National Poetry Month

It's April, which means blossoming trees and flowers, warming up the lawn mower, and dealing with seasonal allergies, for many of us.  It's also National Poetry Month! 

POEM can be a four-letter word that too often strikes fear in the hearts of many teachers.  Do you remember learning about poetry? Sure you do - we were in grade school, searching for words that rhymed, pushed beyond "Roses are red, violets are blue...", and later striving to comprehend poetry that was seemingly written in another language - or at least written in another millennium.  Well, while that last part might be true, there is no reason to be afraid to teach kids about poetry!   

WHY poetry, you might ask?  

  • Poems can be a fantastic way to build early literacy skills, with repeated phrases and patterns.
  • Reluctant readers can benefit from reading poetry, getting a sense of rhythm and rhyme, and most poems are short enough to appeal to even an emerging reader.
    by Paul Fleischman
  • Read poems to build fluency!  Partner reading poems with two voices can be less intimidating than many regular fluency passages.  Paul Fleischman's Joyful Noise is a wonderful resource!  The style of text is quite unique, split into two columns, one for each voice; and the subject matter is interesting as well, exploring the life, habitats, and characteristics of various insects.
  • Many poems are downright funny - whether a play on words or a humorous topic or ending, who doesn't need more laughter in their classroom?!

If you have other reasons for using poetry in the classroom, please leave us a comment below and let us know your reasons. We'd love to hear from you!

Let's see HOW you might approach using poetry.

Use one idea or pick a few - just don't let poetry scare you off!

1.  Start with something you already know and enjoy - chances are if you enjoy it, so will your students.  It could be an anthology of fun poems, a seasonal selection, or you could focus on the work of one particular author.  If your school doesn't spend some time on the works of Dr. Seuss, this would be the perfect time to do so! 

When we were young, we loved the books of Shel Silverstein!  These poems also were among the first that forged a connection between verse and our own lives.  {What kid has never wanted to sell his or her sister?}  Chances are your kids will be able to see themselves in these poems just as we did years ago.

You can also start with a simple children's book that most know and love and use that as a springboard for exploring rhythm and rhyme.
2.  Consider doing an author study beyond the two fabulous authors listed above.  Go to your library and ask for picture books that are done in rhyme, such as Hiccupotomus, by Aaron Zenz, who we met at nErDcampMI, and who will even do a school visit if you're interested.  Explore the fun books and poems by Jack Pretlusky. You'll be chuckling before you leave the library!

3.  Introduce your students to middle-grades books written in verse.  Here is a fun list from Alice Fan at Riffle Books.  Another wonderful list of 14 Inspiring Chapter Books Written in Verse is posted by Erica her equally inspiring blog What Do We Do All Day?  

A few of our favorites are shown here: 



4.  Use nursery rhymes!  We've discovered that the increasing number of standards to cover in kindergarten and first grade means many teachers who used to spend time exploring the rhythm and cadence of nursery rhymes can no longer afford as much class time to do so.  We're amazed that so many of our students don't know these basic childhood nursery rhymes.   

Students also love what has been called "fractured" fairy tales and nursery rhymes, tales and rhymes with a slight twist diverting from the original form.  Check out Bruce Lansky's Mary Had a Little Jam, or any of Lucille Colandro's books in the style of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.

We have a simple cause and effect comprehension resource in our TpT store that uses nursery rhymes in a few cause and effect activities.  If you're interested, here follow the link.  

{It's only $2.00 and the graphic organizers can be used with any book, poem, or story.}

5.  Consider using songs and raps!  Music is an important component of any elementary classroom, so put it to work for you.  What could be more fun than a Karaoke Day?  Check online for the lyrics to any fun popular song (always preview and go for the "clean" version, if need be), and let you kids have a blast reading and lip-syncing.  It's reading, it's music, rhythm and rhyme, and serious fun!  

Here are some lesson plans for using music and rap for students in grades 3-5 from Scholastic.

If you work with upper elementary, middle or high school students, check out the Northern Nevada Writing Project's WritingFix for some interesting lesson plans using songs.  Look at this lesson using John Mayer's song Waiting on the World to Change.

© 2008 Sony Music Entertainment

6.  Have a monthly (or quarterly) memorize-a-poem challenge.  Give your kids a couple of options by using seasonal poems - or allow them to find their own poem to memorize.  If allowed at your school, give a small prize (maybe a freezer-pop, special pencil or pen, or a dog-ate-my-homework pass) for those who can perform the poem.  Once again, Erica from What Do We Do All Day? to the rescue with a lot of ideas and even a link to a freebie printable with poems ready to distribute.  We agree with Erica, a poem memorized stays with you for life!  

Another fun resource is this collection: Poems to Learn by Heart by Caroline Kennedy.  

If you are thinking this is just "one more thing" to do, please give it a try. Your students will love it and you'll be amazed that years later they will still remember this activity.  We have students who still come back to visit and will spout off part of the poem they memorized for Halloween years ago.  Seriously. Way. Cool.

7.  Divide your class into small groups and have each group research and learn about one of the many types of poetry:  cinquain, haiku, limerick, diamante, acrostic, etc.  Your students will love teaching their classmates about that particular style of poetry.  Not sure what these are?  Begin here, with, or look at Kathi Mitchell's descriptions.

Be sure to also check out Lisa Dabbs' article for Edutopia for some fabulous ideas for new and veteran teachers alike.

Scholastic and ReadWriteThink have some amazing resources, too.  Which brings us to our final idea...

8.  Celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day - April 21, 2016, with your students!  While all of April is National Poetry Month, take this one day to help foster a love for poetry with your students.  Invite them to select a poem - or write their own - to carry with them all day.  Perhaps you can have them slip a poem into the pocket of a special family member, too.  If you have time for them to share their poems, even better - but that's not necessary.  Just carrying a small slip of paper with a message that speaks to them is enough.  More than enough.

We hope you found some inspiration here, and perhaps even look at sharing poetry with your kids as an exciting way to share written language, a way to boost reading skills, and even an enjoyable way to create something that will last well past your time with these particular students - an interest in poetry!

Please leave us a comment if you found something of value here - or have an idea of your own to share.  We'd love to hear from you about how you use poetry in your classroom! 

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