Creating Quick Poetry Lessons for Early Elementary Students
Opportunities to use poetry to develop students’ literacy skills can pop up across the curriculum all year long.
I love reading, writing, and teaching poetry, so I make it my mission to help educators feel more inspired to add poetry to their teaching practice. As a classroom teacher, I know that squeezing poetry into an overly packed curriculum can be challenging. Yet, as I’ve explained in a previous article, poetry packs a disproportionately powerful punch.
MAKING ROOM FOR POP-UP POETRY
A small number of words can add so much value to students’ writing, thinking, and communicating. Every now and again, you get a few days or a special holiday celebration when you have a small window of time during the school day. There are many ways that teachers choose to fill this time, and I would like to invite you to consider “pop-up poetry.”
Pop-up poetry is my new attempt to take advantage of those small gaps in the schedule. I hope that sprinkling poetry throughout the year in smaller bites helps students experience an essential literary art form without detracting from the set curriculum, and in turn strengthens the argument that poetry takes on a more substantial role in the curriculum and in students’ lives. Here are some examples from my recent teaching, along with some ideas for the coming months.
Using Science Lessons to Inspire Poetry
Six weeks ago, we started our new science unit about light and sound. The launch of this new unit was the perfect time to connect scientific thinking with literary output. So, my first-grade students wrote short poems about sources of light, using the following structure over three lessons.
First, we toured the school, noting down all the sources of light. I had previously taught them how light is a wide spectrum that includes heat and microwaves, which broadened our observations. This part was a required lesson in the science curriculum. Students noted the light producer (noun) and an action (verb), a task that helped emphasize basic parts of speech.
Then we took a lesson to write descriptive sentences about the top four sources of light we observed. I added the requirement for students to use at least one adjective in each sentence. Students’ sentences were allowed to drift from literal explanations into something more poetic.
I emphasized alliteration in the exercise because it links well to students’ growing phonemic awareness.
I didn’t explicitly talk about personification, but the students found it fun to think that the different light sources were alive in some way.
For example: The burning of the sizzling sun.
When our science unit shifts from exploring light to exploring sound, I’ll use the same pop-up poetry process. The steps below are a repeat of the ones above but applied to sound.
Students will identify sources of sound around the school (a science lesson) using nouns and verbs.
Then, they’ll draft descriptive sentences using similes. (An ongoing literary objective.)
As a last step, they’ll “publish” the sentences as a neatly handwritten poem and share with each other.
For example: The sniffing of the sensitive smoke detector.
The Poetry of Love
Valentine’s Day at school can be such an uplifting demonstration of positivity and overwhelmingly exciting at the same time. Since the holiday fell on a school day, I embraced the excitement and used one writing lesson to have my class write a poem with the topic “What Love Is Like.”
We used the following structure during the lesson, which worked to condense the writing process:
- We had a class discussion about what love means to each of us, modeling the use of similes—a descriptive writing/vocabulary goal from our opinion writing unit. Love is like: the first sip of coffee (for me) or biting into a thick, gooey chocolate cake.
- Students orally rehearsed ideas with table partners and then shared them with the class.
- Each student wrote one poetic line starting with “Love is…” and including “like” to include the simile.
- Students published the line in neat handwriting and practiced reading it aloud.
- I filmed the class reading the poem and shared it with parents, using the digital platform Seesaw.
- We flash-mobbed our office staff and presented our class poem to them.
Poetry in the Forest
Recently, I swapped classes with my wife and took her kindergartners to “Forest School,” their monthly immersion in outdoor learning. Throughout my career, I‘ve always included poetry in field trips, from writing poems in response to artwork at the National Gallery in London to making poetic observations about the changing seasons in urban parks.
During Forest School, my wife’s class has an established routine of sitting in the forest and listening and looking around them. During this time, we sat with a wonderful view of the Tumalo river. I invited the students to share with me what they thought the river was saying to them. I wrote down these thoughts and typed them up as a class poem for everyone to keep. I kept my lines an honest account of what the students said. (Many of the students also stayed with me, writing down what the river said to them, which was a great extension for the more confident writers.)
After the spring break, we have one-week window before parent-teacher conferences. This is the perfect time for a spontaneous one-week mini-unit of poetry. In a continuing partnership, my class will be teaming up with my wife’s kindergarten class to work on finding secret similes of the school at spring time. My students will be mentors, each working with a buddy. My students love teaching kindergartners, especially writing skills. In turn, this helps reinforce good practice and learned skills.
- We’ll tour the school and use our senses to see, hear, feel, and maybe even smell the secrets hidden in the school. As the students walk around, we’ll encourage them to make links to spring (which is slow to emerge here in the high desert of Oregon).
- As students work in buddy pairings, we’ll expand their ideas into sentences.
- We’ll work with students to edit the sentences, adding further description, focusing on adjectives.
- Then we’ll publish and practice reciting.
- And we’ll finish with a celebration party!
I remain hopeful that poetry will become a more regular feature in curriculum creation and the experience of students and teachers. Until that time, I will continue looking for ways to make poetry pop up.