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Guided writing exercises are a great way to condition your writing muscles. Since April is National Poetry Month, I wanted to share a how-to post related to poetry. I was first introduced to Wendy Bishop’s 15-Sentence Portrait Poem in a graduate-level creative writing class. While this exercise is often composed in paragraph form, I’ve adapted it as a poetry exercise.


The following poem about my grandfather resulted from this 15-Sentence Portrait Poem. I later used it as a classroom example in a lesson plan with  high school students. Writing teachers should most definitely write with their students! Feel free to check out my Grandpa Red pantoum poem over at Misadventures in Strange Places as well.


Image of 15-Sentence Portrait Poem "Grouchy"

15-Sentence Portrait Poem Guidelines


For a title, choose words for an emotion or a color that represents an important person in your life. You will not mention this person’s name in the writing.


1. For the first-line starter, choose one of the following:

• You stand there… / No one is here… / In this (memory, photograph, dream, etc.), you are… / I think sometimes… / The face is… / We had been… / Now complete this sentence.

2. Write a sentence with a color in it.

3. Write a sentence with a part of the body in it.

4. Write a sentence with a simile (a comparison using like or as).

5. Write a sentence of over 15 words.

6. Write a sentence under eight words.

7. Write a sentence with a piece of clothing in it.

8. Write a sentence with a wish in it.

9. Write a sentence with an animal in it.

10. Write a sentence in which three or more words alliterate; that is they begin with the same initial consonant, as in “Suzie sells seashells by the seashore.”

11. Write a sentence with two commas.

12. Write a sentence with a smell and a color in it.

13. Write another sentence with a simile.

14. Write a sentence with four words or less in it.

15. Write a sentence to end this portrait that uses the word or words you chose for a title.


I hope you have some fun with this! Here are a couple more examples produced by students:


Image of 15-Sentence Portrait Poem "Strong"

Image of 15-Sentence Portrait Poem "Smile"



Have you tried this exercise or ones similar to it?


Permission must be granted by Jeri Walker to use the images in this post.

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