How to Write a Newfangled
Yankee Doodle Poem

by Bruce Lansky

Imagine that Yankee Doodle goes into the stable to saddle up his pony one morning so he can ride to town, but his pony has lost a shoe. So Yankee Doodle's got to find a new way to get to town.

When your students try this poetry excercise, let their imaginations go wild. See how many two-syllable words they can come up with that Yankee Doodle can ride to town or take to town with him. For example, he could ride a monkey, a chicken, a turkey, a rabbit, or a rocket. Or he could take a blankey or a Visa with him.

Once they've come up with a way for Yankee Doodle to get to town, then they've got to change the story around a little to make their new rhyme work. For example:

Yankee Doodle's Monkey Ride
Yankee Doodle went to town (A)
riding on a monkey. (B)
He had to take a shower quick, (C)
because he smelled so funky. (B)

© Bruce Lansky, reprinted from My Dog Ate My Homework, published by Meadowbrook Press.

Notice that the last word in the second line, "monkey," rhymes with the last word in the fourth line, "funky." The rhyme pattern of this poem is A (town), B (monkey), C (quick), B (funky).

If your students want Yankee Doodle to ride to town on a rabbit, they need to find a new third line and a new fourth line that ends in a word that rhymes with "rabbit." How about "habit"? Let's see if we can make up a little story that ends in "habit," so that the rhyme pattern of the new poem will be A, B, C, B.

Yankee Doodle On A Rabbit
Yankee Doodle went to town (A)
riding on a rabbit. (B)
He rode around in circles (C)
'cause it got to be a habit. (B)

© Bruce Lansky

Your students could have Yankee Doodle ride to town with a blankey (Every time he had to sneeze/he used it as a hankie.) or he could even ride to France with a golden Visa (But he could not afford to buy/Da Vinci's Mona Lisa.)

They could also have Mrs. Doodle ride to town on a gator (She didn't tip the gator/so the hungry gator ate 'er.) or on a spider (She sprayed herself with bugspray/so the spider wouldn't bite 'er.)

The adventures that Yankee Doodle and his mother can have are limited only by your students' imaginations and abilities to tell funny little stories in rhythm and rhyme. Oh, I almost forgot to tell you about rhythm. Here's what your students need to know:

After they've written their new versions of "Yankee Doodle," have them sing them out loud. If the new words don't fit comfortably, then the lines probably have too many or two few syllables. Add a few or subtract a few, as the case may be, and see if the lines sound better when sung.

If your students are curious about rhythm and want to know more, try singing the original "Yankee Doodle" using "DUM" for all the accented or stressed syllables and "da" for all the unaccented or unstressed syllables. You'll find it goes like this:

DUM da DUM da DUM da da,
DUM da DUM da DUM da.
DUM da DUM da DUM da da,
da DUM da DUM da DUM da.

Now see if your students' new version of "Yankee Doodle" has the same rhythm (DUM da) pattern. That is, substitute "DUM" for all the accented or stressed syllables and "da" for all the unaccented or unstressed syllables.

OK, now that your students know how to make sure that the rhythm and rhyme patterns of their newfangled "Yankee Doodle" poems are correct, let them write a few on their own. If any of your students writes a great poem, be sure to submit it to our Newfangled Yankee Doodle contest!

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