How to utilize the senses in poetry

How to utilize the senses in poetry

Engage the senses with these poetry writing exercises.

Ah, the senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. How do they relate to poetry writing?

We delight in the pleasures of the senses, but infusing poetry with sensory stimulation is not an easy task. It takes a deft and creative writer to forge images — using text — that engage a reader’s senses.

When you engage your readers’ senses, your poetry becomes more compelling and more memorable.

Some scientists say smell is the strongest of the senses in terms of memorability. If you get your readers to physically experience scent (or any other sensation), you’ll have them hooked. Surely you’ve read a passage that described the delicious scent of home-cooked food and found your mouth watering?

Today’s poetry writing exercises are designed to help you write with more sense. Below, you’ll find a series of short poetry writing exercises that culminate with making a poem that is peppered with sensory stimuli.

Step 1: Prepare

  • Start with a sheet of paper divided into five columns. If you prefer to do writing exercises on your computer, you can use a spreadsheet or word-processing program.
  • Label the columns: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.
  • Spend a few minutes populating the columns with words and phrases that reflect the correlating senses. For example, in the smell column, you might write chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven, a blooming rose, or the cat’s litter box. Be as descriptive as possible and avoid using only stimuli that please or entice; add a few that are unpleasant for balance.

Step 2: Review

  • Review your list carefully, testing each item on your list to see how it affects you. When you read something like throbbing bass coming from the car in the next lane, can you feel the boom?
  • As you go through your list, cross out anything that doesn’t engage your senses.
  • Highlight those items that really affect you — when you can feel the soft slick of silk or hear the sound of a quiet breeze rustling dried leaves, you’re affected.

Step 3: Poetry Writing Exercises

  • Write one sentence for each of the five senses. Make sure it’s a complete sentence, and try to generate a sentence that evokes a scene. In other words, “The roses smell nice” won’t cut it. Try for something like, “I bent down, beckoned by the rose’s sweet perfume and dazzling red hue.” Note that this sentence affects two senses: smell (sweet perfume) and sight (red hue).
  • Next, try to do what I did in the sample sentence above. Combine two or more senses into a single, complete sentence. When you read it back, does your nose tingle? Do you see bright colors in your mind?
  • Look for sentences that you can link together, words and phrases that can be joined under a common theme. For example, if a lot of your words, phrases, and sentences could be set outdoors, then they can be grouped together.
  • Finally, using the material you’ve generated, write a poem that stimulates each of the five senses.
  • You can also work backwards. Start with a theme, and then populate your lists with things that will engage the senses and that correlate with the theme you’ve chosen.
  • Need some ideas? Start by choosing a setting, such as an event, where it’s likely all fives senses would be stimulated. For example, at a wedding, there will be the scent of fresh flowers, the taste of a wedding cake, and the sound of “Here Comes the Bride.” Other likely events include concerts, parties, meetings, vacations, and — try this one — cleaning day.
  • If you get stuck, refer to your brainstorming lists or practice sentences and use that material for inspiration.
  • Try not to make it too obvious that your goal for the poem was to stimulate the reader’s senses. Be sure it flows naturally.

You should have fun with poetry writing exercises, but they should also challenge you. If you have any favorite poetry writing exercises of your own, feel free to share them in the comments. And keep writing!

Looking for more poetry writing exercises? 101 Creative Writing Exercises features two full chapters on poetry writing:

Evoking the Senses: How to Capture an Atmosphere in Your Poem

How to utilize the senses in poetry

The best poems draw in their audience, and spark the imagination. If you want to conjure up a complete world for the reader when writing about a particular place or time, you can call upon each of the five senses to create the correct atmosphere.

This short lesson will give you an example of how you can use this technique in your own poetry!

Planning Your Poem

First, you will need a topic. This could be a time of year, a special day, a period in history, a favorite place, a scary place… any time or place that inspires you! These can be real times or places from your life, or they could be things you’ve learnt about in History, Geography, or on TV.

Next, we are going to build some lines, so write out 5 sentence headings – ‘I See’, ‘I Hear’, ‘I Smell’, ‘I Touch’ and ‘I Taste’

Imagine all the different things you might see, hear, smell, taste or touch in your chosen time or place, and write at least one noun* by each heading.

For example, if I choose ‘Spring’ as my topic, I could write:

I See… blue skies
I Hear… baby birds
I Smell… flower buds
I Touch… new leaves
I Taste… easter eggs

Now we need a bit more description, so add the next part to each line: ‘The sight is…’, ‘The sound is…’, ‘The smell is…’, ‘The feeling is…’ ‘The taste is…’

Add a word to complete your 5 lines!

I See… blue skies . The sight is… beautiful
I Hear… baby birds. The sound is… chirping
I Smell… flower buds blooming. The smell is… fresh
I Touch… new leaves. The feeling is… soft
I Taste… easter eggs. The taste is… chocolatey

When we are writing poetry, we can use a 6th sense – emotion. So finally, add one more heading – ‘I Feel’. Is it a good feeling, or a bad one? Find a noun to name that feeling. (For example, if you are ‘excited’ the noun is ‘excitement’. If you are ‘sad’, the noun is ‘sadness’) Spring makes me feel adventurous, so…

Mixing it up

This is the fun part, that makes what you have written more interesting – you are going to chop up your lines and mix them together! You need to swap round the underlined words in each line, and take out the middle part (So ‘I see blue skies . The sight is beautiful ’ becomes ‘I see beautiful blue skies’ )

Now you’re going to get really crazy, and mix up the senses! (If you want to impress people with your vocabulary, the word for this is synesthesia).

You need to swap the first and the last heading, then the 2nd and the 5th, then the 3rd and 4th.

Putting it Back Together

My poem now reads:


I feel blue skies.
I taste the chirping of baby birds.
I touch fresh flower buds blooming.
I smell soft new leaves.
I hear chocolatey easter eggs.
I see adventure.

You may notice that I changed my second line slightly, so that it doesn’t sound like I am eating the baby birds, but tasting the sound they make!

Now you know the basic technique, you can adapt it to suit you. Try a whole poem written this way first, but then don’t forget that you can use the sensory mash-up in other styles of poem too, whenever you want to create a particular atmosphere. The more creative, the better!

How to utilize the senses in poetry

Once students experiment with poetry, they learn that they have another outlet for communicating their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. In this lesson, students are asked to think about colors, while imagining what they taste, feel, smell, sound, and look like. They explore sample color poems, as well as imagery and symbolism. Students use their five senses as a prewriting tool to guide their poetry writing before drafting, revising, and publishing their color poem. This lesson is open-ended enough that students can write free-form poetry or follow a provided template to create a color poem.

Featured Resources

Color Poem Assessment: Use this student reproducible to guide peer review, writer review, and teacher review of students’ color poems.

Color Poem Templates: This student reproducible contains two templates for writing a color poem.

From Theory to Practice

In “Priming the Pump,” JoAnn Portalupi explains “A writer’s eye takes in the surroundings with keen perception. Learning to ‘see’ means stretching to use all five senses.” Portalupi encourages writers to “Stake a claim on something-your desk, the classroom, the lunchroom, your bedroom. Don’t just describe what you see, but also include the sounds, smells, and feel of the place” (5). Beyond simply expanding students’ perceptions to inform their writing, asking students to include their senses in their writing through metaphor and simile is a powerful way to learn more about their inner thoughts. As Judith W. Steinbergh concludes in her article “Mastering Metaphor through Poetry,” “Teachers’ guidance in discussing metaphors in literature and in creating metaphor in original writing offers students a powerful tool that supports their intellectual, emotional, and creative development” (331).

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Large boxes of crayons, or paint chips from a home improvement store

How to utilize the senses in poetry

When we talk about imagery, we’re usually referring to visuals — whatever we can see with our eyes. In literary (and more specifically, poetry) terms, imagery is anything that represents a sensory experience, regardless of whether it’s experienced through the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, or hands.

There are various types of imagery that we can use in poetry writing, including visual imagery (sight), auditory imagery (sound), olfactory imagery (smell), gustatory imagery (taste), and tactile imagery (touch).

Poets use all types of imagery to make a poem come alive, so readers can feel it, and not just emotionally. Creating a sense of time and space via imagery pulls readers into the poem; reading it becomes a visceral experience. Engaging the readers’ senses gives the poem an immediate realism.

This use of imagery is called sensory detail, and it’s one of many ways that poets show rather than tell.

Show Don’t Tell

Instead of telling us about a long train ride, a poet can show us by including imagery: we see the landscape rolling past; we hear the chugging engine and the train whistle, we smell the coal burning. We taste the snacks that are sold by the concession vendor, and we feel the rumble of the train running over the tracks.

This makes for a more immersive experience. Poems that use imagery are more memorable, and in many cases they are more pleasurable to read.

When writing or reviewing your own poetry, ask whether it evokes any sensory details. Do the details you’ve included help the poem come alive? Does the imagery pull the reader into the poem?

Making Choices

A skilled poet makes choices; laboring over the vocabulary, sweating over the rhythm, and reworking the structure are integral steps in writing poetry. Making choices about imagery can mean the difference between a poem that pops and a poem that fizzles.

Consider a poem that mentions someone giving someone else a flower. The poem is not about the flower, but the flower is present. What does the reader see or smell? Probably a generic flower. Adding some imagery can help the poem come to life in the reader’s imagination. A thorny, blood-red rosebud conveys a different sensibility than a bouquet of wild daisies in full bloom. A different flower might convey a different type of relationship between the giver and recipient.

We also must choose how many details to include. One or two vivid and specific details render a sharper sense of imagery than a bunch of vague details. Two details stand out — ten are soon forgotten.

And which details do we include? If we’re talking about a flower, its name will help us see it. What other details will best help a poet depict a flower? Color? Scent? Texture? Is it edible? What does it taste like? Flowers don’t make noise, but dried flowers might crunch if someone steps on them.

The choices we make will depend on context. A poem about young lovers making up after a spat might include the red rosebud whereas a poem about death might show someone stepping on dried flowers.

When writing or reviewing your own poetry, examine the choices you’ve made. Which senses does your poem engage? Have you selected the best possible sensory details to include? Are you using the most vivid and precise language to convey imagery in your poem?


Not all poems use imagery, and some poems that lack strong imagery are quite effective. However, sensory details draw readers into the world of the poem, so use imagery whenever you want readers to see, smell, hear, taste, or touch elements of your poem.

Do you pay attention to the imagery (sensory details) in the poetry you read? What about in the poetry you write? How important is imagery? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing poetry.

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Poetry gets a bad wrap? Don’t you think? It’s a bit intimidating, so it leads to teachers avoiding it whenever possible. However, there are so many fun ways to incorporate poetry into an early elementary classroom. Believe me, those upper grades will thank you for it! Start out with something simple, like this five senses poem template!

How to utilize the senses in poetry

Incorporating Across Subjects

Using this template is a perfect way to teach the beginning steps of poetry. However, it’s also a great way to incorporate a standard across many subject areas. You can teach your five senses unit in science, introduce sensory writing in Writer’s Workshop and read about how authors use the five senses in their popular picture books.

When I taught first grade, I used this template along with my poetry journal and the kids loved it!

How to utilize the senses in poetry

A Fun Extension to Writing

Again, poetry is a standard that is not pushed in younger grades, but really needs to be introduced. We call it a supporting standard here in Texas. We use poetry to support a larger standard. For example, first graders are required to use sensory language in their writing.

How to utilize the senses in poetry

A perfect way to introduce sensory writing is by using great picture books, or mentor texts. Another great way is using this Five Senses poetry template that you can grab below!

How to utilize the senses in poetry

Sensory language can be so hard to teach in writing, so why not break it down into a form of a poem? Before we started any story, my class and I would work in partners to complete this template. This way they worked a little on poetry and also have a list of sensory words to use in their stories.

How to utilize the senses in poetry

To grab this Five Senses poetry template, you can click the link below! Check out my NEW poetry journal pack as well!

Imagery represents the descriptive elements of the poem. The descriptions are not only visual, they can also appeal to all the senses. Imagery makes the reader become emotionally involved with the poem and attached to its subject matter. In analyzing its imagery, you should examine the poem’s figurative language and see how it complements its tone, mood and theme.


Imagery is the way the poet uses figures of speech to construct a vivid mental picture or physical sensation in the mind of the reader. In order to analyze a poem with imagery, you should read the poem and take note of the types of imagery that the poem expresses. It is important to keep in mind that a poem is not limited to only visual imagery, but will also likely have imagery that appeals to the reader’s other senses.

Examine Imagery

Imagery can be divided into different categories, according to which sense it appeals to. In addition to visual imagery, which creates pictures in the reader’s mind, a poet may use auditory, olfactory and tactile imagery, which appeal to the reader’s senses of hearing, smell and touch, respectively. Furthermore, gustatory imagery appeals to the reader’s sense of taste, and kinetic imagery conveys some sense of motion.

Take Note of the Figurative Language

After noting the types of imagery that a poem expresses, you should examine the poem’s figurative language. Figurative language is a kind of rearrangement or unconventional way of saying things, and it is also another word for imagery. Figurative language comes in a variety of forms such as analogy, simile, metaphor, personification and extended metaphor. These forms are tools that the poet uses to actually construct the vivid picture of the physical sensation in the reader’s mind.

Examine the Purpose of the Figurative Language

The final step of analyzing a poem with imagery is to examine how the poem’s figurative language functions within the poem. Poetry uses many types of figurative language in order to add substance and meaning to a conventional idea or concept. In particular, it often complements and emphasizes the poem’s other important aspects, such as its tone, mood and theme.


In “Daffodils,” William Wordsworth paints a visual picture in the mind of the reader, using a lot of descriptive language about daffodils, the sky and the hills. In particular, he writes, “I wander’d lonely as a cloud/ That floats on high o’er vale and hills,/ When all at once I saw a crowd,/ A host of golden daffodils.” The first line uses personification and a simile, making the speaker a cloud. The images of daffodils and Wordsworth’s use of figurative language reinforces the poem’s theme: nature’s ability to awaken the individual from his dreary life and remind him of the grace and beauty of nature.

  • Writing Essays About Literature: A Guide And Style Sheet; Kelley Griffith; pg. 122
  • Austin Community College: A Short Guide to Imagery, Symbolism, and Figurative Language; Andrea Clark
  • English Grammer: Critical Analysis-“I wondered lonely as a cloud"

Kate Prudchenko has been a writer and editor for five years, publishing peer-reviewed articles, essays, and book chapters in a variety of publications including Immersive Environments: Future Trends in Education and Contemporary Literary Review India. She has a BA and MS in Mathematics, MA in English/Writing, and is completing a PhD in Education.

How to utilize the senses in poetry

Students and teachers take time not only to study famous poets and poems, but also various types of poems and techniques used by poets. Here are 9 Common Techniques Used in Poetry.

#1 Rhyming

Rhyming is the most obvious poetic technique used. It helps to make poems flow.

Poems do not have to rhyme, however; there are many poems that are free verse—a style that allows poets the flexibility to write their thoughts and ideas without the constraint of following a particular rhyming pattern.

There are several different rhyming patterns and schemes. Which one a poet uses will depend on the topic, style, and theme of the poem.

#2 Repetition

Repetition involves repeating a line or a word several times in a poem.

Poets use this to emphasize a point, to bring attention to a particular item or theme, to achieve a particular effect, or to provoke an emotional reaction from the reader.

#3 Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia is not an easy word to say or spell, but it is one of the most fun and common techniques used in poetry.

Onomatopoeia is simply the use of a word that imitates a sound, like bam, crash, boom, splash.

Words like these appeal to the reader’s senses and bring the reader into the poem.

#4 Alliteration

Alliteration involves the use of two or more words that begin with the same sound.

For example, “The drizzling, drippy drain drove me crazy.” Alliteration is a great way to grab the reader’s attention at a particular moment in the poem.

It also provides the poet an opportunity to describe things in a creative way that is memorable to the reader.

#5 Assonance

Assonance is when vowel sounds are repeated in two or more words that are close to each other in the poem and have different consonants.

An example of this would be “The octopus flopped on the cot – kerplop!” Several words in the example contain the short “o” sound, but the words contain different consonants.

#6 Simile

Similes are a type of figurative language that compare an object, person, or event to something else.

They help readers to better understand the characteristics of something by showing a relationship between the two things.

Similes use the words “like” or “as” in the comparison, such as “The dog ran as fast as a race car.” Or “His words cut through my heart like a knife.”

#7 Metaphor

Like similes, metaphors show the relationship or commonality between two objects or actions.

Unlike similes, however, metaphors do not contain the words “like” or “as” in the comparison.

In addition, metaphors describe the object or action in a non-literal way.

In other words, metaphors equate two objects or actions just for the sake of comparing, even though the two things are not literally the same.

Some examples of metaphors would be “The shark’s teeth were daggers ripping through flesh.” Or “Her hair was a winding path of intrigue.”

#8 Hyperbole

Among other techniques used in poetry, Hyperbole is the use of exaggeration in a text. This can be used for emphasis or humor, such as “He practiced for a million hours.”

#9 Symbolism

Symbolism is when a poet uses objects, colors, sounds, or places to represent something else.

For instance, snakes are often associated with evil, while white doves are related to peace.

These are only a few of the techniques that have been used by poets past and present.

They provide a wide variety of options for a poet to develop a unique style while expressing his or her thoughts and ideas to readers.

I’m thrilled to have Amy of Let’s Explore here as one of Make and Takes newest regular contributors. Amy will be here once a month sharing fabulous ideas for kids. Take it away, Amy…

Since my girls were preschoolers, we have been writing poems together. I love seeing little snippets of their imaginations and thoughts in the words of their poems.

How to utilize the senses in poetry

One of our all-time favorite types of poems to write are five senses poems. For this poem, your child describes an experience, item, or color using the five senses.

We usually start with an experience, such as crunching through the autumn leaves or baking our favorite cookies. While we play and talk, we are building ideas and language for our poems.

Each line of a five senses poem begins with one of the senses. Encourage your child to use “juicy” descriptive words and feel free to leave out a sense if it just doesn’t fit.

  • I see…
  • I feel…
  • I taste…
  • I hear…
  • I smell…

After a visit to the apple orchard, my girls wrote five senses poems about apples. It was fun to look at our photos, snack on some apples, and describe what we remembered from that day.

How to utilize the senses in poetry

Colors make great five senses poems, too. Here is one my daughter, Natalie, wrote when she was five:

Orange by Natalie

I feel a ripe orange on my orange tree.
I hear a little orange bird singing on my fence.
I taste sweet, fresh orange juice.
I smell an orange flower that is just growing from a seed.
I see a pretty, orange butterfly fluttering in the sky.

After writing, publish your poem and share it! Write it on blank paper and add illustrations or photographs. A coloring page makes a great background, too. My girls also love when I type their poems and let them choose clip art to go with it. Keep your poems in a folder and enjoy reading them over and over again!

Happy poem-writing!

Amy is happiest surrounded by her husband, her three amazing kids, stacks of books, and craft supplies. With a background in psychology, early childhood education, and elementary teaching, Amy is a supporter of playing dress-up, digging in the dirt, and squeezing out puddles of glue. At her blog, Let’s Explore, Amy shares her family’s experiences creating, imagining, and playing together.