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Poetry #3: The Magic Paintbrush, Story Poems

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Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, children are introduced to story poems.  Story poems are longer poems that tell a story, complete with characters, a plot, and hopefully a happy ending.  Their form varies, but for elementary students the important thing is that the children recognize rhyme, meter, purposeful word choice, and other basic literary features.  Share a few classics and encourage the children to search the collection for poems that have been paired with pictures to tell a tale.

Lesson Plan:

Suggested Grades:



Each child will understand that a story poem is a story told through poetry.  Each child will also be able to summarize The Magic Paintbrush by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Joel Steward.  (AASL 1.2.3, “Demonstrate creativity by using multiple resources and formats.”)

Suggested Time:

35-45 minutes

Success Criteria:

Children will understand that story poems are long poems that tell a story.  The students will also extend their understanding of The Magic Paintbrush by drawing something that they would paint if they were Chen and had a magic brush!

Lesson Outline:

1. Introduction:

Ask the children to tell you what they are learning about poetry.  Have they read a special poem this week?  Have they written a special poem?   Ask how you could describe poetry to someone who does not know what it is.  (One possible answer:  Poetry is painting with words.)

Explain that today the class won’t be looking at Shel Silverstein’s works that use “Spoonerisms” or transposed first letters.  Instead, they’ll be looking at a special kind of poem, the story poem.  Just by the name, “story poem,” ask the children whether they can guess what a story poem does.  (Answer: A story poem tells a story through poetry.)

2. Main:

Share one or two of the story poems in your library’s collection.  I have made some suggestions below, but I would strongly recommend using Julia Donaldson’s The Magic Paintbrush and one of the Lynley Dodd story poems.

First, tell the children to listen for the story elements.  After the first reading, check to make sure that they understand the plot, characters, and setting.

Second, work with the children to make sure that they understand the use of rhythm/meter, alliteration, repetition, and rhyme.  In The Magic Paintbrush, I often use:


“A hen, a hare, a dancing dog,

A weeping willow tree.”

Write these words on the board if you need to so that the children can identify the h/h, d/d, and w/w alliterative sounds.


“Go and catch some shrimps, Shen.

Go and catch some fish.

Go and gather oysters

To fill the empty dish.”

“The pot is full of shrimps, Shen!

The pot is full of fish.

The pot is full of oysters

To fill the empty dish.”

Not only do the words “Go and” and “The pot” repeat, but the pattern of “shrimps, fish, oysters” also repeats in a later part of the story.


The meter varies by stanza, but there are only a few stanza rhythm patterns in the poem.  Here is one example:

“The waves roll in and wash away

The pictures in the sand.

But on a rock there sits a man,

A brush is in his hand.”

The pattern is 8 syllables, 6 syllables, 8 syllables, 6 syllables.  How many other rhythmic patterns  can the children find?


Give the children these stanzas and ask them where the rhyme falls:

“He slips the brush into her hand

And tells her to be sure

Never to pain for wealthy folk

But only for the poor.”

(Answer:  Rhyme is in lines 2 and 4)


“Shen shakes her head. ‘Your Majesty,

I promised to be sure

Never to paint for wealthy folk

But only for the poor.”

Again, the rhyme is found in lines two and four.  This happens to be a repetition of the words “sure” and “poor,” so have the children identify other rhymes from different sections of the poem.

Pass out the student handout and let the children respond to the story poem by showing what they would paint if they had Shen’s magic paintbrush.

3. Conclusion:

Ask the children whether the poet’s words came out of their pen with the right rhythm and rhyme or whether the poet/author must work with the language.  Encourage the children to try a few of the other story poems in the library and to find and share new story poems with their classmates. Have the children share what they have drawn with their elbow partners and be sure that their work goes back to class to be included as a response to poetry in the Unit of Inquiry folders.

  1. The Magic Paintbrush by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Joel Stewart.
  2. Student Handout (attached)

I have written this lesson for The Magic Paintbrush, but you could use any story poem so long as it has the elements of rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, and repetition.  Under “Recommended Books,” I have made a few more suggestions in case you do not have The Magic Paintbrush or have the time and wish to share other story poems.

Recommended books for this lesson:
  1. The Magic Paintbrush by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Joel Stewart.
  2. The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear, illustrated by Jan Brett.
  3. Any of the Hairy Maclary or Slinky Malinki books, by Lynley Dodd.
  4. A few beginning stanzas of The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Key Terms:

Poems, Poets, Poetry, Expression, Children’s Poetry

Student Handout, Story Poems