Sounds of Language

6, 7, 8

The purpose of the lesson is to show students how the poetic conventions of rhythm, rhyme, refrain, alliteration and onomatopoeia create the sounds of poetry. Students will use poetry to learn about a humanitarian who began a nonprofit organization with world-wide consequences.

PrintOne Fifty-Five Minute Class Period

The learners will:

  • identify and define the poetic conventions: rhyme, rhythm, refrain, alliteration and onomatopoeia.
  • write an original poem about philanthropy using at least two poetic conventions.
  • “General Booth Enters Into Heaven” (Handout One)
  • Book of tongue twisters (optional)
  • Adam Sandler's "Lunch Lady Land" on YouTube

Representative Poetry Online: for Vachel Lindsay, General William Booth Enters into Heaven and Other Poems (London: Chatto and Windus, 1919): 1-4. PS 3523 I58G4 1919 Robarts Library. Collected Poems (New York: Macmillan, 1923): 123-25.


  1. Anticipatory Set: State that the learners have all heard of tongue twisters such as, “Peter piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.” Ask them to share some of the tongue twisters they know. (If you have a book of tongue twisters, students will enjoy trying to read them aloud.)

  2. Ask students to write a tongue twister about a vegetable or a fruit. Allow time for them to write these and share them with the class. Explain to students that tongue twisters use the poetic convention of alliteration, which is one way that sound is given to language. Alliteration occurs when the same sound starts succeeding accented syllables. In “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,” for example, alliteration is created by the occurrence of a p sound at the beginning of every accented syllable.

  3. Go over the remaining poetic conventions: rhyme, rhythm, refrain and onomatopoeia. Students should write definitions of the five poetic conventions listed.

    • Rhyme refers to echoing or repeating sounds at the end of words. In poetry, rhyme usually occurs at the end of lines.
    • Rhythm is the regular repetition of a beat, accent or rise and fall in language. It is the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line. Most poems do not use the same rhythm all the way through. Variety in rhythm is desirable and a necessity. Very few poets favor rhythms that slide into a mechanical pattern or rhythm for very long.
    • refrain is a line, or part of a line, or group of lines, which is repeated in a poem, sometimes with slight changes, usually at the end of each stanza. The refrain occurs in many ballads and poems. Example: The word “Nevermore” in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” is a refrain.
    • Onomatopeia is a situation where the sound of a word directly imitates its meaning (for example, “choo-choo,” “hiss”).
  4. Divide students into groups of three. Using Lunchlady Land (from Lesson One), ask the groups to find examples of one of the conventions in the song’s lyrics. Allow five to ten minutes for this activity and then share with the class.

  5. Next, give students copies of “General Booth Enters into Heaven” (handout below). Explain that the Salvation Army is an example of a non-profit philanthropic organization begun in the late 1800s to meet the needs of the poor. This organization was founded by a man named William Booth in London in 1865 to allow Christians to participate in social work. Why was the work of the Salvation Army important then and today? Why isn’t the work of the Salvation Army done by the government? Ask students if they have seen the Salvation Army at work today. What is their mission?

  6. Next, the students should read silently the background note from the handout about William Booth and be able to explain why Vachel Lindsay wrote the poem “General Booth Enters Heaven.” How would students describe the characteristics of William Booth as one who contributed to the common good of the community?

  7. Using the first verse of the poem, identify the poetic conventions students have found in the first verse of the poem. The students should then find examples of these conventions found in the rest of the poem.

  8. As an assignment, students should write at least a one-verse poem about a philanthropic person using alliteration and one of the other poetic conventions covered.


Students’ identification of poetic conventions found in “General Booth Enters into Heaven” may be used as an assessment. The one-verse poem may be used as an assessment of poetry conventions and knowledge of philanthropy.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.2 Give examples of needs not met by the government, business, or family sectors.
      2. Benchmark MS.6 Identify significant contributions to society that come from the civil society sector.
    2. Standard DP 04. Operational Characteristics of Nonprofit Organizations
      1. Benchmark MS.3 Describe how a specific civil society organization in the community operates.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Describe the characteristics of someone who helps others.
    2. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark MS.14 Describe and give an example of needs not usually met by the government sector.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Identify and describe the actions of how citizens act for the common good.