Teaching Kindergartners to Write Poetic Sentences

Teachers can inspire an interest in poetry by having young learners make observations about the world around them.

June 7, 2024
BraunS / Getty Images

You might not be surprised that as a passionate believer in the power of poetry, I believe that children are natural poets. I have seen this time and time again in my work with elementary-aged children in all grades. My most recent work has been in my wife’s kindergarten class, where being poetic is a new experience, but one the students relished. I found that they were able to be poetic in the same way that their love and capacity for narrative leads them to becoming enthusiastic storytellers.

For the past nine years, I have been writing articles for Edutopia about the power of using poetry in the K–8 classroom, covering all aspects of planning and teaching units of reading, writing, and reciting poetry. My work on poetic writing with kindergarten students has recently demonstrated how being poetic takes language beyond the functional and into the emotional and metaphorical. It engages the imagination—which young children have in abundance—and expands their vocabulary. It also gives the young children a new mode of expression, validating their intrinsic urge to find wonder in the world around them.

When my wife, Jill, asked me to work with her class, it was April and our high desert location was awakening into spring. This was an opportunity to take poetry out of the classroom and connect with the natural world. However, this was not the first time the students had been invited to respond poetically.

Use Photographs to Scaffold Language Development 

Jill and I have used the same motivating technique in our classes for many years. It involves showing the class a stimulating photograph of a natural scene or animal. Then we ask the students to simply describe what they see. At the start, the students tend to share short statements with no descriptive words. So, the goal is to introduce one to three adjectives to describe the subject of the photograph. For kindergarten students, Jill uses this technique to develop her students’ oral skills and spoken confidence. In higher-level grades, I’ve used this technique to informally assess the students’ speaking and writing skills by having them record their ideas.

One way to help students understand poetry is for them to think of it as a way to describe in well-chosen words what they experience with their senses and feelings. This is a method of being poetic without even talking about poetry or expecting a poem as the outcome. The picture also acts as a scaffold and prompt for your students, which is especially helpful for those for whom English is not their first language or who have other language barriers. A quick internet search for any given subject will generate a plethora of vivid images that you can use to inspire students.

Take Students Outside to Observe Nature

As the trees were beginning to blossom in our area, I took Jill’s class out to the playground to observe one. I created a basic graphic organizer that had space (and a visual prompt) for the children to write ideas about what they would say, what they felt—both emotionally and physically—and what they heard, including what the tree might say if it could talk. 

I used this nine-step process:

  1. Gather around the tree, and make sure there are no distractions.
  2. Have children work in pairs using one whiteboard and graphic organizer but with their own pencils.
  3. Invite students to just look at the tree and share what they see.
  4. Introduce the concept of a simile—something is like or has the same quality as something similar.
  5. Model using a simile: “The tree blossoms look like tiny drops of snow.”
  6. Focus on one area at a time, such as a blossom, and have the students talk and record what they see. Students can write single words or, for the more confident writers, whole sentences. Spelling is not an issue here; students can use sounding-out strategies.
  7. Progress to feelings and repeat the above.
  8. Have students finish with what they can hear the tree saying.
  9. For scaffolding purposes, I had an aide work with one pair of children. I continually checked in with students, asking them to orally rehearse and explain their ideas to me. 

Guide Students to Develop Their Ideas Further

Every student filled their whiteboard with multiple ideas and returned to class ready to share with their teacher. She had the students work with her in small groups, expanding their initial ideas using adjectives. The students wrote the new sentence on sentence strips, and then Jill typed them up to be used later as a reading exercise. This sentence-writing activity has an engaging extension: Jill had her students read their lines, and all the classmates acted out the imagery using their bodies (which built on the storytelling skills I had been teaching in class every day). The poems were then put on display in time for the kindergarten sign-up open house event. Here are some examples of the writing:

The circle, emotional, pointy flowers were blooming like a lei. 

The tasty, diamondy, moon-looking flowers look like delicious whipped cream.

The wavy, fluffy, beautiful flowers are like my Grandma’s white hair!

The chunky, white, bumpy tree is like a piece of cauliflower.

Being a poet requires anyone just to observe the world around them and think about words to use to share that experience. Kindergartners bring a great deal of enthusiasm, curiosity, and novelty to this process. I always find that students observe something that is familiar in a new and fascinating way. This in turn refreshes my continual love of language and demonstrates how children are intrinsically poets.

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  • Literacy
  • English Language Arts
  • K-2 Primary

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