Monday, April 4, 2011

Line Breaks and White Space in Poems

 White Space
Photo by Amy LV

After a year of daily poems and strategy ideas.  I will be revisiting one strategy/technique for each day of April.  Today's thought is: pay attention to line breaks and white space when you read and write poems!

Line Breaks and White Space in Poems

Students - one of the most obvious things we can notice about poems is that they look different from prose (or non-poems).  Poems have shorter lines than paragraphs, and they are surrounded by white space.  The place where a poet chooses to end one line and begin another is called a line break.  Thus, the ends of lines are called "line breaks."

White space is the area around the poem.  If you were writing on a red piece of paper, I suppose you could call it "red space," but we really do call it "white space."

Line breaks and white space help readers know how to read a poem out loud and inside their heads.  Sometimes one makes a weeny pause at the end of a line, to honor the rhythm and emphasis placed there by the poet.  However, poems are not meant to have huge pauses at the end of each line, and they should not be read like a whole class of students yelling something such as, "THANK YOU FOR THE PIZZA!"

Did you ever notice how groups of people can sound like robots when they say the same thing at the same time?  You may have heard this when your class says the "Pledge of Allegiance" or something else in unison.  It is understandable how this happens as a group reads together, but this is not really a good way to read poems.  Robot-read words lose meaning.  When we read aloud or in our heads, it is important that we hold onto the meaning and read with that in mind.

Do not read like a robot as you read line breaks in your own or others' poems. 

Do pay close attention to line breaks and white space.  Notice how a poet makes decisions.  Do the repeating lines all look alike?  Does one word or one line stand all by itself?  Do lines go down the page in a certain way?  Why do you think the poet did this?

Read like a human being with emotions and a thinking mind.

(Did you see how I put that one sentence on a line all by itself?)

Here are a few poems from this year which may give you something interesting to talk about regarding line breaks and white space.  Please let me know if you try something based on what you learn.

May 2010

November 2010

November 2010

May 2010

July 2010

January 2011

 November 2010

This Month's Poetry Revisits and Lessons So Far

April 2 - Imagery
April 3 - Poems about Animals We Know
Today - Line Breaks and White Space

In the beginning of May, I would love to highlight and share student poems which have been inspired by any of this month's posts.  Teachers and homeschooling parents: I welcome your students' work and plan to hold a special book giveaway for poet participants!  

Please send any pieces your students are willing to share, along with a brief bit from the writer about the inspiration/story behind the poem to amy at amylv dot com.  

(Please click on POST A COMMENT below to share a thought.)


  1. so happy I found your site,through Edible Magazine!Love your poems and agree that no rhyme allows deeper thoughts..Ask the girls if they could imagine Grandpa's face poem for a portrait painting session!Such a beautiful brush strokes with the words here!So good to read all of this..hi to all,happy Spring!Jeannet

  2. Excellent poems, Amy. Great site. Looking forward to working with you guys--
    I find your poems enthralling.
    The heart beats for art so involving.
    A poet learns the hard way;
    staying up all night, having worked all day.
    I know I'm cheesy;
    confess being creepy.
    But when I pen down poetry;
    peg myself neither shabby nor eerie.
    Bequeathed with genius;
    jot down these thoughts when I'm serious.
    Never believe in being envious;
    rather stay studious.

    --Johny Payne

  3. Dear Amy, You constantly inspire me. You never ever ever talk down to your students of all ages, you invite them in. Your instruction is wonderful. Just wanted to send some love your way today!

  4. Thanks for your observations on line breaks and white space, Amy. I'm planning a lesson on the topic, so I put it into a search engine and found what you have generously shared here. You saved me a whole heap of time reinventing the wheel. As my plan is shared with a couple of other teachers and all our students (and lots of their parents in remote learning), I've acknowledged my source in the plan so they can visit your site, too!

  5. I cannot get the poems that you planned to use as an illustration of your text.
    I just get the warning triangle and nothing else. Am I doing something wrong?
    Thank you.