Rubbing words together

Would you like to learn a simple exercise to create interesting imagery and fresh poems? I was honored to receive an award for teaching poetry writing to children, and this was one of the main techniques/exercises I used (I’ve used this exercise with adults, too – in workshops/seminars). I learned this technique from Babara Juster Esbensen. I like to think of it as “rubbing words together to make sparks”.

Now I want you to step outside of yourself when working on this exercise. You are going to write a poem that describes something you see – it can be a landscape, something happening in the city, on a forest trail, in your yard, in the mountains, in space, etc….Yes, you can be taking part in it, but I want you to try to not create a “what am I going through now?” emotion poem. There is nothing wrong with those kinds of poems, but we want to CONNECT with the world around us. Poems are a fabulous way to connect and be present!

Use a blank piece of paper and create three bubbles or boxes – make them large enough because you’re going to fill them with words. Label the first one NOUNS, the 2nd one VERBS, and the third one ADJECTIVES. Then fill those bubbles/boxes. Take your time, and be creative (use a thesaurus or online lists, if it helps). Here are my word bubbles:

Word bubbles.jpeg

Once you’re satisfied with your words, put them together! Choose one Adjective, one Noun, one Verb, and put them on your paper, in that order. You have the start of a poem!

From under my                            (I chose Reckless, Pebble, Rolls)

These are words you may not normally put together, so the idea is for these word combinations to rub together to SPARK IMAGES and IDEAS in your mind. Hopefully more words start to come as the image unfolds further.

Choose more words from your bubbles/boxes to continue writing your poem.

If you are writing about an object, then give it a personality! Are you going inside of something and having an adventure there? Are you having a conversation with a supernova? Are you walking across the ocean floor?
Below is what I came up with (with my words choices highlighted) – just a short poem about how I unwittingly helped a pebble to reach her dream destination : )

If you have a little trouble at the start, don’t criticize yourself – just choose different words and start again. Be patient with yourself, allow the ideas to flow freely (even if you think they seem “weird”), and have FUN!

Feel free to share your poems with me!

This is a fun exercise, and I like to use it when I feel “stuck”, or have a creative block.


Home at last, words highlighted



(photo from


Published by Carol

Carol became addicted to the cathartic and highly personal nature of poetry as a child. She has taught poetry writing and appreciation to children and adults, and has had the good fortune to serve as a poet-in-residence for Clark Elementary School in Franklin, Indiana. She has also presented poetry workshops for librarians at the Children & Young People’s Division library conferences, and was awarded “Outstanding Teaching in the Field of Poetry” by the Barbara Juster Esbensen teaching award committee. Carol’s poems have been published in anthologies, journals, and magazines such as Frogpond, Branches, The Journal of Modern Haiku, The Vision, and Cricket. Holding a B.A. in Music, Carol has performed in the U.S., Canada, and the UK. Ensembles to her credit include Shilombish, White Elk, Zionsville Flute Choir, American Crow. As well as being a vocalist, Carol also performs on silver flute, Native American style flute, bass guitar, and bass lute. Also an avid equestrian, Carol is a certified Equine Sports Massage Therapist, and loves to spend time with her mule, Andromeda.

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