are our suggestions for choosing a good poem.
- Short and sweet: Don’t start off with a poem that’s overwhelmingly long. Even four lines can be a lot when you’re first beginning! Go for something short and work your way up from there.
- Rhythm and rhyme: Choose a poem with a catchy rhythm and rhyme scheme. If it sounds a little bit singsong to you, that’s great! It’s much easier to memorize songs or poems that engage your ear as well as your eye. Nursery rhymes and lullabies are so easy to remember because they follow this idea.
- The case for the classics: You definitely don’t have to choose a “classic” poem, but a traditional form with lots of repeating rhymes will make it easier to memorize. Also, classic poems often have beautiful language, complex imagery, and a powerful message that make them worth thinking about again and again.
- Some for the fun: On the other hand, you don’t always have to choose something with complex ideas and confusing language. Sometimes, a short, funny poem with hilarious jokes and punchy twists is your best bet for easy memorizing! If it’s silly and makes you laugh, then it’s worth remembering!
- Pick a poem you love: Above all, pick a poem that you actually love and enjoy. This is a poem you’ll be reading over and over again, reciting out loud time after time, and whispering to yourself as you fall asleep. So make sure it’s a poem that you love, whether for its wordplay, wisdom, or wit!
Tips for Memorizing Poetry
There are all sorts of methods and strategies for memorizing poetry. Pick and choose the right ones to suit your own preferences. Don’t try to force it—embrace what works for you!
- Repeat, repeat, repeat: The key to memorizing poetry is lots of repetition. Read each line out loud three to five times, then try to repeat it without looking at the page. Or, if you have a short poem, try reading the whole thing out loud as many times as possible (seven or ten times is a good start!). If repeating it feels boring, try our other ideas below!
- Break it up: When you’re first beginning, memorizing a whole poem may be too much to handle. Start with reading aloud, writing, singing, or dramatically acting the first line, then the first stanza, and work your way up from there.
- Engage all your senses: The more senses you use to help you memorize the poem, the easier it will be to remember! Use hand motions to remind you of important words. Work out a dramatic way to read aloud or use a different accent. Make up a song that fits the poem’s rhythms. Listen to the poem being read aloud or set to music, like this beautiful arrangement of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”
- Make it a game: There are all sorts of poetic games you can play. Here are a few ideas, but you can also come up with your own games!
- Ball toss: Have one person recite the first line of the poem, then toss a ball to another person who recites the next line. Keep going as long as you can! If you’re feeling confident, try going backwards through the poem or reciting it one word at a time.
- Mad Libs: Print out the poem with certain words blanked out and a matching list of parts of speech for each blank (nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc.). Come up with random nouns, adjectives, and verbs to fill the blanks in the poem, then read your new creation out loud! If you can, fill in the blanks with the real words once you’re done creating your zany poetry.
- Match the quotation: Grab a random stack of books. One person flips open the book to a random page and reads a sentence. Then, the next person has to think of a phrase or line from the poem that is most similar to the sentence. This works best if you’ve chosen a longer poem. Bonus: People in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries tried to impress each other by finding a quotation to match any topic of conversation. You could impress a lot of historical figures with this game!
- Create art: Use the poem to craft a work of art, whether by illustrating a fancy frame for it or by writing it out using your most elaborate script. Try painting it on an unusual surface like a pumpkin, or mod-podging it onto a candle holder. Make sure to display your art where you’ll see it!
- Surround yourself: Write out copies of the poem and hang them up around the house in places you’ll see often. Try putting one by the dining room table, on the bathroom mirror, and above the kitchen sink. The more you see it and read it, the more easily you’ll remember it.
- Treasure hunt: Write out different lines or stanzas of your poem on post-it notes. Then, have someone stick them around the house and go on a treasure hunt to find all the pieces! You’ll need to use all your brain power to remember what’s missing and to fit the lines back together again!
- Plan a celebration: While memorizing poetry is great for its own sake, it’s even better when you can celebrate your accomplishments. Plan a party or special celebration where each family member can share their poem. You can make it a low-stress celebration or go all out by inviting relatives over or throwing an event for your local community.
There are so many ways to memorize poetry. The most important part is to pick a poem you love, and then enjoy reading it or playing with it until it sticks!
Poetry Books for Memorizing
Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young, selected by Jack Prelutsky
A Child’s Garden of Poems, selected by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Random House Book of Poetry for Children, selected by Jack Prelutsky
Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein
Poems to Learn by Heart, selected by Caroline Kennedy
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost