A Seahorse

poem by Beverly McLoughland , illustrated by Lesley McGee

Learning Intention:

I am learning to recognise how a poem has used language features for humorous effect so that I can experiment with the same features in my own writing.

Success Criteria:

  • I can define identify and define what compound nouns are.
  • I can explain how the poet has used a compound noun for a humorous effect.
  • I can experiment with using compound nouns humorously in my own writing.

Read the poem to the class. Ask the class what they think the poem is about after the initial reading. Record students’ observations (that a seahorse doesn’t behave like a ‘land’ horse). Then read the poem again and ask students to pay attention to the following:

  • What is the poet’s message? (A seahorse and a horse behave so differently that the name seahorse seems inappropriate.)
  • What sounds can you hear in the poem? (There is a regular rhythm – 2 beats per line; there is a rhyme scheme – ABCB.)
  • Did you hear any words that are repeated? Why do you think the poet repeated this word? (She repeats the word ‘doesn’t’. Its repetition emphasises the different behaviour of the sea horse and horse).

Explain that the joke of the poem is the unusual compound noun: seahorse. You may wish to explain that a compound noun is a noun made up of two existing words. Most compound nouns are very logical, for example: bedroom, homework and haircut. However, sometimes compound nouns sound a bit strange, just like the word seahorse. If you look into the history of a compound noun, they often make sense. For example, seahorses are tiny fish named for the shape of their head and the name comes from the Ancient Greek hippocampus, meaning horse + sea monster.

Provide students with an overview of the task. They will write a poem in the style of ‘A Seahorse’ about another funny English compound noun. The poem should address how the name of the object doesn’t match its qualities and features. You may also challenge students to write with an ABCB rhyme scheme, or to research the etymology of the compound noun and include details in their poem. A suggested list of compound nouns include:

  • Cobweb
  • Strawberry
  • Eggplant
  • Hodgepodge
  • Hogwash
  • Bulldoze

For example, a poem for the word ‘bulldoze’ could be written as follows:

When I bulldoze

I don’t sleep,

I don’t roar

At flocks of sheep.

I don’t charge

At a bright red flag.

And I don’t snore

My eyelids don’t lag.

No, I knock

And destroy and bash.

New houses to build

And old houses to SMASH!