How to write a cento poem: Patchwork poetry for teens

by | Jun 19, 2008 | Poetry

Teach children how to write a cento poem (also called "patchwork poetry" because it's pieced together from lines of other poems).

Cen·to: an original poem made using lines from the works of various poets.

In recent posts I’ve shared ideas on teaching children to write cinquain poems and poems of comparison. Today, let your middle and high school kids have fun with cento poetry!

Cento, sometimes called “patchwork poetry,” is well named because of the way the poem is assembled. (The term cento actually comes from the Latin word for patchwork.) As a quilt is pieced together from assorted patches of fabric, the cento poem is put together with lines from other sources.

To make a patchwork poem, each line must be taken from a different poem. When the lines are put together, they must make sense. The poem doesn’t have to rhyme, but rhyming adds a nice touch.

An Example of Cento Poetry

Here’s a rhyming cento by one of my former students, Rachel:

Round paradise is such a wall, (Monro)

And, hearing fairy voices call, (Webb)

And the streams run golden, (Lee)

Where there is no grass at all. (Stephens)


Harold Monro, “Real Property
Mary Webb, “Green Rain
Laurie Lee, “Day of These Days
James Stephens, “White Fields

How to Write a Cento

  1. Read some poems. Take time to look through a few poetry books or explore some poetry online. Enjoy the poems. Anthologies, which contain many poems, make the search easier.
  2. Get started. Find a line you especially like, and make that the first line of your patchwork poem. Write the poet’s last name in parentheses at the end of the line, as in Rachel’s example above.
  3. Add more lines. Select lines 2, 3, and 4 in the same way. Choose your lines carefully—your poem must make sense.
  4. Take the challenge!
    • Can you make your poem rhyme? It’s not necessary, but it can be a fun challenge.
    • Try to make the beats sound right.
    • Tenses should agree.
    • Person should agree. In other words, pick lines that have been written either all in first person or all in third person.
  5. Give credit. At the end, list each poet’s full name. Include the name of the poem in quotes.

One More Example

Here’s a cento about spring. This poem doesn’t rhyme.

Speak gently, Spring, and make no sudden sound, (Lew Sarett)

I’d much rather sit there in the sun. (Krauss)

The golden crocus reaches up, (Crane)

And everywhere the great green smell, (Worth)

A coat of clover cloaks the hills. (Prelutsky)

The wind is passing through, (Rossetti)

Stirs the dancing daffodil  (Coleridge)

Deep in their long-stemmed world. (Brown)


Lew Sarett, “Four Little Foxes
Ruth Krauss, “Song”
Walter Crane, “The Crocus
Kathryn Worth, “Smells
Jack Prelutsky, “The Four Seasons
Christina Rossetti, “Who Has Seen the Wind?”
Sara Coleridge, “The Months
Margaret Wise Brown, “Green Stems”

Cento poems can be a little challenging for younger kids, but your upper-elementary students might enjoy giving it a try too.

Photo: Cindy Funk, courtesy of Creative Commons


  1. Cameron Stuart

    Part 2:

    Obviously there is a difference between the above, and just throwing together any old lines, but I would say one might circumvent this issue by asking the students to keep an informal log of the choices and decisions being made in terms of the material they are utilizing.

    Really enjoyed reading this post, just thought I’d make a case for allowing strangeness to be a force of fertile possibility, not just one of problematic obscurity! It can also help in a myriad of ways when it comes to dealing with texts and other works that are complex and engage systems of metaphor, comparison, and symbolism, among others!

    • Kim Kautzer

      Cameron, thanks for the kind words and thoughtful feedback. I think your ideas are outstanding for older students who already have a grasp of poetry, symbolism, and complexity of theme. I write to the parent or teacher who is not necessarily comfortable teaching poetry and is looking for ways to make it less scary and overwhelming (both for him/herself and the kids)!

  2. Cameron Stuart


    I’d actually push back against the idea “the poem must make sense”

    I think celebrating odd juxtaposition and strange associative leap is really important in the learning of poetry’s wide range and variants, and some of the best cento works don’t “make sense” in a rational or narrative or even sometimes a semantic way.

    Rather like a visual collage not needing to explain its interlinkage, a cento is a great opportunity to explore how language can be paired or ordered together, even if that fit is not easily explainable or obvious.

  3. ~Lee~

    I love this! I’d never heard of cento poems before but often when reading poetry a single line stays with me — now I have a way to collect all those lines into something new AND remember which poet wrote them! Thank you so much! 🙂

    • Kim Kautzer

      Aren’t these fun, Lee? My students used to come up with the most creative examples!

  4. Mohammad

    I thought centos were supposed to make sense, as you said. I just dont understand how the examples made sense.

    • Kim Kautzer

      Sorry if you felt confused! The poem must make sense in that the lines should sound like they could go together, even though they came from different poems.

      Poetry is fluid and filled with imagery. Because of the use of figurative language, poems don’t always “make sense” to the immediate eye. With cento poetry, you just want to stick to a theme. The first example describes a scene where one might find fairies. The second example brings to mind the season of spring.

      Poetry is often symbolic and not necessarily easy to understand, but it can still make sense in its own way. Hope that helps!

  5. Kim

    I’m wondering if you have a cento mixed up with another kind of poem, perhaps? There’s no rule for either poem or line length with a cento—it’s completely up to the poet!

  6. bob robberts

    that line only has 4 lines
    its supposed to have six for it to be a real cento poem.



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