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Clicking your Way to Poetry: Composing Word Association Poems with the Visual Thesaurus

Lesson Question:

How can the Visual Thesaurus help students compose word association poems?

Applicable Grades:


Lesson Overview:

April 30th has been declared "Poem in Your Pocket Day" — a day reserved for sharing one of your favorite verses with anyone you encounter — from your classmates and colleagues to the security guard checking your ID. If your students feel ill-prepared for such an occasion, empower them to compose playful word association poems of their own with a little help from the Visual Thesaurus.

Length of Lesson:

One hour

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:

  • understand the concept of word association
  • use Visual Thesaurus word maps to find word associations
  • compose and share word association poems


  • student notebooks
  • white board
  • computers with Internet access

Related links:


Playing a word association game:

  • Choose a student volunteer to come to the front board.
  • Write one word or phrase on the board, and then ask your student to list the first word that comes to his mind upon reading your word underneath the original word. Explain that the word he writes should be a word commonly associated with your word. For example, the student might associate the word ant with hill, colony, fire, etc.
  • After the student has written his word or phrase on the board, ask him to find another student to come up with another word or phrase that she associates with the second entry. For example, if the first student chose to write colony, the subsequent student might add empire to the list.
  • Repeat this word association cycle until you feel the word association chain achieves a "poetic ending" For example:

    strikes back.


Modeling composing a word association poem with the Visual Thesaurus:

  • Emphasize to students that what they have collectively written is a legitimate poem, and that even though they may think of poems as more elaborate compositions involving meter and rhyme, a poem can be a simple list of associated words or phrases.

  • One way to model composing a word association poem would be to display the word map for a familiar word — such as yellow — and then click on other words that students see in the display to lead them through the composition process. For instance clicking on yellow could lead to the meaning "easily frightened" which is related to the playful sounding and descriptive chickenhearted and lily-livered, which could in turn lead students (via chicken's word map) to the familiar wimp that also doubles as the acronym WIMP ("weakly interactive massive particle"). Put it all together, and your students will end up with an odd little poem that will take them from a common color to "a hypothetical subatomic particle"!


Adding poetic devices to word association poems:

Depending on class size and computer availability, students could work individually or in small groups to use the Visual Thesaurus to help them compose word association poems that include one or all of the following elements in their poems.


  • Display the word map for alliteration on the white board and challenge students to use some alliteration in their word association poems. For example, a student could begin a poem with boom and then use the VT to help them find related words beginning with the "b" sound (e.g., boom, blast, blow, botch, bumble).


  • Roses are red, violets are blue... For those students who feel like a poem is not a poem without a rhyme, they could include a rhyming sequence in their compositions (e.g., bumble, stumble, tumble).

Ending with the beginning...

  • See if your students can create a circular word association poem with help from the VT, where they stray from the meaning of their starter word and then return to that original sense in the last line of their poems. For example, the following poems achieve this feat.
Boom Money
blast legal tender
botch loot
bumble lucre
stumble lolly
tumble pop
collapse sucker
crash mark
smash Deutsche mark
boom. money.

Encouraging poetic license:

  • Display the word map for poetic license and explain that even word association poems grant students the license to bend the rules of composition. The poem "Money" begins with a sequence of five words found on the word map for the word money, but it is the sound of lollipop that connects the slang term for money (lolly) to the subsequent word pop.


Sharing poetry through oral reading:

  • Encourage groups and individuals to share their word association poems by reading them aloud. To facilitate the audience's understanding of the associations between words, poets could support their presentations with the visual aid of the Visual Thesaurus word maps they used for inspiration.


  • Assess whether or not groups consistently used sequences of words that were connected by legitimate associations.
  • Assess students' word association poems for the use of poetic devices such as alliteration, rhyme, etc.

Educational Standards:

Language Arts

Standard 1.     Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process

Level II (Grades 3-5)

1. Prewriting: Uses prewriting strategies to plan written work (e.g., uses graphic organizers, story maps, and webs; groups related ideas; takes notes; brainstorms ideas; organizes information according to type and purpose of writing)

Level III (Grades 6-8)

1. Prewriting: Uses a variety of prewriting strategies (e.g., makes outlines, uses published pieces as writing models, constructs critical standards, brainstorms, builds background knowledge)

2. Drafting and Revising: Uses a variety of strategies to draft and revise written work (e.g., analyzes and clarifies meaning, makes structural and syntactical changes, uses an organizational scheme, uses sensory words and figurative language, rethinks and rewrites for different audiences and purposes, checks for a consistent point of view and for transitions between paragraphs, uses direct feedback to revise compositions)

Level IV (Grades 9-12)

1. Prewriting: Uses a variety of prewriting strategies (e.g., develops a focus, plans a sequence of ideas, uses structured overviews, uses speed writing, creates diagrams)

2. Drafting and Revising: Uses a variety of strategies to draft and revise written work (e.g., highlights individual voice; rethinks content, organization, and style; checks accuracy and depth of information; redrafts for readability and needs of readers; reviews writing to ensure that content and linguistic structures are consistent with purpose)

Standard 2.     Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing

Level II (Grades 3-5)

1. Uses descriptive language that clarifies and enhances ideas (e.g., common figures of speech, sensory details)

Level III (Grades 6-8)

1. Uses descriptive language that clarifies and enhances ideas (e.g., establishes tone and mood, uses figurative language, uses sensory images and comparisons, uses a thesaurus to choose effective wording)

Level IV (Grades 9-12)

1. Uses precise and descriptive language that clarifies and enhances ideas and supports different purposes (e.g., to stimulate the imagination of the reader, to translate concepts into simpler or more easily understood terms, to achieve a specific tone, to explain concepts in literature)

Standard 8.     Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes

Level II (Grades 3-5)

7. Makes basic oral presentations to class (e.g., uses subject-related information and vocabulary; includes content appropriate to the audience; relates ideas and observations; incorporates visual aids or props; incorporates several sources of information)

8. Uses a variety of nonverbal communication skills (e.g., eye contact, gestures, facial expressions, posture)

9. Uses a variety of verbal communication skills (e.g., projection, tone, volume, rate, articulation, pace, phrasing)

Level III (Grades 6-8)

6. Makes oral presentations to the class (e.g., uses notes and outlines; uses organizational pattern that includes preview, introduction, body, transitions, conclusion; uses a clear point of view; uses evidence and arguments to support opinions; uses visual media)

7. Uses appropriate verbal and nonverbal techniques for oral presentations (e.g., inflection/modulation of voice, tempo, word choice, grammar, feeling, expression, tone, volume, enunciation, physical gestures, body movement, eye contact, posture)

Level IV (Grades 9-12)

5. Makes formal presentations to the class (e.g., includes definitions for clarity; supports main ideas using anecdotes, examples, statistics, analogies, and other evidence; uses visual aids or technology, such as transparencies, slides, electronic media; cites information sources)

7. Uses a variety of verbal and nonverbal techniques for presentations (e.g., modulation of voice; varied inflection; tempo; enunciation; physical gestures; rhetorical questions; word choice, including figurative language, standard English, informal usage, technical language) and demonstrates poise and self-control while presenting

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