Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Lilting Limericks

Mary Borges
Santa Rosa District Schools


Through demonstration and practice, the students recognize limericks and write their own. The lesson includes a brief historical orientation, a formula for recognizing and creating limericks, a review of poetic elements, and prompts for writing.


The student understands the subtleties of literary devices and techniques in the comprehension and creation of communication.

The student recognizes production elements that contribute to the effectiveness of a specific medium.

The student identifies the characteristics that distinguish literary forms.


-Transparency Sheets
-Overhead Projector
-Examples of Two Limericks
-Writing Utensils
-Prepared handouts (optional)


1. Locate or write two or more limericks to use as examples. Limericks may be found in most general literature anthology texts or in humorous poetry anthologies found on library nonfiction shelves. A web-link of sample limericks is also included later in this lesson plan.
2. Type and create transparencies of the definition, formula, examples, and instructions for writing. If transparencies are not possible, pre-made posters or writing on a chalkboard are necessary before class begins.
3. Practice clapping and saying the nonsense syllables for demonstration.
4. Print handouts of the transparency text if desired for students. (Optional)


1. Lead the students in a discussion of how people traveled from place to place by sea before the invention of engine powered ships. What kinds of jobs would sailors on these sailing ships have? If their hands were busy with their work, how could they pass the time to keep themselves from being bored? (Write the students’ ideas on an overhead transparency.)
2. Use this opening as a springboard to explain how tall tales, songs, and poems called “limericks” would come into being. Write “limerick” on the transparency. Point out that since these literary forms were oral in origin, most of their authors would be “anonymous.” Write and define “anonymous” on the transparency.
3. Point out that these all-male crews would often create poems (limericks) that were considered “off-color.” Write “off-color” and “idiom” on the transparency. Ask the class to define the term “off-color” and speculate on how this idiom was created. Define “idiom.” Give other examples of idioms.
4. Inform the students that there is also a city in Ireland called Limerick. Some people believe that the poems called “limericks” originated from Ireland because of this.
5. Tell the students that you will be sharing some limericks with them and showing them the formula for writing them. Then they will have an opportunity to write their own limericks. Their limericks should attempt humor and may tell a story or describe.

1. Show and discuss transparencies (and/or provide a handout of the same) which contains the text below in large bold font. (Note-taking by students is optional if no handouts are provided.) Transparency Text follows:

A LIMERICK is a humorous five-line poem that has been in use through both oral and written form for many years. It follows a specific formula of line length, meter (rhythm), and rhyme and may tell a story or create a description.

Limerick Formula---
Lines 1, 2, and 5 are the longest lines, with the same end rhyme and three stressed syllables of meter (rhythm).
Lines 3 and 4 are shorter, with the same end rhyme and two stressed syllables of meter.
Often Lines 1 and 2 are a complete sentence and Lines 3, 4, and 5 are a sentence.
The poem attempts humor, tells a story, or creates a description.

Limerick Examples---
Below are two examples of limericks. Look for the elements of the limerick formula in each example and be prepared to discuss them.

(Note to Teacher: Here you will have written the two pre-selected limericks in large bold face font on the transparency. The students will enjoy them more if at least one of the examples is your own creation about something or someone they know. The example limerick below names a school’s dean of students.)

There once was a boy named Adam,
Who talked so ‘til I got mad at him.
He did it once more,
So I showed him the door,
And now Mr. Owens has had him.

2. Ask the students to point out items in the example limericks that qualify the poems as fitting the formula for limericks (5-lines; long lines are 1, 2, 5, with three stressed syllables each; short lines 3, 4 with two stressed syllables each; lines 1, 2, 5 have same end rhyme, lines 3, 4 have same end rhyme; sentence structure; attempts humor, tells a story, or creates a description.)
3. Demonstrate the meter and line lengths orally by claps on the stressed syllables and saying nonsense syllables instead of words as shown below:
(Da DA da da DA da da DA,
Da DA da da DA da da DA.
Da DA da da DA,
Da DA da da DA,
Da DA da da DA da da DA.)
Repeat this five-line pattern orally twice for the class, and then have the students do it with you (claps and oral tones) until all seem to catch on to the rhythm and stressed (accented) syllables. They will think it is silly, but it really works and helps them catch on to the line lengths and stressed syllables faster.
4. Instruct the students to get out paper and pencils/pens for practice writing. Display a final transparency that has the following text:

Remember ---
Lines 1, 2, and 5 are longer (three beats or stressed syllables) and
have the same end rhyme.
Lines 3 and 4 are shorter (two beats) and have the same end rhyme.

Directions ---Choose ONE of these two “starters” for Line One of your practice limerick. This is for practice only. After you are finished, you will clap out your limerick to check for meter and lines/syllables. Then exchange papers with a classmate to proof and discuss each other’s work. (Note: Your limerick must use language and subject matter acceptable for a school setting. Do not “make-up” words.)


5. Ask students to orally share some of their practice limericks. The amount of time permitted for this during class is flexible
6. Review the formula for writing a limerick orally with the transparency. Offer to answer any questions the students may have.
7. Assign the writing of one original limerick from each student to be submitted for a grade. Use of pen/ink, word processing, and requiring cursive writing is a teacher’s option. Encourage those students who finish their original limericks quickly to add an illustration to their papers to enhance its appearance and meaning. Later oral sharing or posting their work in a classroom display is optional.


Student assessment will be determined by the original limericks submitted after instruction and practice. The following checklist is recommended:
_____1. The poem has five lines.
_____2. Lines 1, 2, and 5 are approximately the same length.
_____3. Lines 1, 2, and 5 share the same end-rhyme.
_____4. Lines 1, 2, and 5 have three beats (stressed syllables).
_____5. Lines 3 and 4 are shorter than Lines 1, 2, and 5.
_____6. Lines 3 and 4 are approximately the same length.
_____7. Lines 3 and 4 have the same end-rhyme.
_____8. Lines 3 and 4 have two beats (stressed syllables).
_____9. The limerick has one or two complete sentences.
____10. The limerick attempts to express humor, tell a story, or creates a description using appropriate language.
Excellent --- 9-10 checklist items met.
Acceptable --- 7-8 checklist items met.
Unacceptable --- 6 or fewer checklist items met. (Student should rewrite his/her limerick and resubmit it.)


This lesson may be used at both middle and high school levels. Middle school students may need to review these terms: syllable, meter/rhythm, rhyme. Suggested starters (Line One) may be needed for helping middle school or lower functioning high school students begin their original limericks. Some students may need review for sentence structure, punctuation, and capitalization.

Web Links

Scroll down the page to the limericks links.

Return to the Beacon Lesson Plan Library.