Does anyone else feel like teaching poetry is really really hard? Because I do.
I don’t know if it is because poetry is so abstract. Or maybe I am just not a very poetic person. Either way, it’s hard for me. But, after six years of struggling through this concept of teaching poetry, I have finally found some ideas that I love and my kids grasp.
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In full disclosure, I have been wanting to write this blog for almost two years now. I have always used The Important Book and the song “What a Beautiful World” in my poetry lessons. But two years ago, I incorporated the book “Love that Dog” into my poetry unit and it was the most beautiful lesson I have ever done. This blog post always seems to get pushed to the back burner when I go to write. So I finally decided since Thanksgiving is right around the corner and our poetry unit is upon us- that it was high time to share about my poetry lesson from two years ago!
Teaching Poetry with The Important Book
When I intro poetry I always start out using this anchor chart. (I’m sorry the picture is such poor quality, this is the only picture I could find of it and #tbh it is October and I am writing this blog for my poetry unit I am teaching in November soooo… I don’t have this years anchor made yet.) Debbie Diller shared this with us when she was consulting for our campus. (She talks more about it in this book!)
We talk about what poems look like and what they sound like. We talk about rhyme, rhythm, and repetition in poems. I also post a bunch of laminated poems on the white board for students to look at and compare to.
Of course, we also talk about the fact that poems don’t have to rhyme.
That’s when I introduce “The Important Book” by Margaret Wise Brown. <<<Just go ahead and click that link and buy that book because you will want to use it in your poetry unit, I promise!
Each page in The Important Book is a generic item. The author lists important things about that item. They are usually small, menial things like “the important thing about a daisy is that it is white.” or “the important thing about rain is that it is wet.” There is no rhyming but there is a pattern each poem follows.
I ask my kids to listen for the pattern as I read it. Sometimes they hear it, sometimes they don’t. We talk about the pattern (each poem starts and ends using the same statement).
Then I let students write their own important poem. I give them this important poem template to use. We go through the writing process of brainstorming, writing, editing, and revising.
(If you are an older grade, this important poem template is a little less scripted!)
Once they have cleared it with me, I give them a blank piece of paper for them to publish their poems on.
I love to put them together in a book to go in the classroom library!
Some of the poems they come up with are so creative! I love reading what they think are the most important things about their topic.
And then sometimes you end up with poems like this one.
He clearly missed the focus of this poem which was to have the same important thing at the beginning and end of the poem His focus was on the drawing he wanted to create.
Teaching Poetry with What a Wonderful World
I also like to talk about how songs are poetry. We listen to What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong a few times while they visualize what the writer is saying/singing. I use this version because it has the lyrics in case kids need to see the words to understand what he is saying.
Then I give each student a lyric from the song and a blank piece of paper. I tape their lyric onto their paper and they are to draw a visualization of their lyric.
One year I made a super sweet video to the song and they LOVED it! I have to be honest, I haven’t done it again since because it takes a lot of time. But I do usually bind them together to make another book for the classroom library.
Teaching Poetry with Love That Dog
But, by far, the best poetry lesson I have taught was a two week study on “Love That Dog” by Sharon Creech. This lesson idea came from my exchange teacher during my first year of teaching. However, she did this with her fourth grade students. So needless to say, it was a little high for my kiddos. But my second year in second grade I had a really high group so I decided to try it with them! I was so impressed by their work, a lot of it made me teary eyed.
I gave each student their own copy of the book so they could read along with me. The class set also came in handy when it came time to write their own poems.
The book is told by a young boy, Jack, who hates poems. The whole story is told in a series of short poems Jack writes about hating poetry. As the book progresses, his poetry evolves and he comes to be a really great poetry writer.
Love That Dog Unit
Each day we read a few pages. I strategically picked how far we would read based on the poems he wrote. Throughout the book Jack references poems that his teacher reads to his class. Poems like The Red Wheelbarrow, shape poems, Love that Boy, and Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening. These poems are all in the back of the book. So as we were reading and Jack referenced a poem, we flipped to the back to read the original author’s poem.
For example, one of the first poems he tells us about is The Red Wheelbarrow. So we flipped to the back and read it. Then, we came back to our page in the book and read his version called “The Blue Car.”
As we read a new poem that he writes, we talked about it’s similarities and differences to the original author’s poem. I printed out a hard copy of the poem so we could count the stanzas, take notes, and leave it posted on the board for students to look at. Then, I let them write their own poem! They had to match the amount of lines, the stanzas, and if there is any rhyming in the poem. They seriously got SO excited when I told them we were going to write our own version of The Red Wheelbarrow. (I just had them write all of their poems in their writing journal.)
We took two weeks to read the whole book, pausing along the way to write our own versions of the poems shared in the book. Towards the end, I just wanted to get the book finished so we would read the poems, talk about them, and post them on the board.
Once we had finished the book and talked about all the poems, I told them that they would need to write two more poems but that they got to choose which of the poems they wanted to write. The first two or three we did whole group, but I wanted them to have some authority in which poems they wrote.
Once their poems were written and edited, they got to publish them into their own “Love That…” book!
(I believe that is The Indian Plane. This little boy had just traveled to India.)
And y’all… then this little girl just comes in and drops the mic with a poem about memories- which I can only assume is the memory of a dear one she lost…
I wrapped up the unit by doing a Fan-N-Pick activity with questions I came up with about the book. You can download them here. I just made four copies of them (one for each table). The kids use the Fan-N-Pick Kagan strategy to ask the questions and discuss.
I wasn’t able to do Love That Dog with my kiddos last year, but I am planning on doing it this year!! These kids will handle it beautifully. I always do another round of poetry at the end of the year so that is what is on the schedule for May of 2018 and I can’t wait!
So what do you do for poetry? I have found that allowing them to write and create their own poems is where the real magic happens!
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