Shel Silverstein has written hundreds of poems during his career. He is known best for silly rhymes and hilarious imagery. In addition, his poetry contains many examples of alliteration - a literary device where the author uses words next to each other that begin with the same sound.
Bear in There
What do you do if there's a polar bear in your refrigerator? Apparently nothing but come up with delightful rhymes! Bear in There is ripe with alliteration including the lines:
- He likes it 'cause it's cold in there
- And his face in the fish
- He's nibbling the noodles
- He's slurping the soda
Mari-Lou was a little girl with an apparent affection for swings. You can hear the beginning consonant sounds with the very first line of the poem: "The swing swang..." You'll also find examples in these lines:
- The seat sailed
- The crow clapped
- Her mom wailed and wept too
- By air mail came Mari-Lou
This poem plays on a lot of quasi-made-up words to offer a delightful rendering of many similar sounds. Poemsicle features several silly alliterations right in the middle of the poem:
Will a mop become a mopsicle?
Will a cop become a copsicle
Will a chop become a chopcicle?
Will a drop become a dropsicle?
Will a hop become a hopsicle?
Picture Puzzle Piece
Even the title features similar sounds in this poem about the dreamt up possibilities of a found object. Some examples of alliteration in Picture Puzzle Piece, aside from the repeated refrain of 'picture puzzle piece,' include:
- It might be a button of blue
- Of the apple her stepmother gave to Snow White
- It might be the veil of a bride or a bottle with...
- On the big bouncy belly of Bobo the Bear
- Of the Witch of the West
Rotten Convention sounds like a convention that Oscar the Grouch would love to attend. These are a few examples of alliteration in this poem that just slip off the tongue:
- Gruesome Grace and the Skull with the Slimy Hair
- There was Mr. Mud and Creepin' Crud...and Belchin' Bob
- There was Three-headed Anne - She was holdin' hands
- And Poopin' Pete and Smelly Feet
Some naughty behavior lends itself to some silly alliteration in this Silverstein poem that ends with a slightly odd twist! Alliteration is sprinkled throughout the rhyming schemes of Spoiled Brat:
- The spoiled brat put a coat on the cat
- The spoiled brat broke a bike with her bat
- 'Bout whether a rodent's a mouse or a rat
- The spoiled brat said her sister was fat
Standing Is Stupid
Almost this entire poem is alliteration. The first few lines set the tone:
- Standing is stupid
- Crawling's a curse
- Skipping is silly
- Walking is worse
- Hopping is hopeless
Alliteration Lessons and Silverstein Poems
Elementary classroom teachers often do units or projects on poetry. Alliteration is often discussed during these units and Shel Silverstein poems are a wonderful teaching tool. If you are looking for some specific alliteration lessons involving Silverstein poems, try the following:
- Reading, Writing, Reciting Exciting Poetry! suggests using The Sword-Swallower and Standing is Stupid as part of the fourth lesson in the 10-lesson unit.
- The Educational Ramblings of Misty McCauley suggests using Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take The Garbage Out in a lesson about alliteration. In addition, McCauley proposes teachers take the lesson further by having students create their own book made of recycled materials, because the poem is about proper trash disposal.
Teachers may want to use Silverstein books to teach alliteration in other ways.
- Have students pick out three poems by Silverstein. Give them time to rewrite the title to each poem using alliteration. Have students share the new titles aloud, and then read the poem. This gives students an opportunity to practice their public speaking skills, too.
- Another writing assignment based on alliteration and Silverstein poems is to have students write poems. Make sure they understand that their poems must have a certain number of stanzas, over half the lines must have alliteration, and the poem must be humorous, just like Silverstein's poems. Again, have the children stand up at the front of the class to recite their poems once completed.
- You can find more resources about teaching poetry and alliteration on Shel Silverstein's website. For example, download the PDF Cuttin' Kate, a fun activity booklet and poem that utilize alliteration.
A Treasure Trove of Similar Sounds
Whether your goal is to teach the literary device of alliteration or to teach poetry and its mechanisms, you can't go wrong using Shel Silverstein. His silly prose keeps kids engaged, and he uses concrete examples of alliteration so it's easy to understand. He was such a prolific writer, there is a treasure trove of things waiting to be discovered.