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What is Rhyme Scheme?

    what is rhyme scheme

    If you’re gearing up to dive into poetry, chances are you will discuss rhyme schemes. These patterns play a crucial role in shaping the structure and flow of poems while creating the musicality we often associate with the literary genre. Continue reading to learn the basics of rhyme scheme and beyond.

    Rhyme Scheme Definition

    You know the sing-sony flow some poems have? That’s all thanks to rhyme scheme.

    A rhyme scheme is a pattern of rhymes at the end of each line in a poem, often creating a sense of musical flow throughout a poem. However, not all poems that incorporate rhymes follow a rhyme scheme. To be considered a rhyme scheme, the rhymes must appear at the end of each line and create a consistent pattern. That said, a rhyme scheme may apply to an entire poem or a single stanza. It depends on the poet and poem.

    Rhyme schemes are typically labeled using letters, each representing a different rhyme sound. For example, in an AABB rhyme scheme, the first two lines rhyme with each other, and the next two lines rhyme with each other. In an ABAB rhyme scheme, the first and third lines rhyme with each other, while the second and fourth lines rhyme with one another using a different sound. A space in a rhyme scheme represents a stanza break in a poem, such as AA BB or AB AB.

    Rhyme Scheme Pronunciation

    Rhyme scheme is a phrase comprising two single-syllable words.

    Despite how it is spelled, rhyme scheme sounds like rime skeem.

    What are the Different Types of Rhyme Schemes?

    Rhyme schemes vary widely across different types of poetry and can range from simple to complex patterns. However, no matter what the rhyme scheme is, the goal is the same: to create a consistent pattern throughout a stanza or poem.

    Rhyme schemes you may come across include:

    • Couplet (AA BB CC): Two consecutive lines that rhyme in a poem
    • Alternate Rhyme (ABAB): The first and third lines rhyme, and the second and fourth lines rhyme.
    • Monorhyme (AAAA): All the lines rhyme with each other, employing the same rhyme sound throughout the entire poem.
    • Enclosed rhyme (ABBA): The first and last lines of a stanza rhyme with each other, while the middle lines rhyme with each other.
    • Chain rhyme (ABA BCB CDC): The second line of each three-line stanza rhymes with the first and third lines of the following stanza, creating a chain-like structure.  Also known as terza rima.
    • Simple rhyme (ABCB): A simple rhyming pattern with an easily identifiable structure that is used throughout an entire poem

    Some types of poems follow specific, predetermined rhyme schemes. These poems include: 

    • Sonnet: A 14-line poem following one of two rhyme schemes—either the Petrarchan (ABBAABBA CDCDCD) or Shakespearean (ABAB CDCD EFEF GG) rhyme scheme
    • Ballad: Comprised of four-line stanzas, often employing the rhyme scheme ABCB or ABAB
    • Limerick: Typically follows an AABBA rhyme scheme, with the first, second, and fifth lines sharing one rhyme sound and the third and fourth lines sharing another.
    • Villanelle: A complex rhyme scheme consisting of 19 lines, five three-line stanzas, and one four-line stanza, with a pattern of ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA.

    What it’s NOT: Rhyme Scheme vs. Free Verse

    While rhyme schemes adhere to a structured pattern of rhymes, free verse poetry lacks a consistent rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Instead, free verse poems give poets greater freedom around line length, rhythm, and structure.

    Rather than worrying about rhyming, a poet may employ free verse to focus on a more natural form of expression, creating a more conversational flow. Without any sort of rhyme scheme, free verse poems often rely on figurative language and other poetic devices, such as for emphasis and rhythm.

    Every poet has different preferences. Some poets prefer the structure and flow of rhyme schemes, while others opt for greater freedom and flexibility in their expression.

    Why Do Writers Use Rhyme Schemes?

    It’s true that rhyme schemes give poems a musical flow that is often appealing to readers. However, they offer more than a “nice” sound. They also help enhance the flow, effectiveness, and impact of a poem. While not all poems utilize rhyme schemes, here are a few key reasons why many poets do:

    • Create a sense of musicality and rhythm: Repeating similar sounds at the end of lines can create a pleasing and easy-flowing cadence, enhancing the overall experience for the reader or listener.
    • Engage the audience: Thanks to their sing-songy flow, rhymes help make poems more memorable and enjoyable to read, enhancing the beautiful language used throughout.
    • Add cohesion and structure: Rhyme schemes help organize a poem’s content, adding a sense of cohesion while guiding the reader through the pattern of rhymes.
    • Enhance meaning: Well-crafted rhymes can enhance the beauty and elegance of a poem, drawing attention to its language and imagery.
    • Deliver emotional impact: The repetition of rhymes can evoke feelings of comfort, ease, or tension, depending on the poem and context.

    How to Identify Rhyme Scheme in a Poem

    While some rhyme schemes are easy to spot, others are more complex and require a closer analysis of the sounds occurring throughout the poem. In those cases, identifying the rhyme scheme in a poem involves taking a close look at the rhymes that appear at the end of each line and looking for patterns from stanza to stanza.

    Here are  four simple steps that can help when analyzing the rhymes in a poem and identifying the rhyme scheme of any poem, no matter how complex:

    1. Read the Poem Aloud

    Start by reading the poem aloud. There are many benefits of reading aloud, and poems are no exception. Hearing the poem (versus simply reading it) will help you understand its rhythm and flow and make it easier to spot rhyming words.

    2. Label Similar Sounds

    Review the poem, marking similar sounds at the end of each line as you go. Assign each sound a specific letter of the alphabet, using the same letter to represent lines that rhyme with each other.

    3. Analyze the Pattern

    Once you’ve labeled each line, take a closer look at the consistent sounds throughout the poem. Pay attention to the letter labels after each line to determine any patterns (or variations).

    4. Record the Rhyme Scheme

    Now that you’ve identified the pattern (or patterns), it’s time to record the rhyme scheme. Using the letters you already assigned to each line, write out the pattern. Denote any stanza breaks with spaces between letters. 

    Tips for Teaching Rhyme Scheme

    When it comes to teaching poetry, there are challenges for both students and teachers. Many students find poetry complex and convoluted. The abstract nature of this form of literature leads many students to feel overwhelmed and intimate.

    Use these tips to make teaching poetry, specifically rhyme scheme, more accessible for your students:

    • Start with Simple Examples: Introduce students to shorter poems with clear and simple rhyme schemes. You can even use popular children’s nursery rhymes, like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” or “Mary Had a Little Lamb” to illustrate basic rhyme schemes.
    • Use Color Coding: Whether you are guiding students through an example or having them identify rhyme schemes on their own, color coding can help students visualize the pattern. Highlight or underline the last word in each line, using the same color for the same sounds.
    • Encourage Letter Labeling: Similar to color coding, encouraging students to annotate each line with a corresponding letter (depending on the rhyme sound) will help students see the rhyme scheme unfold. It will also help them easily write out the rhyme scheme in the appropriate format.
    • Read aloud: For some students, hearing a rhyme is much easier than spotting one while silent reading. Read poems aloud as a class or encourage students to read poems aloud on their own to better recognize and understand the pattern while reinforcing their understanding of rhyme scheme and its effect on the poem’s sound.
    • Incorporate Songs Lyrics: Have students read the lyrics and identify rhyme patterns as they listen to the song. Bringing pop culture in your ELA classroom is a great way to engage reluctant students.
    • Incorporate Variety: Encourage students to practice rhyme schemes using a variety of poems with various rhyme schemes. Ask students to label the rhyme scheme for each one, increasing their overall understanding of how different rhyme schemes impact different poems.
    • Discuss the Patterns: Engage students in discussions about the patterns they observe in rhyme schemes. Ask questions to help them analyze why certain rhyme schemes were chosen and how they contribute to the overall meaning and mood of the poem.
    • Let Students Write Their Own: As students learn more about different rhyme schemes, encourage them to explore various patterns in their own writing. Provide prompts or themes to inspire their creativity and challenge them to experiment with different rhyme patterns.

    Examples of Rhyme Schemes in Literature

    1. “A Red, Red Rose” by Robert Burns

    “A Red, Red Rose” follows an ABCB DEFE FGFG HIHI rhyme scheme. Each stanza consists of two couplets, with the second and fourth lines rhyming, adding to the poem’s lyrical melody while enhancing its overall romantic sentiment.

    O my Luve is like a red, red rose (A)

       That’s newly sprung in June; (B)

    O my Luve is like the melody (C)

       That’s sweetly played in tune. (B)

    So fair art thou, my bonnie lass, (D)

       So deep in luve am I; (E)

    And I will luve thee still, my dear, (F)

       Till a’ the seas gang dry. (E)

    Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear, (F)

       And the rocks melt wi’ the sun; (G)

    I will love thee still, my dear, (F)

       While the sands o’ life shall run. (G)

    And fare thee weel, my only luve! (H)

       And fare thee weel awhile! (I)

    And I will come again, my luve, (H)

       Though it were ten thousand mile.(I)

    2. From “A Dream Within a Dream” by Edgar Allan Poe

    “A Dream Within a Dream” follows a fairly simple couplet rhyme scheme of AA BB CC (and so on) over the course of its two stanzas. The rhyme scheme combined with Poe’s diction creates a (hauntingly) melancholic effect that adds to the introspective tone.


    I stand amid the roar (A)

    Of a surf-tormented shore, (A)

    And I hold within my hand (B)

    Grains of the golden sand — (B)

    How few! yet how they creep (C)

    Through my fingers to the deep,(C)

    While I weep — while I weep! (C)

    O God! Can I not grasp (D)

    Them with a tighter clasp? (D)

    O God! can I not save (E)

    One from the pitiless wave? (E)

    Is all that we see or seem (F)

    But a dream within a dream? (F)

    3. “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost

    “Nothing Gold Can Stay” is a simple yet impactful poem that follows a classic AABBCCDD rhyme scheme. Each of the eight lines follows a consistent pattern where every two lines (couplet) rhyme with each other, with the rhyme sound changing each couplet, underscoring the poem’s theme of fleeting beauty in nature (and life).

    Nature’s first green is gold, (A)

    Her hardest hue to hold. (A)

    Her early leaf’s a flower; (B)

    But only so an hour. (B)

    Then leaf subsides to leaf. (C)

    So Eden sank to grief, (C)

    So dawn goes down to day. (D)

    Nothing gold can stay. (D)

    Additional Resources for Teaching Poetry and Rhyme Scheme

    Connect rhyme scheme to music with this article that breaks down rhymes in popular songs

    Save time planning with these 11 poetry lesson plans for middle school

    Looking for poems to teach? Check out this list of best poems for middle school

    Switch it up by incorporating videos into your classroom:

    Breakdown the sonnet with this engaging “Sonnets’ Shmoop video

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