Poetry with a Purpose

April became National Poetry Month is 1996, but the benefits of poetry can be enjoyed all year long!


Now if you’re one of those teachers thinking, sure poetry is great and I wish I had time for it but I’m too busy giving assessments teaching curriculum, don’t leave quite yet. Yes, it true poetry can ‘touch the soul’ but it has lots of practical uses in the elementary classroom too.

Whether you’re following Common Core or State Standards we all share some “have tos”. We all teach listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills. We all work on patterning, developing phonemic awareness, expanding vocabulary, building comprehension and increasing fluency. You’ve probably already figured out where I’m going with this…poetry can be utilized to achieve goals in all these areas!


So what if you’re interested but have never taught poetry? How does one get kids excited about something that has been taught over a hundred years and doesn’t feel particularly applicable to everyday life? Just like you teach anything else, help kids make connections and make it fun!

Look for ways to incorporate poetry into what you are already doing. You might begin each day with a short poem or read one during that extra transition minute you have because your class did such an awesome job of lining up quickly and quietly. Suggest a poem be read once a week on the morning announcements - they could be original poems read by students, staff members sharing a favorite, or even guest mystery readers from within the community.

When it comes to reading poetry, you want to make good choices in what you share with your students. Edgar Allen Poe has quite the reputation as a poet, but he probably isn’t the best choice for your young audience. When you go to the library, look for more than just the word poetry in the title. Find poems that speak to kids. Ones that make them laugh or revolve around things kids relate to, like these:

Noisy Poems for a Busy Day
by Robert Heidbreder and Lori Joy Smith
Poems about everyday kid things; hugging a dog, climbing a tree, and playing tag.

Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys
by Bob Raczka and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Ex:
If this puddle could
talk, I think it would tell me
to splash my sister.

Book of Animal Poetry
by National Geographic

There are also several books by Shel Silverstein that kids enjoy, although not every poem may be appropriate for school. If you teach Kinder or First grade students, nursery rhymes are great too; for listening, reading, and acting out.

There are many options for poetry writing too. Often children find pattern poems easier to get started. Here are a couple that I’ve used in my room with success:

ABC Poems

Usually five lines but you can adjust up or down to better meet the ability of your class.
Each line starts with a consecutive letter but you can start anywhere in the alphabet.
Examples: The first word on the first line would start with the letter A and so on with the first word on the last line starting with the letter E. Or start with L and end with P.

Acrostic

Can be any length depending on what word you choose to spell.
The first letter of each line will spell a word vertically down the page.

Cinquain

Five lines
One word creates title on first line.
Two words describe title on second line.
Three verbs describe the action of the title on the third line.
Four feeling words related to the title on the fourth line.
One word that is a synonym or renames the title on the final line.

Diamante

Seven lined poem in the shape of a diamond that does not rhyme.
Line 1: beginning topic (noun)
Line 2: two adjectives about line 1
Line 3: three –ing words about line 1
Line 4: four nouns or a short phrase linking line 1 and 7
Line 5: three –ing words about line 7
Line 6: two adjectives about line 7
Line 7: ending topic (noun)

Haiku

Three lines that do not rhyme; usually written about nature
First line has five syllables.
Second line has seven syllables.
Third line has five syllables.

You can download some free templates to get started with these poems here.


One of the most important parts about poetry writing is sharing your writing with an audience. Celebrations are a great way to motivate and encourage students. You might like to organize one of these:

“Poetry Picnic” – Invite family members to come listen to poems your students have written. Have them bring blankets to spread out on the playground. Create groups of 3-5 students depending on class size and adults attending so that all students have an audience. My whole grade level did this one year and we had volunteers bring cookies and lemonade to complete our celebration.

“Poetry Party” – For those that are on campuses with low parental participation, you can still encourage your students to applaud one another through a classroom celebration. One year I partnered with my librarian and we held one in the library. We invited our principal, counselor, and instructional specialist to be our audience.

“Poetry Pals” – This is probably the one my kids most enjoyed. Team up with another teacher; they don’t even have to be in your grade level. Both classes write poems and then pick a day to get together for the kids to share their favorites. It works well to predetermine partners between the two classes. If you have enough time, you can even have partners work together to create a pattern poem and then groups can share with each other.

One final note…when you are challenged by that child that believes they can’t write poetry. You can tell them about a great poet named Robert Frost who once wrote, “I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering.”