“They don’t really seem to understand how to read poetry yet,” my administrator says in September.
“Well, not yet. It’s only September, and we are just starting to closely read poems,” I reply.
“Don’t you think it might be better to wait until spring for this?” she asks. “You know, when they are better readers and are more able to analyze?”
This discussion followed an observation by my administrator in my fourth-grade classroom last fall. Over the last couple of years I have been trying to weave more reading and writing of poetry into my classroom. Sure, April is a great time for everyone to do a poetry unit, but saving poetry for only the springtime makes it seem “fluffy” and less important. Luckily I had a discussion with my administrator and convinced her that it was worthwhile to read and write poetry throughout the year.
There are many benefits of reading and writing poetry in the classroom. Here are just a few. Poetry . . .
- builds a sense of community,
- provides examples of rich language,
- builds oral reading fluency,
- provides opportunities for speaking and listening,
- builds vocabulary,
- provides opportunities for close reading,
- gives us accessible texts for teaching foundational skills of phonemic awareness and phonics,
- is a genre where struggling writers can be successful, and
- is fun and motivating!
With our busy, jam-packed days, how can we make reading and writing poetry a natural part of our classrooms? Here are a few ways I have been able to weave more poetry into my classroom.
Start the Year with Writing Poetry
Poetry can be daunting to some young writers who are afraid to do it “wrong,” but it can be very liberating if introduced in the right way. Poems don’t always have to have proper punctuation, structure, or complete sentences. For students who are reluctant to write, this can be very liberating, making them willing to take risks. Poetry can also be used to help build your learning community.
Here are some good topics for early poems:
- Favorites/least favorites
Poem of the Week
Last year I started each week with a new poem. My choice of poems was intentional. I chose them by season, upcoming events and holidays, themes, and literary and comprehension skills. We read and reread each poem throughout the week for just a few minutes each time, usually at the beginning of reading workshop.
There are many places to find poems to share with your class:
Dig through books on your poetry shelf. Mine was a bit dusty, but I found several gems in there. I like to use a mix of poems that are entertaining, such as poems from Jack Prelutsky and Kenn Nesbitt, and those that make students think more deeply, such as poems by Mattie Stepanek.
Use popular songs as poetry. Although not all songs are appropriate to use, my class enjoyed analyzing Katy Perry’s “Roar” last year.
Search online. There are several excellent sites dedicated to poetry for children. Kenn Nesbitt’s Poetry 4 Kids allows kids to read, listen to, and rate poems. Poets.org (from the Academy of American Poets) has many poems for children written by popular poets. Classical poems are available from Story.it. These range from humorous to solemn. Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s site, The Poem Farm, is a treasure trove of poems and lesson ideas.
Our purposes differed, but here are a few lenses through which we read the poems:
- Close reading for message, purpose, theme
- Analysis of poetic devices
- Word study of vocabulary or spelling patterns
- Mentor texts for word choice and structure
- Read for information—nonfiction poems
- Analyze author’s craft
Writing poetry can often get pushed aside as we work to stay on track with a curriculum map or district expectations of being on the right lesson at the right time. Making time to teach a few lessons on writing poetry and making it a workshop choice is worth it. It gives children a creative outlet and a break from always writing longer pieces. Why not craft some digital poetry on Storybird or enter a poem in a contest?
Morning time, snack time, and free-choice time are excellent times to allow students to make found poems, explore magnetic poetry, write and share poems, and read poetry to each other.
I keep a poetry anthology handy so I can share a poem or two if we finish something early or if the assembly is going to start 10 minutes later than expected. Once you start, students will remind you to read from it when these moments occur.
Although my administrator did not return to see how well my students could analyze poetry for meaning, theme, and structure by the end of the year, it didn’t matter. Poetry became an integral part of our community—a beautiful, common language created through shared experiences.