I have always loved poetry. I’m not sure if the love began when my grandparents gave me my first poetry book, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, or if it was because the first time a teacher responded with excitement about my writing, it was a poem. All I know is that throughout my life, poetry is what I’ve returned to. It’s where I go when life throws me a curveball. It’s where I go when writing is hard. It’s where I go when the world gets crazy. It’s where I find words when there really aren’t any. Poetry brings me joy.
Although poetry has always helped me right the ways of the world, it has saved me in the classroom as well. Poetry is peppered across my school year, but I must confess I have always especially loved it in the spring. When we are at school, April is full of testing, and poetry seems to lighten the tone and lift the learning during this intense time. It’s the place that our youngest writers enter with ease and grace. It’s the genre that saves us when libraries call for their books and bookrooms start to close. It’s the words we can send home with students, and now, it is the genre that helps us teach in this challenging time.
Recently I was in a Zoom conversation with a group of kindergarten teachers. We were discussing ways to get accessible text to our early and emergent readers. In the conversation we were problem solving the challenge of finding books and text for these readers. Teachers were searching for text young readers could read along with or read on their own. It wasn’t long before one of the teachers talked about having some success with poetry. The Zoom room exploded with ideas: ideas for finding poetry with read-aloud capabilities online, ways to create our own poetry with read-along sound, ideas about doing a shared writing poem that children could reread, ways to share student poetry with peers.
Although poetry works all the time, we can’t overlook the power it might have for us right now when we aren’t in the same spaces, when children are writing from home, when books aren’t going home and libraries are closed.
One of the best things about poetry is that it is easy to access digitally. It’s also easy to write, so we can create our own poems to share that are a good match for our community. I know what you’re thinking: Who, me? Write poetry? No way. Yes, you. You can write poetry. It’s a forgiving genre. It gives us room to play and grow.
As you think about poetry for your learning community, here are some of my go-to resources.
Want to teach poetry but unsure how to begin? Start here:
Kids’ Poems by Regie Routman: This is an older series, but it remains a favorite. Available for grades K–4, each book talks about the teaching of poetry but also provides mentor text poems written by children. Kids easily transfer what they learn from these young poets into their own poetry writing.
Poems Are Teachers by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater: In her book, Amy connects poetry to the writing we do across genres. She helps us step into the possibilities of poetry for lifting our young writers and shares mentor poems for teaching particular concepts. It’s a must-have for your collection.
Digital Mentor Poems
If you’re interested in writing your own poems for your learning community and not sure where to begin, or you want mentor poetry for your students, I’d suggest these resources.
The Poem Farm: The Poem Farm is my first stop for all things poetry. Here you can find poems sorted by topic or by technique to read to students and use as mentors. One of my personal favorite collections for teaching is Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s 2013 challenge: Drawing into Poems. For our young writers, sometimes drawing is the perfect way into a poem. Seriously—you could spend hours here finding treasures.
Irene Latham, Artspeak: There’s so much possibility here. Across several years, Irene has used art as an inspiration for poetry. Sometimes an image is the perfect way into a poem. Writers can try some of her images or find their own to get started. Additionally, it is often interesting to have a group of people write to the same image. It’s always interesting to see the different ways people will write poems about the same thing.
Laura Purdie Salas: Speaking of images, for 2020 Laura wrote image poems each day. Often her poems lend themselves to mentors for informational writing. Make sure to click on the links to find “post categories,” where you’ll discover other useful treasures.
These are just a few of the many possibilities for digital mentors. Of course, we can create our own mentors or, as I was reminded by a teacher in our kindergarten conversation, use the poems our kids write. They love seeing each other’s work right now, and bonus points for anything that has the voice of a friend added.
Poems to Read Aloud
Here are some sites for poems that younger students might be able to use to read along during an online read aloud.
The Poem Farm (audio): Yes, it’s back to the Poem Farm we go. Maybe I should title this article “The Gifts from Amy Ludwig VanDerwater.” Here are the poems that have audio recordings with them that Amy has shared.
Kenn Nesbitt’s Poetry for Kids is a great stop for poetry with audio recordings.
I’m still working to find more poems with audio. I think these sites demonstrate what might be possible with kids. As we’re all separated, who wouldn’t want to hear a poem from a friend?
Poetry provides almost endless possibilities in this pandemic. There are many more resources that can help us use poetry to lift learners in this time of crisis teaching. Poetry can take us away from our screens in search of image and inspiration. It can help us find the words that might come close to describing all that is happening. It can help us build bridges to writing and open doors that support our earliest readers. Poetry can bring us joy in this challenging time.