Primary Primary Literacy

Shakespeare’s Sonnets – for years 4-6

Learning Focus: Be able to recognise and say the metre of a rhyming piece of writing
Be able to write a rhyming poem using a recognised structure

Shakespeare is mainly known for his plays but he wrote many poems too. The most famous poems are a particular kind of verse called ‘sonnets’ and he wrote 154 of them. They have a particular structure that makes them sonnets.
They have three four line stanzas, each with the rhyming form abab finishing with a couplet rhyming cc.

The rhyme form of a sonnet is great framework for poetry writing with pupils and I’ve used it many times with classes.

Begin with a double spaced copy of one of the sonnets. Choose one of the more familiar or easier ones to understand and you’ll hook the pupils sooner. Read it with the pupils a couple of times to help them ‘feel the rhythm’.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
I     I     I – I           I     I    I     I –  I           I     (10 syllables)
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade,

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;

Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Now mark off the syllable count in each line, as above. This will give you a framework to begin with the pupils. Remembering the rhyme pattern, give them a topic and ask them to find seven pairs of rhyming words to do with the topic. For example if you’re using trees as your topic you could use:

trees/breeze        leaves/heaves        twig/big

roots/shoots        grow/crow            green/lean


Arrange them at the end of each line and fill in the syllable gaps before them. It’s not easy but it’s one of the best ways to get a decent, structured poem. Some of the lines may be a bit contrived to begin with but by peer editing or even working in pairs initially, you should discover some new bards in the class!

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