Ten Holiday Writing Prompts for Students of Poetry

Many English teachers have noticed that students are not wild about poetry, which is passing strange given their childhood love for, say, Dr Seuss and Shel Silverstein. And that’s not even getting into their love for music. Say it loud, say it clear: the lyrics of their beloved songs, found via search engines on-line, are a form of poetry!

All that said, I have found students to be more receptive to reading poetry if they are also allowed to write poetry. You read correctly: “allowed to.” Two of the best ways for doing that are using the strategy of imitation poems (see my imitation poem entries for examples) and using the time-tested concept of fun. In that sense, the December holidays help, too.

The following prompts can be printed separately for random drawing, printed together for student choice, or offered in any way you wish online. In my teaching days, I always picked a prompt and wrote my own “just for fun” first draft. Students love to read their teacher’s early writing. It levels the playing field. It also reinforces the teacher’s assurance that all first drafts need a lot of work and are necessary first steps.

Typically, after they’d had time to write their first drafts, I would put students in small groups to share their work, with a break between each reader for questions and feedback in the form of constructive criticism. Then I had each group choose one from their small circle – either what they consider the best or the most enjoyable – to share with the class at large. The whole class then followed the same model as the small groups: questions for clarification, feedback on what was working and what was not, followed by a chance to go to work on second drafts.

Students like feedback and want to improve their work. Knowing they will meet with a second group comprised of different fellow students for D. 2 readings is usually enough to inspire revision. Having a real audience will do that!

Without further ado, then, here are some fun holiday prompts you can use for poetic inspiration! You can assign as many as you wish (three is a magic number). If your students ask what certain terms in the prompts mean (e.g. “poetic license”), all the better. Learning opportunities work best when it’s the students who are curious. Enjoy!


Fun Holiday Prompt #1:

Pull out a holiday recipe and compose an ode (a poem of high praise) to the item you are baking or cooking. Be sure to include some specific nouns from your ingredients list as well as the smells and tastes (imagery) they offer up as you mix, bake, and ultimately take a bite. If you are baking-challenged or afraid of ovens, you can write after watching another family member or friend do the baking. Read Pablo Neruda. He wrote odes to food (apples, onions, artichokes, etc.) all the time.


Fun Holiday Prompt #2:

Write eight haiku to Santa’s reindeer. Use their specific names and give them distinct personalities and quirks. For the nature requirement, insert climates they visit as Santa makes his rounds.

Do you need the 5-7-5 requirement? Not if you drop it down a chimney in Greenland.

Hint: Their names are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen. Bonus Deer: Rudolph the Nosy One.


Fun Holiday Prompt #3:

Compose a free verse poem to the holiness of the silent house when you are the first one up and the tree and other holiday decorations are lit. Must still be dark outside. Must be done in your jammies (or whatever you wear) with a coffee or tea or hot cocoa or orange juice, paper and pen or pencil on your lap. Listen to the silence and notice that it’s not all that silent. You may, in fact, notice subtle sounds you never do during the noisy bustle of daylight hours. Create some nice similes/metaphors not just for what you hear but what you see, smell, taste, and touch.


Fun Holiday Prompt #4:

Pick a ghost of Christmas past and write a narrative poem about a memorable Christmas Eve or Christmas Day from your childhood. For inspiration, you could read all or parts of Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” Then load your poem with hyphenated adjectives, some of those made-up words (the best kind), sensory details, similes/metaphors, and all the other sweet stuff you find in Thomas. Title your work appropriately: “The Christmas the Tree Fell Down,” “The Christmas Dad Burned the Turkey,” “The Christmas Twenty Cousins Came Over,” “The Christmas Our Dog Ate the Stocking Stuffers.” And so forth.


Fun Holiday Prompt #5:

Write a found poem using words from Christmas songs and carols only (lyrics are easily found online). Mix and match your way to originality. Is it OK to embed some of your own words among the famous ones? But of course! What do you think poetic licenses are for? From the familiar you will create something new and interesting!


Fun Holiday Prompt #6:

If you are suffering another global-warming Christmas (green, brown) or live in warmer climes, write a fantasy poem where you open your front door and step into a winter wonderland of your own making. Think Dorothy opening her door to Munchkinland. The terrain you step into should NOT be your front yard, however. This isn’t Kansas anymore, so avoid stereotypical Christmas towns (as seen in movies on that scourge, the Hallmark Channel) and surprise your readers with a Christmas setting they might not expect!


Fun Holiday Prompt #7:

Write a poem about snow that uses all five senses. Never mention the word in poem or title. That’s right, you need to hear snow, too. Readers want specifics on the sounds it makes, as well as its many looks (it’s not always white… have you seen blue snow in a cold crevice  yet?), tastes, touch sensations, and smells. This doesn’t have to be long. Just amazing. You do amazing, right? (When it’s done, address it to a loved one and slip in into her / his stocking for a Christmas present.)


Fun Holiday Prompt #8:

There are 8 nights to Hanukkah, each bringing a new gift to be opened. Write an 8-stanza poem showing a child opening each gift as the days progress. Show some variety and surprise in those gifts. Use your own imagination for the perfect countdown to the perfect last day.


Fun Holiday Prompt #9:

You are a homeless person on the main street of your town or a nearby one. From that person’s point of view, describe Christmas Eve at midnight. Include actual structures in the setting, but use your imagination for the character and events that he or she witnesses and thoughts that he or she thinks. The poem might include reminisces from his / her own past, or it might chronicle this person finding joy in an unexpected way (e.g. probably one that does not involve material goods).


Fun Holiday Prompt #10:

Compose a “gift poem” celebrating your relationship and common history with the gift recipient (could be a close friend or relative). Include anecdotes, metaphors, imagery. Revise it to perfection and gift it on the day in a wrapped box. Done right, it will mean more than anything clicked to cart on Amazon dot Behemoth and delivered in two days. Honest!


Fun Holiday Prompt #11:

Create three magi of your own imagination. After looking up names of the original threesome, give them unique names and a destination of your own creativity. Where might three wise men or women venture in the world today? For what reason? Provide them with gifts appropriate to whatever it is they followed and whomever they’ve arrived to see. Use the poem to make a statement about our troubled times or to entertain, showing you can still find joy and goodness in our troubled times. Humor is not required but, like icing on gingerbread houses, is always appreciated.


Fun Holiday Prompt #12:

Write a poem centered on Kwanzaa traditions. Among the gifts opened to celebrate Kwanzaa, children often receive a book on African history. Do a bit of research and then write a poem that would help a young child to understand an important aspect of African culture and heritage.