Improve Geometry Content Vocabulary! Write Poetry!

Poetry in Geometry Class That Doesn't Need to Rhyme

"Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas."-Albert Einstein.

In taking advice from Albert Einstein, math educators can consider how similar the logic of math can be supported by the logic of poetry. Each branch of mathematics has its own specific language, and poetry is the arrangement of language or words. Helping students understanding the academic language of geometry is critical to comprehension.

Researcher and educational expert and author  Robert Marzano offers a series  of comprehension strategies to help students with the logical ideas described by Einstein. One specific strategy requires students to "provide a description, explanation, or example of the new term."  This priority suggestion on how students may explain is focused on activities that ask students to tell a story that integrates the term; students can choose to explain or to tell a story is through poetry.

Why Poetry for Geometry Vocabulary? 

Poetry helps students reimagine vocabulary in different logical contexts. So much vocabulary in the content area of geometry is interdisciplinary, and students must understand the multiple meanings of terms. Take for example the differences in the meanings of the following term BASE:

Base: (n)

  1.  (architecture/geometry) the bottom support of anything; that on which a thing stands or rests; 
  2. the principal element or ingredient of anything, considered as its fundamental part:
  3. (in baseball) any of the four corners of the diamond;
  4. (math) number that serves as a starting point for a logarithmic or other numerical system.

Now consider how the word "base" was cleverly used in a verse that won 1st-place Ashlee Pitock in the Yuba College Math/poetry contest 2015 titled "The Analysis of You and Me":

"I should've seen the base rate fallacy 
the mean squared error of your mentality 
When the outlier of my affection was unknown to you." 

Her use of the word base can produce vivid mental images that forge remembering connections to that particular content area. Research shows that using poetry to show the different meaning of words is an effective instructional strategy to use in EFL/ESL and ELL classrooms.  

Some examples of words Marzano targets as critical for the understanding of geometry (see complete list)

  • Angle
  • Arc
  • Circle
  • Line
  • Postulate
  • Proof
  • Theorem
  • Vector

Poetry as Math Practice Standard 7

The Mathematical Practice Standard #7 states that "mathematically proficient students look closely to discern a pattern or structure. " 

Poetry is mathematical. For example, when a poem is organized in stanzas, the stanzas are organized numerically:

  • couplet (2 lines)
  • tercet (3 lines)
  • quatrain (4 lines)
  • cinquain (5 lines)
  • sestet (6 lines) (sometimes it's called a sexain)
  • septet (7 lines)
  • octave (8 lines) 

Similarly, the rhythm or meter of a poem is organized numerically in rhythmic patterns called "feet" (or syllable stresses on words):

  • one foot=monometer
  • two feet=dimeter
  • three feet=trimeter
  • four feet=tetrameter
  • five feet=pentameter
  • six feet=hexameter 

There are poems that also use other kinds of mathematical patterns, such as the two (2) listed below, the cinquain  diamante and the acrostic.

Examples of Geometry Vocabulary and Concepts in Student Poetry

First, writing poetry allows students to associate their emotions/feelings with vocabulary. There can be angst, determination, or humor, as in the following (uncredited author) student's poem on the Hello Poetry website:


love is only real
when feeling and being
and oblique
trust, respect and understanding

Second, poems are short, and their brevity can allow teachers to connect to content topics in memorable ways. The poem "Speaking of Geometry" on the Hello Poetry website: for instance, is a clever way a student shows she can distinguish between the multiple meanings (homograph) of the word angle which could mean: "the space within two lines or three or more planes diverging from a common point, or within two planes diverging from a common line" OR could mean "a point-of-view or standpoint."

Speaking of Geometry.

You are the triangle in my Pythagorean Theorem.

Circles may be never-ending,
but I would rather be quite clear on our angles and
all that other nonsense.

I'd rather be equivalent or at the very least,

Third, poetry helps students explore how concepts in a content area can be applied to their own lives into their lives, communities, and the world. It is this stepping beyond the math facts— making connections, analyzing information, and creating new understandings — that enables students to “get into” a subject. The poem "Geometry"begins connecting one student's view of the world using the language of geometry (NOTE: poem continues on Hello Poetry)


i wonder why people think parallel lines are pathetic
that they have never met
that they will never see each other
and that, they will never know how it feels like to be together.

isn't it better? that way?..... 

When and How to Write Geometry Math Poetry

Improving student comprehension in the vocabulary of geometry is important, but finding the time for this kind of is always challenging. Furthermore, all students may not need the same level of support with the vocabulary. Therefore, one way to use poetry to support vocabulary work is by offering work during long-term  "math centers". Centers are areas in the classroom where students refine a skill or extend a concept. In this form of delivery, one set of materials is placed in an area of the classroom as a differentiated strategy to have ongoing student engagement: for review or for practice or for enrichment.  
Poetry "math centers" using formula poems are ideal because they can be organized with explicit instructions so that students can work independently. Additionally, these centers allow students to have the opportunity to engage with others and to "discuss" mathematics. There is also the opportunity to share their work visually.

For math teachers who may have concerns about having to teach poetic elements, there are multiple formula poems, including three listed below, that require no instruction on the literary elements (most likely, they have enough of that instruction in English Language Arts). Each formula poem offers a different way to have students increase their understanding of the academic vocabulary used in geometry.

Math teachers should also know that students can always have the option to tell a story, as Marzano suggests, a more free-form expression of terms. Math teachers should note that a poem told as a narrative does not have to rhyme.

Math educators should also note that using formulas for poetry in geometry class can be similar to the processes for writing math formulas. In fact, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge may have been channeling his "math muse" when he wrote in his definition:

"Poetry: the best words in the best order."

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Cinquain Poetry Pattern

Poetry that follows a formula is easy to use in the geometry content area. lambada/GETTY Images

A cinquain consists of five unrhymed lines. There are different forms of the cinquain based on the number of syllables or words in each.

Each line has a set number of words see below:

Line 1: 1 word 
Line 2: 2 words 
Line 3: 3 words 
Line 4: 4 words 
Line 5: 1 word

Example:  Student's definition of the word congruent


Two things

Exactly the same

That helps me geometrically


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Diamante Poetry Patterns

Students can use patterns to create math poems and meet Mathematical Practice Standard #7. mustafahacalaki/GETTY Images

The Structure of a Diamante Poem

A diamante poem is made up of seven lines using a set structure; the number of words in each is the structure:

Line 1: Beginning subject
Line 2: Two describing words about line 1
Line 3: Three doing words about line 1
Line 4: A short phrase about line 1, a short phrase about line 7
Line 5: Three doing words about line 7
Line 6: Two describing words about line 7
Line 7: End subject

Example of a student's definition of angles:


complementary, supplementary

measured in degrees. 

All angles named with letters for lines a or b; 

a middle letter

representing the


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Shape or Concrete Poetry

Concrete or shape poetry allows students to write about the meaning of geometry using the forms of geometry. GETTY Images

A Shape Poem or Concrete  Poetry is a type of poetry that not only describes an object but is also shaped the same as the object the poem is describing. This combination of content and form helps to create one powerful effect in the field of poetry.

In the following example, the concrete poem Geometry of Love by Dave Will, the opening stanza starts with three lines about two lines:

Two lines intersect
an inherently 
unstable situation.

                Visually, the poem "thins" out until the final stanza:

Very occasionally
two lines may meet
end to end
and curve
to form
a circle
which is
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Acrostic Poetry

Acrostic poems are great ways to review vocabulary words. Westend61/GETTY Images

An acrostic poem uses the letters in a word to begin each line of the poem. All lines of the poem relate to or describe the main topic word. 

In this geometry acrostic, the word median is the t title of the poem. After the letters of the title are written vertically, each line of the poem begins with the corresponding letter of the title. A word, phrase or sentence can be written on the line. The poem must refer to the word, not just a bunch of words that fit the letters. 

Example:  Medians 

Divide a segment
A pair of
New and congruent

Additional resource

Additional information on cross-disciplinary connections are in the article "The Math Poem" From Mathematics Teacher 94 (May 2001):