Summer has gone by really fast, and some of my students are already starting to get ready to go back to school. Between work, class, and volunteering, I haven’t had much time to read, but I have been reading a lot of poetry lately for work.
Last year, I noticed that my students didn’t get to do a lot of poetry at school with their teachers, but upper elementary students always have at least one or two poetry passages on the CST. Some of them are naturally good at understanding poetry, but others have a hard time wrapping their heads around the figurative language. The kids who have a hard time can identify the different types of figurative language (simile, metaphor, personification, etc.), but they just have a hard time understanding the big picture of the poem.
I totally understand where they’re coming from. Growing up, I always preferred reading novels and stories to reading poetry. I didn’t come to appreciate poetry until I learned how to analyze the different literary techniques in high school and college, but by then, I was just scrambling to finish all my papers, so I couldn’t savor the words.
I was looking for old poetry books on my bookshelf to bring to class yesterday, and I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t have very many. The one book I did have on my shelf with poetry for kids was my sister’s. I did have a couple of picture books written in verse by Graeme Base that I bought in sixth grade after reading Animalia in class (so I didn’t have Animalia because I’d read it already at that point, but I would want it now…).
I’ve done Shakespeare with my 5th graders, and compared to that, poetry is much easier for them to grasp on their own, but I want them to be able to discover the connections in poetry on their own so that they can start enjoying poetry while they still have time to savor it.
Poems that I’ve done with them in class that they have had fun with include:
- “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll (teaches portmanteau and understanding vocabulary in context)
- “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout” by Shel Silverstein (alliteration, repetition, and lots more)
- “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost (for symbolism and inspiration)
It’s also fun for them to try writing their own poems in different styles. A Google search for “National Poetry Month resources” will return a lot of great resources for teaching poetry to kids in any month. I also really like some of the printables and activities found on Shel Silverstein’s official website.
One thing that’s fun for students is to go on a poetry scavenger hunt for different literary devices that they already know the definitions for but may not have seen “in action” very much. My list is adapted from the literary terms in one of the standard literature textbooks my students already use. The idea is to get them to find examples of literary terms on their own, either in books or online.
Some great places to find poetry for kids include:
- The Children’s Poetry Archive – a UK site of poems for kids (part of The Poetry Archive) with author readings, interviews, and background. I especially like the poems by Valerie Bloom that I found on this site.
- Poets.org – the American counterpart of The Poetry Archive. It’s a great place to find classics to teach, but harder to find material for younger readers.
- Bartleby.com (section on verse) – great for if you want to browse through all the poems by a specific author. Indexes by title and by first line so you only need to know one or the other. I used some of Emily Dickinson (life and nature poems) and Robert Louis Stevenson (A Child’s Garden of Verses and Underwoods) for my students.
I gave my students these sites so they could look through them on their own for the scavenger hunt. I especially love the first one because it’s made for kids and has a mix of classic and modern poetry that is easier for the kids to understand.
I had only been planning a cursory look through poetry so they could practice their reading comprehension, but I kept dragging the unit out longer and longer so that they could keep exploring (and I could explore with them!). I’d love to do some of the Canterbury Tales with them next, but that may have to wait until the school year starts.
I’ve still got lots of books in my to-read list (that needs to be updated), but I think my old English poetry textbooks are getting added to the pile… (Once I find them, anyway…)