St. Patrick’s Day is almost here so it’s a wonderful time to sneak some funny limericks into your March language arts curriculum. The best way to teach limericks is to read lots of limerick examples and then try your hand at writing some!
So . . . just what is a limerick?
- A limerick is a five line poem.
- It’s usually silly or nonsensical and meant to be funny.
- It often contains near rhymes, multiple meaning words and creative spelling.
- It follows a particular rhyme scheme (a pattern of rhyme): AA BB A. The alphabet letters show which lines have the same rhyming words.
- The A lines (typically) have 8 or 9 syllables.
- The B lines (typically) have 5 or 6 syllables
- Limericks usually follow this structure, but they sometimes break the rules too!
Limericks were never considered to be highbrow poetry. In fact, some were very bawdy and considered quite indecent for the sensitive ears of nineteenth century ladies.
What are some good limerick examples?
Reading lots of examples of limericks is really the best (and easiest) way to understand their structure. This first limerick poem, “The Young Lady of Niger,” is a good example of a limerick. Once you’ve read a few, you quickly start to recognize the rhythm of a limerick.
The limerick example below, “Two Seasons,” incorporates words that have more than one meaning (spring, fall) to make some puns. It’s a very punny limerick!
This next limerick example, “The Ocean,” breaks spelling rules to make it funny.
The limerick poem below, “A Flea and a Fly,” is a bit of a limerick rebel. The poem follows the limerick rhyming pattern for the A lines (flue/do/flue), but breaks it by not rhyming the B lines (flee/fly). Even so, this classic limerick gets bonus points for the fl consonant blend sound alliteration!
This next limerick poem, “The Man of Peru” by Edward Lear is just classic fun and silliness.
“The Young Lady with a Bonnet,” is another fun limerick poem by Edward Lear. Lines 1 & 2 have ten syllables which is a the longer length for limericks, so it just goes to show that there is a lot of latitude with these poems. Edward Lear is well-known for his limericks and he broke plenty of limerick “rules”. I personally think it’s cheating a little bit, but Lear would often use the same word in the first and last line (as he did here with the word bonnet). And if the Father of Limericks can do it . . .
Where did limericks come from?
Poems published in an eighteenth century Mother Goose’s Melodies are considered to be some of the earliest limericks. Some speculate the form may have originated in Limerick, Ireland, but it’s really unknown for sure.
How do I write a limerick?
A limerick is a relatively easy form of poetry to write because it is a short poem of five lines and follows a specific rhyme scheme: AA BB A
Here’s a template to follow of a basic limerick pattern.
What are some tips & tricks for writing limericks?
Read lots of limerick examples before you start writing your own limericks.
Reading several limerick examples is the very best way to get a good feel for this type of poem.
Consider a classic start to your limericks. Many limericks begin with . . .
There once was a . . .
There was a (young/old) (man/woman/lady) from . . .
Do you have to start this way? No, and there are plenty of limericks that don’t. It really just gives you a starting point.
Here is an example of a limerick that doesn’t start this way:
Use words that are easier to rhyme.
Remember: Lines 1, 2, and 5 all rhyme with each other, so it’s important to consider this as you are writing a limerick. Some words are easier to rhyme than others.
An online rhyming site like rhymer.com or a rhyming dictionary can be a big help too. It’s a lot easier to come up with rhyming words for cat than it is for leopard. (However . . . I wouldn’t want to stifle anyone’s creativity. You can make-up words for limericks, so it can be done!)
Start with the end in mind.
The last line (line 5) of a limerick is like a funny punch line to a joke, so it’s sometimes easier to think of the end of the limerick and work your way back. If you know where you’re headed with a limerick, it makes writing the first part that much easier.
Fill in the middle part (BB) last.
Writing the two lines in the middle of the limerick are sometimes easier to fill in once lines 1, 2, and 5 are (somewhat) decided.
Be willing to change words and move things around. Just like writing any other poem, your first attempt is not likely to be your final product. Play around with language and word choice.
Not only are rhyming sites helpful, but for word choice, thesaurus.com is a tremendous resource. You can also be silly and make up words if you need or want to.
Pay very close attention to the rhythm and the stressed syllables of words.
Limericks follow an anapest rhythm which is very sing-songy, so you’ll want to pay attention to which syllables get stressed in words. If you clap (I like to hum) a limerick, you can hear where the stressed syllables happen in words.
As you are writing a limerick, you will want to choose words that make sense for the rhythm of your limerick.
Sometimes you’re going to want a one syllable word, sometimes a two syllable word or more. With multi-syllable words, you might need a syllable that is stressed in the first syllable (COULDn’t, HIStory) while others are stressed in the second or subsequent syllable (aROUND, beLONGing, vacciNAtion).
What can I write a limerick about?
Absolutely anything! If you look at the examples above, they’re often written about people, but bugs, animals, prehistoric creatures and more are all fair game topics.
Limericks provide plenty of latitude for creative (poetic) license. Remember, limericks are not serious poetry, but are meant to be fun and funny. You can certainly break the rules, but you want to intentionally break them!
I’ve been having fun writing limericks based on some of Aesop’s fables. Here’s one example:
Why is Edward Lear called the Father of Limericks?
Edward Lear was a 19th century poet and artist who became the best known for writing in the limerick style. Interestingly, Lear never referred to his poems as limericks, but simply called them, “nonsense”.
- Edward Lear was born May 12, 1812 in Holloway, England. He was the youngest to survive of the twenty-one children born in his family.
- In 1816, when Edward was four years old, he and his old sister, Ann had to leave the family home because of the family’s limited financial resources. Ann was 21 years his senior and raised Edward as a mother figure.
- Lear had many medical conditions throughout his life. He suffered from many grand mal epileptic seizures, bronchitis, asthma, and later in life, partial blindness.
- At the age of sixteen, he started to get paid for his art. In 1830, at the age of nineteen, Lear published his first book, Illustrations of the Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots. His paintings were compared to naturalist John James Audubon.
- In 1846, Lear published A Book of Nonsense, a very popular series of nonsensical limericks that he also illustrated.
- Although Lear was a gifted fine illustrator, he chose to illustrate his funny poems in a very simple black line cartoony style . . . decades before Shel Silverstein.
- In 1848-49, Lear traveled extensively to Greece, Egypt, India, and Ceylon where he painted the exotic places he visited.
- Lear was able to play the accordian, flute, and guitar, but mostly the piano. He liked to set poems to music, composing music for Tennyson’s poetry as well as his own.
- In 1871 he published Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets.
- Decades before Dr. Seuss, Lear was making up silly words and illustrating his poems about the Quangle Wangles, Pobbles, and Jumblies.
- Lear never married. He died on January 29, 1888 at 75 years of age in Liguria, Italy.
- In honor of Edward Lear, National Limerick Day is celebrated annually on his birthday, May 12th.
Want even more limericks for kids?
Or check out these limerick books on Amazon: