When you look at the poem, what do you see? Is the poem short or long? Is there a visual pattern? Is it arranged in stanzas? (Stanzas are groups of lines.) Are all the stanzas the same length, or are there quatrains (stanzas that are four lines long)? Does the poem use couplets (stanzas that are two lines long)? Is the whole poem written in triplets (stanzas that are each three lines long)? We’ll consider this element of the poem’s structure, i.e., the length of the stanzas, as the edge pieces along the left side of the puzzle.

Now that you’re familiar with the poem, let’s look at the rhyme scheme. Rhyme scheme refers to the rhyming pattern within a poem. To find this pattern, look at the rhyming words at the end of each line of poetry, one stanza at a time. (This is my favorite part!) Assign the letter A to the last word of the first line. (Remember that we are working only with the first stanza.) Now look at the next line. Does it rhyme? If so, give it an A also. Assign an A to every line with the same rhyme.

Look at the next line that does not have an A. This line is B. Now assign a B to every line that rhymes with that word. Look at the next line that doesn’t have a letter assigned to it. That will be rhyme C. Can you find other lines that rhyme with it? They will also be C’s.

Are you catching on? After you have the first stanza labeled, start over with the next stanza. Once you’ve assigned letters to all the lines, you will see a pattern. That pattern is the rhyme scheme of the poem. Some common rhyme schemes are ABAB or AABB or AAAA.

Some poems don’t have any rhyme scheme at all. These poems are known as free verse. If you begin to search for a rhyme scheme and you can’t find anything, you will know that it is written in free verse.

Let’s find the rhyme scheme in “The Crocodile.”

The Crocodile

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin!
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws!

—Lewis Carroll


Let’s consider the rhyme scheme to be the edge pieces on the right-hand side of our poem puzzle.

Poetic Devices    

Within a poem, a poet uses certain techniques, called poetic devices, to paint a word picture. Here are some examples of poetic devices:

  • Hyperbole—a figure of speech that uses exaggeration for effect. Example: move a mountain
  • Personification—a figure of speech that gives human traits to non-human objects. Example: the smiling moon
  • Simile—a figure of speech that uses like or as to compare two objects. Example: as fit as a fiddle
  • Metaphor—a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things, finding a similarity between them. Example: Life is a journey.
  • Alliteration—the repetition of certain sounds to create an effect. Example: Dolphins dance delicately.

These are some of the many tools that a poet keeps in his toolbox when he’s putting together a poem. They are the puzzle pieces that complete the poetry puzzle, filling in the middle and giving a poem depth and beauty.

Let’s practicing looking at a poem as a puzzle. Follow this link and print out a copy of the free Poetry Puzzle Graphic Organizer. Now read “The Eagle” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson: