Georgia Heard is the author of Poetry Lessons to Meet the Common Core State Standards. She joins EDU to discuss the power of poetry to create lifelong readers.
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I don’t remember reading poetry as a child but I remember hearing poems. My mother recited nursery rhymes and verse such as: “Pease porridge hot/Pease porridge cold/Pease porridge in the pot/Nine days old,” and “Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey….” She didn’t sit down and explain the meaning of “Pease porridge hot" or “Mairzy doats.” It was the sound of my mother’s voice, and the music of the words, that made me fall in love with poetry.
In my book Poetry Lessons to Meet the Common Core Standards, I share numerous ways to guide teachers and students in reading, understanding and appreciating poetry. My goal is to help students fall in love with poetry, and National Poetry Month is a perfect time to help grow this love and appreciation.
Explore What Students Already Know About Poetry
Teachers often introduce poetry without first finding out what students already know and feel about it. Teachers can start a poetry exploration by asking students to share their thoughts and prior experiences with poetry; the questions below can prompt a discussion:
Do you enjoy reading poetry?
Do you have a favorite poem or poet?
Are poems easy to understand?
How do you feel about poetry?
By starting with a conversation, teachers can gauge students’ prior understanding and knowledge of poetry which will inform future instruction.
Read Lots of Poetry
Read. Read. Read. Students need to hear and read poems–lots of them: poems that rhyme; poems with a rhythm that make us clap our hands and dance to the beat; poems that paint vivid pictures and images of, for example, waves breaking on the shore or the whisper of fall leaves; funny poems that will make us belly-laugh; poems that speak to all feelings, such as sadness at losing a beloved pet, shyness, or feeling lonely.
Teachers can read both classic and modern poems that offer a variety of styles and forms. Poetry can be a window into diverse experiences and worldviews that may differ from students’ own, and can foster empathy and shared trust in a classroom and school community. Encourage small–group and partner reading as well as whole-class reading of poems. During independent reading time, teachers should make sure that there are plenty of poetry books and single poems available for students to read.
Read A Poem Aloud Every Day
Teachers can carve out a specific and predictable time every day to read a poem aloud: first thing in the morning, after students have unpacked and are getting settled, after lunch when they return excited and revved up from recess, at the very end of the day before making the transition to home. It only takes a minute or two to read a poem. Students can choose a poem they would love to read aloud, and then practice reading the poem before presenting it to the class. Poetry is a powerful way to help students develop oral fluency. Choral reading is also a fun and supportive way for students to read poetry aloud.
Look for opportunities to include poetry in other contexts, such as during science or social studies.
The sample schedule below shows when poetry might be read aloud during a typical elementary school day:
Morning Meeting/Start of Day or Class: Poems about morning, waking up, poems about school-related topics
Language Arts: Poems about reading, writing, listening, speaking, books
Math: Poems about numbers and math
Lunch: Poems about food, lunch, eating
Science: Poems about science (solar system, rocks, growing seeds, etc.)
Social Studies: Biography poems, poems about historical and current events
End of Day: Poems about homework, evening, nighttime, sleeping
Grow an Understanding of Poetry Together
Middle and high school teachers can share a poem at the beginning or end of class. Keep copies of the poems , and when students love a particular poem give a copy for them to keep.
As students listen to poems, ask them to point out what they notice and what elements of poetry the poet might be using, and then add those to a growing What We Know About Poetry chart.
Invite students to respond to a poem by writing a brief response, or personal reflection, in their notebooks and then share and discuss these responses with the class.
Encourage deeper reading by rereading and discussing one poem over a period of several days.
In no time, students will grow an understanding, and a lifelong love and appreciation of poetry that will spread way beyond National Poetry Month.