"There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry "
- Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), American poet
Supplies: Poetry Book(s); Paper and Crayons; Poster Board (optional); Index Cards or Popsicle Sticks
The rich language of poetry is rarely duplicated in other forms of literature. The artistry of arranging beautiful words in unique patterns is a literacy experience that is extremely important to share with children. Poems encourage us to think deeply and take meaning from a limited number of words. What a fantastic way to practice the skill of comprehension and nurture vocabulary development!
For Young Learners
When explaining what poetry is to young children, I like to use the analogy of a puzzle. The author's words are the pieces of the puzzle and they are put together to create a picture in our minds. What do your learners visualize when they hear a specific poem? What is the poet trying to communicate to them? What picture do they see?
Incorporate reading poetry into your weekly reading routine. Read a poem to your children as they keep their eyes closed. Tell them to listen carefully to the beautiful words. Encourage your youngsters to form a picture in their mind's eye. At the end of the poem, ask them to describe what they saw. Have them draw and color a picture to demonstrate what they envisioned. Read the poem again as your learners continue to refine their drawings.
If the poetry book you're using has pictures, show your children the illustration after they have drawn their poetry picture. Make a point of telling them that the picture they drew does not have to match the picture in the book. Words evoke different visuals for each individual. In a classroom, give students time to share their drawings with each other. Write the poem on poster board and arrange your students' pictures around it as a writing display.
Another activity is to give your learners a picture (photo, magazine picture, etc.) and tell them to write 10 - 15 words that come to their minds when they look at the picture. Have them write each word on an index card or Popsicle stick. Once the words are written, have them arrange the cards or sticks in order of how relevant they are to the picture. Then encourage them to write a poem that utilizes those words in that order.
There are many wonderful collections of poetry for young children. Share poetry with your learners on a regular basis, not just as a one-time unit of study. Vocabulary enhancement and comprehension practice are two of the many benefits they will reap from this repeated experience.
Favorite Poetry Collections for Young Children:
• Under the Sun and the Moon and Other Poems by Margaret Wise Brown
• Winter Poems selected by Barbara Rogasky
• The Ice Cream Store by Dennis Lee
• Sunflakes Poems for Children selected by Lilian Moore
• Sing a Song of Popcorn Every Child's Book of Poems selected by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers
• Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers A Collection of Family Poems by Mary Ann Hoberman
• Something BIG Has Been Here by Jack Prelutsky
For Independent Learners
For independent learners, I relate the act of reading poetry to the experience of being a detective. The author's scarce words are clues to the true meaning of the poem. A learner's responsibility is to move through the words, thinking carefully about meaning as he or she reads, and ultimately connecting the dots for understanding.
Again, regularly read poetry together with your learners and discuss the visualizations and meanings. In a classroom, have groups of four students read a poem and share their impressions. Performing or reading poetry aloud is a wonderful experience for learners, which can be done in a classroom or at a kitchen table at home following dinner.
Individual lessons about alliteration, metaphors, similes, and onomatopoeia can be the springboard for regular poetry writing exercises. Challenge your independent learners to identify favorite poets and explain what they like about them. Have them illustrate a favorite poem to show what they see when hearing that particular poem.
Favorite Poetry Books for Independent Learners:
• Let Me Be … The Boss Poems for Kids to Perform by Brod Bagert
• Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
• Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman and Eric Beddows
• Poetry for Young People: Emily Dickinson by Frances Schoonmaker Bolin and Chi Chung
• Insight Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
• Poetry for Young People: African American Poetry by Arnold Rampersad and Marcellus Blount
• Poetry for Young People: Robert Frost by Gary D. Schmidt and Henri Sorensen