It took a school teacher to make a moderately difficult poetry form into something any aspiring poet could partake in. Adelaide Crapsey's version of the cinquain is much more adaptable to younger children than the standard cinquain, making it an equal opportunity poetic form.
The Form and Its Origin
The cinquain poem has roots back in Medieval French poetry, but was a popular form in England as well. The name cinquain is derived from the five lines in its form. Most of the time, the rhyme scheme is one of the following variations: ababb, abaab or abccb. More recently, a schoolteacher named Adelaide Crapsey developed her own version of the cinquain.
Adelaide Crapsey was born in 1878 in New York. Despite family tragedies and being sickly herself, she insisted on continuing to teach. She taught at Kemper Hall, Smith College, and the American Academy in Rome. She was only 36 when she died, but had been quite productive in her final few years. She was a great fan of Japanese haiku and tanka poetry which focus not only on the number of lines the poem has, but also on the amount of syllables each line has.
Crapsey's version of the cinquain still has five lines, yet the syllable count is a requisite as well. Her syllable counts are as follows: 2, 4, 6, 8, 2. Her version does not necessarily require a rhyme scheme making it more palatable for younger audiences and poets. Adelaide's more famous verses were published posthumously. Carl Sandburg even wrote a poem to commemorate her and her contributions to the poetic form.
Poetry Lesson Plan - Cinquain
Introduction: Discuss the history of the cinquain poem as a rhyming poem from centuries ago in Europe and its rhyme patterns. Discuss the haiku poem and its emphasis on syllable counts. Discuss how Adelaide Crapsey meshed the two together to create her own variation on the cinquain.
Librarian or teacher will: Read examples of Crapsey's variation of cinquain poems, such as Amaze, used to express her feelings and discuss the structure. Tell how poetry can also be used to demonstrate knowledge or teach something.
Here is an example that I wrote to demonstrate the mathematical concept of capacity:
In this pitcher?
In this jar, bowl or jug?
The capacity! Refill, please!
(Another example is given in Paul B. Janeczko's book A Kick in the Head-An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms by Scholastic).
Students will: Listen attentively and participate by asking and answering questions about the subject matter. They will practice counting syllables by clapping them out or in another appropriate way in the example poems given.
As a class, they will create one cinquain poem to practice writing out the correct number of syllables per line. The five lines should always have a sequence of 2, 4, 6, 8 and two syllables. This poem should be kept on display to help students when they write their own poetry in small groups or individually.
Extension: In teams, they will choose a book about an animal, plant or math or science concept they are learning about. They will jot down facts about their topic from the book. Finally, they will use this information to create their own cinquain poems. Students will create their cinquain poems using info and facts about animals. The poems can be used to create a class anthology or a class book that can introduce the concepts contained within to other students. Poems should also be displayed around the room and on bulletin boards with an explanation of the poetic form. This can be done over one or two class periods with older students, but can take a few weeks with younger ones as they learn to be accurate with counting and generating ideas.
If students research facts, they can use this form of cinquain poetry as a product for any subject. The form can also be used in a foreign language class. Students can write a poem of personal expression in Japanese, or Spanish, etc and practice correct usage in their poems.
Poetry and poetry lesson plans for cinquain format are no longer limited to English classes. Integrating subjects is the key to making valuable connections in a child's mind and can make learning in some drier subjects more expressive and fun.