How to Memorize a Poem

memorize poetry bathtub
When I was ten, I had to memorize a poem a month at school. Twenty years later, I’m amazed by how many of those rhymes are still tucked away in my brain — like a favorite memory or old friend.

It got me wondering: How in the world do you memorize a poem? Here are some tips I came up with.

1. Start with a short poem. If you have never memorized a poem before, pick a quick one so you get the hang of it. I’d recommend one that’s 4 lines and filled with words you easily understand.

One of the first short poems I ever memorized was Too Many Kids in this Tub by Shel Silverstein:

There’s too many kids in this tub.
There’s too many elbows to scrub.
I just washed a behind that I’m sure wasn’t mine.
There’s too many kids in this tub.

2. Pick poems with strong rhymes and rhythms. Re-read that Shel Silverstein poem and listen to the rhythm as you say each word. It has a distinctive flow that wants to roll off your tongue. The rhythm can help you memorize because your brain knows what kind of sound it should be saying next. Similarly rhymes give you a clue about what word should be at the end of each sentence.

3. Visualize the poem. Close your eyes and imagine the poem. What does the main character look like? What expression is on their face? What are they doing? Why are they doing it? If you can picture the poem like a little movie in your head, it will be easier to remember it (because who doesn’t remember their favorite scene from a cartoon or movie?)

4. Write your own poem. Write a short poem and then try to memorize it. Can you remember what you were thinking when you wrote the poem? Do you remember why you chose certain words? If this helps you, think about other poems as if you wrote them. Why did the author choose the words they chose? What mood were they in when they wrote the poem? Who did they write the poem for?

5. Memorize a poem that makes you laugh. Everyone remembers their favorite joke because it makes them laugh. Sometimes it can be easier to remember a funny poem because it has you in stitches. Another poem I had to memorize as a kid was The New Kid On The Block by Jack Prelutsky. It was about a terrible kid with a really funny twist at the end. (You’ll have you get the poem to find out the ending — I don’t want to spoil it). That poem always made me laugh, which made it more fun to memorize.

6. Imagine the poem as you walk someone familiar. First you need to picture a walk that you have done thousands of time. What are some landmarks along the way? I have walked out of my front door millions of times. At the end of the driveway there is a mailbox and then a massive tree.

Next you need to mix the lines of poetry with those landmarks. For example, if I wanted to memorize:

There’s too many kids in this tub.
There’s too many elbows to scrub.

I would imagine lots of little kids crammed in the mailbox at the end of my driveway followed by scrubbing their elbows on the bark of my big tree. If I ever forget what the second line is, all I have to remember is that second thing I see as I leave my house is a big tree…. then I’ll suddenly remember scrubbing their elbows on the bark.

Hope these tips have helped. Remember poetry should be fun! If you’re getting frustrated, take a short break — run around outside for five minutes — and then come back and try again.

About Author Steve Hanson

Steve Hanson is the author of The Dax and Zippa Series, Monsters Midnight Feast, Wizards In The West, Butterflies Don't Chew Bubblegum and The Whens. View his Profile.

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