Alliteration

Alliteration is the repeating sound of a consonant, sounds like B, C, D, but not A,E,I,O,U. Alliteration is the sound of any letter except a vowel. Sometimes several consonants play together to make sounds like ‘blue blood’, or ‘cold clouds’. Alliteration comes naturally to all of us, including poets. Without even thinking about it we use it in nicknames, find it in comics and nursery rhymes. Desperate Dan, Korky the Cat, Lucy Locket. Advertisers use it. Poets sing it. Children chant it. Poets who spoke Old English over a thousand years ago, and even earlier in the much older British language (Welsh), enjoyed alliteration.

PRESENTATION

Here are two poems which use alliteration, one modern, one written in the last century. First read Gillian Clarke’s ‘The Titanic’ aloud to the class. At first they should just listen for the meaning and the words. If the idea is new to the class, read it again slowly, explaining as you go. Then ask the class to listen for alliteration as you read the poem.

The Titanic

Under the ocean where water falls
over the decks and tilted walls
where the sea come knocking at the great ship’s door,
the band still plays
to the drum of the waves,
to the drum of the waves.

Down in the indigo depths of the sea
the white shark waltzes gracefully
down the water stairways, across the ballroom floor
where the cold shoals flow
and ghost dancers go,
ghost dancers go.

Their dresses are frayed, their shoes are lost.
their jewels and beads and bones are tossed
into the sand, all turned to stone,
as they sing in the sea
eternally,
eternally.

Currents comb their long loose hair,
dancers sway forever where
the bright fish nibble their glittering bones,
till they fall asleep
in the shivering deep,
in the shivering deep.

Gillian Clarke

DISCUSSION

1. There is no point in just finding alliteration in a poem. Discussion should begin with language and meaning. Encourage discussion about the way alliteration (and other poetry effects) work in the poem, and why the poet chose this kind of language. Once they have grasped the idea, offer other poems which use alliteration, and ask the children to find examples from the class library.

2. Ask the children to count the rhythm in each line. Suggest that they find the rhythm by reading the poem aloud. Guide them to listen for the stressed syllables. They should discover that the first three lines of each verse have three stresses, and the final three lines in each verse have two stresses. Write one verse on the board to show them the stresses, and read the poem so that they can hear them

Under the ocean where water falls
ov
er the decks and tilted walls
the band still plays
to the drum of the waves
to the drum of the waves

ACTIVITIES

1. Ask the class to think about examples of alliteration in comics, advertisements etc. Invent some of their own. They might use examples like Korky the Cat to make alliteration out of their own or their friends’ names - nothing nasty allowed!

2. Give the children copies of Walter de la Mare’s poem, ‘Silver’, which follows. Then they should read the poem for themselves, first for meaning, and then to listen for alliterative sounds.

3. The class might write a group poem using alliteration. Useful subjects, where sound would be important to description, might be the wind, the sea, the city, the street.

4. Each child could attempt a poem of their own, using alliteration.

Silver

Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way and that she peers and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep;
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws, and silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.

Walter de la Mare

Once the class has found examples of alliteration in ‘The Titanic’ and ‘Silver’, they could also look for assonance, enjambment, rhyme, rhythm and an example of personification. Special articles, with a poem to illustrate each poetry term, each one a lesson for Literacy Hour, appears in alphabetic order in this section.