Use this ‘Hamilton’ article to teach six poetic devices

Look for this article in the Wall Street Journal. Find the article here. Words and syllables in the headline are color-coded to reveal similar sounds and rhymes. The article analyzes the lyrics of six songs in Hamilton in a similar fashion, but also uses audio clips and the works of popular recording artists for comparison.

Thank you, Wall Street Journal, for this amazing resource

Buckle up, poetry lovers! This Wall Street Journal article, written by Joel Eastwood and Erik Hinton and published on June 6, promises to brighten your poetry lessons with some Broadway style. The article showcases the hip-hop/musical theater/American history mashup known as Hamilton, written and created by its star, Lin-Manuel Miranda. The article analyzes portions of the lyrics from songs in the musical to illustrate six poetic devices. These captivating patterns of repetition and rhyme combine to lend the production its unique energy. Explore the article here to see how it might fit into your next poetry unit.

In the article, authors Eastwood and Hinton ask and answer this central question:

“Behind the sensational success of Hamilton are some of the most densely packed, complex rhyming lyrics in the history of musicals. How exactly do they work?”

The authors continue on to analyze six key poetic devices and/or terms, using lyrics from the musical combined with an algorithm developed by the Wall Street Journal’s graphics team. Click here for an article about the algorithm’s development.

Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton | Photo: Steve Jurvetson on Flickr | Copyright 2016 | Creative Commons 2.0

Audio clips from Hamilton stars (such as Leslie Odom, Jr.) and rappers past and present (such as Rakim) are embedded into each section of the article to illustrate the six different poetic concepts. Break out the headsets or have your kids bring their earbuds to listen and learn.

As the audio plays, color-coded cubes and their corresponding syllables and words dance across the screen.

Students see and hear the poetic devices in real time. It’s very engaging.

Often, the most difficult part of teaching poetry is finding relevance in the genre. This article should make poetry’s relevance crystal clear and engaging to boot.

Here are the seven concepts and devices this article explores:

1. Perfect End Rhyme…As in squalor and scholar.

2. Internal Rhyme…As in the rhyme between the last syllable of squalor and scholar and the internal syllable in impoverished.

3. Imperfect Rhyme… As in the similar sounding syllables in Scotsman and dropped in.

4. Assonance and Consonance…These two devices are treated together using lyrics by rapper Big Pun for comparison.

5. Multisyllabic Rhyme…As in Socrates and mediocrities.

6. Rhyme Weaving…Using rapper Nas for comparison, this technique repeats a syllable at the end of a rhyme pair and at the beginning of another. Note: This is the one device in the article that I found difficult to hear and understand in the lyrics as provided in the article. Check it out and see what you think.


Three additional sections, (Bringing It Together, Musical Theater, and West Coast Influence), explain how artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Lauryn Hill, and Rakim influenced and inspired Miranda.

Check out the Make Your Own section.

The final section of the article is titled Make Your Own. Students can choose lyrics from a bank of twelve current and past artists to copy and paste into the analyzer. The algorithm then breaks the lyrics into cubes and syllables to reveal sound and rhyme patterns. Students can also enter their own verse (their own poetry or from a site such as PoetryFoundation.org) and analyze those as well.

The analyzer is fun to play around with, but you may need to make this activity meatier (and by that, I mean add some rigor). I can envision students plugging in some lyrics, watching the cubes, and then — about two minutes later — being ready to move on, as in…

“Now what do we do?”

Add some rigor to the task by challenging students to revise their lines to incorporate their choice of poetic devices from those covered in the article. Can they, for example, add a multisyllabic rhyme to their poem?

Don’t you love it when you discover a piece of real-world writing that you can bring into your classroom? When I saw this Wall Street Journal article, I knew it was one to investigate. Obviously, with school starting in a little more than a week, I haven’t used it yet. When I do, I’ll let you know how it goes.


Thanks for reading! For more creative ELA teaching ideas and lesson plans, and news about student writing contests, enter your email below. In return, you’ll receive a free printable PDF you can use with students to write Treasured Object Poems.

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Published by marilynyung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

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